“Creature Lives” has been a polarizing track among listeners. How did that come from an idea to a finished song?
I was messing around on a keyboard in my house in the morning, before we got too intense in the writing. I was stockpiling ideas on my own. And when we get together, we dump our ideas and see what we’ve got going on. I recorded the little keyboard line on my phone, and Troy really responded to it. He said, “I really like it. It sounds triumphant.”

We had so much other stuff going on, I thought it would fall by the wayside. But he really pushed for me to explore the melody. And I was driving to practice one day, and the lyrics came to me, and I could see it in my head, being a singalong with the audience. We’d never done that before. I explained it to Troy, he said, “That’s awesome! Cool!” And one day, it was just me and Troy at the practice space. Bill wasn’t there, and Brent was sick. And we thought, “We need to do something.” Troy said, “Let’s do that song.” And we played it for Brent the next day, and he loved it.

I’m happy that it made the record. And I’m really happy that we go down these musical roads and don’t turn around and stop. We don’t go, “Oh, that’s not what people expect from Mastodon.”

You’ve definitely been personal with lyrics before, but songs like that and “The Hunter” show a very vulnerable side.
I guess so. Us as people, we like a lot of different kinds of music. It’s important that we put some of those influences in there. And it’s important that we do what we feel.

The different members sing a lot more on this album. When you’re writing, do you think about the live performance? Some fans who are real believers in the band, when they heard the album, they thought it was great, but they wondered if you could pull off the vocals live.
With Crack The Skye, I think we got in a little over our heads. Brent was doing a lot of singing. And we didn’t realize how complex the music is. It’s so hard to play and sing at the same time. I feel like if I just walked around with a microphone, I could be a decent singer. And when I’m playing my drums, I’m a pretty good player. But when I mix the two, I’m mediocre at both.

But I’m working on it. We’re working on our vocals at lot. We see a lot of criticism about the [live] vocals. We’re not the best singers, we never have been, but we’re trying. It’s the best it’s ever been, for sure. We have vocal coaches, and we practice it. And we call each other out on it and watch performances. We’re trying to micromanage that stuff, because we want to be an amazing live band. If you sing off-key, it’s ruined. No one wants to see that — it’s 30 bucks a ticket.

When you looked at Mike Elizondo, what made you think he was the guy?
He approached us. He was really adamant about it. He flew down to Atlanta and bought us some tacos, and we talked about it. He’s a really musical guy, and he’s a big fan.

Was there something in his body of work that you heard that made you think he could do this?
I knew he was a very capable producer with a very capable engineer. The stuff sounds slick. And it’s all real hooky. He obviously has a pop sensibility—which we do as well. And we’re big boys; we know what we want. It’s not like some guy is going to take Mastodon and turn it into this [other] thing.

He was very schooled in music theory. He’s an incredible bass player. And we need someone to reel us in sometimes. We get lost with the paint and the paint brush, and someone needs to take them away from us and say, “Put that down. Go over there.” He was a fun dude to hang out with, cool and calm, good with people. Rockers have these fragile egos, and they’re hard to manage sometimes. That’s a big part of the producer’s role. I can’t wait to do the next one with him.

“Enhanced Reality” video:

Do you have a band that you look at as the paragon of how to have a successful hard-rock career?
You look at Metallica, you look at Iron Maiden, you look at Neurosis and Tool and the Melvins, and you say, “That’s how you do that.” Neurosis and Tool and the Melvins are the models we shoot for. That’s how you handle your business.

This album fleshed out your classic rock side. Do you have a list of things you would like to do with the band, or do you take it one choice and one evolution at time?
There’s no list. We just handle it one song at a time. We just handle it one song at a time, whatever idea comes up. I really enjoy not knowing what’s around the corner, musically. Discovering it is one of my favorite parts of being in Mastodon.

Is there still talk about a screenplay based on Crack The Skye?
I mean, I heard it’s out there. A friend of ours said his roommate went to be cast in a movie based on Crack The Skye, which was news to me.

You haven’t signed off on story rights or anything like that?
No, no, no. But I’d love it.

Now that you’re on the road, are people bringing you burls?
We got one. Scott Kelly from Neurosis’ daughter brought us a little baby burl. That was cool. But no. If they took the time to churn it into a bowl or something, that might be cool to have one.

What’s your favorite Mastodon album beside this one?
Crack The Skye. I felt like it was a major achievement for the band. I feel like it’s a cool piece of art. We were able to go to a deeper place as people together, a place we had never been before, a place we didn’t even know existed within ourselves. I remember hearing that thing for the first time, all the way through, thinking, “Wow. I never thought I could be in a band that sounds like this. I’m so happy.”

The Jonah Hex movie became a convoluted production. Would the band consider scoring another movie?
Hell yeah. That was fun. That’s a whole different thing. It was cool to be part of, and we made a good friend out of it. Director Jimmy Hayward is a bro. It’s a neat thing to be asked to do, so we’d love to. alt