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Gone Is Gone’s Troy Sanders: “80s pop energy is essential to us”

Gone Is Gone
(Image credit: Press)

Gone Is Gone, the all-star electronic-rock collective featuring Mastodon’s Troy Sanders, Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, drummer Tony Hajjar of At The Drive-In and composer Mike Zarin, are set to release their second album, If Everything Happens for a Reason... Then Nothing Really Matters at All, on December 4. We called Sanders to disucss the new record, their writing process and the dreaded “supergroup” tag.

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How did you guys end up getting back together for this record?

“The music was created by those other guys in Los Angeles, while I’m here on the East Coast, and the intention was that I’d fly out and be part of the writing process when I got the chance. I wanted to do that because I really love working with those guys, it’s a really rewarding writing process we have. In 2015 and 2016 we had scheduled a writing session that we had penciled in while none of us had any other commitments, I couldn’t make that session in the end because my wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer and I had to cancel everything. I had to put those next six months on hold to sort our lives out, but those guys moved forward regardless, they thought it was still a good chance for them to write some music. That music was put on the backburner and at the end of 2016 I was able to go out and help write a bunch of stuff which became our first album.

“But this music was still sitting there in the back of our minds when we came to think about album number two. We had called them the Bedrock session, because that was the studio we used; the Bedrock in LA. So, we took those sessions and we would start to rearrange them and play with them, and I went up and started tracking some vocal ideas. We had signed a deal with Clouds Hill Records in Germany, and they have this great facility for us to use out there, we were booked to fly out in April, but the entire lockdown of the globe happened and with At The Drive In on hiatus and Queens not doing anything, we knew that now had to be the time to finish this record. So, we worked remotely, we had to finish this record before those huge acts Mastodon and Queens Of The Stone Age awoke after 2020.”

It’s a very different sounding record from your day job, even your first album as Gone Is Gone in fact.

“It is. I think it goes back to the original idea of the band. When we released the first album, those songs were written in a different way and they did lean slightly more into the rock world that the members of the band are more used to, more comfortable with. This album really goes back to the original idea of what the band was meant to be when we put it together. Having songs, but really having pieces, having a more soundscape approach. The four of us really love the record, it’s totally unlike anything any of us have ever done. We feel this is an album to be taken in and absorbed from top to bottom. There are so many aspects that I really love, for me to be able to be the sole vocