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Brent Hinds, guitarist and vocalist in prog-sludge superstars Mastodon, is probably familiar to everyone reading this. He's written some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful metal music of the past decade. Mastodon may be the closest thing to a Metallica my generation ever gets.

He is also a prolific songwriter with a huge sense of humor, which he expresses on a soon-to-be-released double album showcasing two of his side projects, Fiend without a Face and West End Motel.

Below, Brent talks about new records, working with major labels, and his love of Frank Zappa.

— Joseph Schafer

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Why are the West End Motel and Fiend without a Face records being packaged together? Is there a reason besides your involvement?

It's the only way they could do it, I guess. I'd ask [label] Rocket Science.

I've known of Fiend without a Face since the Workhorse Chronicles DVD. The project is actually older than Mastodon, right?

Yeah. I started 1995 or 1996. I went over to my friend's house one day - I was an electrician's assistant, and I would go to work with this friend. His roommate had this stand-up bass in his living room, and also a guitar. So, I started playing on the guitar. His roommate came out and started playing the bass with me. It was bluegrass-type stuff. We pretty much started the band right there.

But this is the first album release?

Well, internationally, yeah. I released some seven inches on my own through Drug Profit Records, my own record label.

So why did it take so long to get something in this format out? Other than Mastodon.

Because I had a falling out with the drummer in Fiend without a Face, so I swept it under the table for a long time. I wasn't that worried about getting it out there, to be honest with you. And then I made up with the drummer. We did a few tours… and then had a falling out again. (Laughs) I'll tell you the real reason: dysfunctional band members.

And how did West End Motel start?

West End Motel is great. We've been a band for a year and already put out two records [this will be the third], so it's a very functional band. It's a different kind of music - sort of an Americana, drunken country-type music. We work together all the time. We're working on our fourth record now. The singer, Tom Cheshire, is my best friend, so we hang out a lot and end up writing music a lot. I've had time off from Mastodon for the last six months, so I've had a lot of time to put this album out. Now that it's finally out of the way, I can work on another one.

You're working on a West End Motel record at the same time as the fifth Mastodon record?

Yes. Well, I actually finished mixing the new West End Motel record, but I'm mixing it across town while I'm tracking the new Mastodon record.

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West End Motel - "Under My Skin" (live)

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When I was listening to the West End Motel record, I got some of the same emotional reactions that Mastodon has given me - sort of a melancholy. I assume that's coming from you, but where does that come from in your life?

I just really like writing about emotion. I like singing about it. I like love, and I like happiness, and I like melancholy. We all fuck up. I don't like therapy, but I like music, so I write. And before you know it, you've been cured in a way by talking about that emotion openly and getting things off your chest through a song. I just like "pretty". I like melancholy, pretty stuff, anyway. Any time you hear anything pretty out of Mastodon, that's me. Or a rock and roll sound. I'm more of a rock and roll guy. Any time you hear anything more metal-based, that's Bill's writing.

A lot of that came through on Crack the Skye, which has been singled out in the Mastodon discography as "your" record.

Well, I wrote the record. I also wrote this new Mastodon record. It just happens that I tend to write more music than the other people that I play in bands with. I also write more music that sounds like actual songs instead of an avant-garde fart, you know?

Getting older, I'm writing more song-oriented material with real verses, choruses, intros, and outros. I just tend to play the guitar more, and the more you play guitar, the more you come up with new material.

I think people say that because I sang such a shitload on the last record. And I'm singing a lot on this new record as well. I'm not going to be singing, like, 75% of it - there's going to be a lot more of Troy singing. Brann's singing a lot too. We're having fun mixing it up. We're doing a lot of things we've never done, still, and we've been together for 12 years! People ask me how it is, and I say it's so much fun that it makes you tired.

That’s interesting - your life seems so happy, but the music's so sad. Should I expect this new record to be more upbeat?

Yeah. The new Mastodon record is super-energetic. It's definitely something for kids to jump on their beds to. I want it to drive their parents crazy. I think it's our best work yet because we've spent a lot of time maturing and learning how to record. We've spent a lot of years in the studio by now, so we kind of know what we're doing. The process is becoming easier and faster. All that stuff comes with age.

You're one of the last major label metal bands there is, but you yourself are doing independent stuff. Can you comment on the differences between the two?

I gotta say working with the majors is easier. You get a lot more respect. Working with the indies just reminds me why I never worked with the indies in the first place. There's a lot of procrastinating going on. There's a lot of one person saying they're going to do something, and they never do it. That never happens in the professional world, because that's what those people do for a living. In the indies, all those people have side jobs except the label CEOs or whatever. I'm not mentioning any label's name. I'm just saying these are my experiences.

That's counterintuitive - the major labels have this reputation of being this cold, labyrinthine structure.

I haven't had that experience, but I know people that have. I guess I've kind of juxtapositioned myself between CEOs and used my Alabama charm a little more than other people who aren't complying. You can do it without getting fucked.

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Fiend without a Face - "Black Grass" (live)

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I've now seen you in a fez in one band [Fiend Without a Face] and also in the Blood and Thunder music video. What's the fascination with the Shriner imagery?

My grandfather was a Shriner. He drove the go-karts, he wore the fezzes. When I was a kid, we would go watch parades and see him driving the go-kart in the get-up. It was super awesome. He died when I was about seven. That image just stuck with me. I also love the Egyptian connotation as well. It has a mystique. I love all that Illuminati shit, but at the end of the day, it's my grandfather. You always pay tribute to those you loved and lost. I'm not a Shriner, but I have a lot of Shriner hats! I've even got a Shriner tattoo.

Is there anything you can tell me about the fifth [Mastodon] record? Any spoilers?

Yes. We're putting out the very first edible record.

That probably has more value than an inedible CD these days.

Oh, they're the same value. It actually costs a little bit more, but we're doing it, anyways.

What flavor?

It tastes like strawberries. They're going to be delicious. I had one earlier. I have one to start the day every day. I eat my tracks from the day before to keep my mineral counts up.

What are you listening to these days?

On my way over here, I was listening to my songs on shuffle, and I had some Frank Zappa going on. It was some song about some girl so pretty, she made him cry! I listen to a lot of satirical music, a lot of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart. I like sort of out-of-the-scene stuff. I tend to get a lot of obscure records through my friends; Frank Zappa people have a lot of weird stuff. I just have a shitload of Zappa, maybe 50 albums. My iPod and iPhone are full of him. I am never far away from Frank on my devices. Everyone tries to have every band in the world on their player. I just have the one.

I end up listening to a lot of my own stuff in this day because I'm making it. I listen to a lot of Mastodon and West End Motel because I'm in the middle of those albums, but it's Zappa in the car to unwind.

Do you like listening to your own music?

I do not, because there comes a point where I've listened to it too much. I like listening to my own music, of course, when it was new, but I've been playing in Mastodon for a long time. Of course, sometimes you like your own music, and sometimes you don't, but there are some songs that you hear too much because you've worked on it a long time in the studio, or it's taken too long to master as a player or performer. It kind of sucks, because you want to like your own music. At the end of the day I do, but I've played it quite a bit.

So you like satirical music, which comes through on both the West End Motel and Fiend without a Face records. Where does satirical music sit in the grand scheme of the world these days?

Well, it sits where it always has sat. It's just that the world is in a different state. We can't stop being who we were before the world changed. It doesn't mean I want to sit around and listen to a bunch of music about earthquakes. My heart bleeds with the world just like everyone else's does, but it can't stop me from laughing also and finding the little pleasures in life. It's never had a big market, to be honest with you. It just makes me happy. I definitely don't listen to it because it's popular. We're freaks, man, like Zappa. We smoke too much weed, we take LSD. I don't wear clothes too often. I just need to let my soul out.

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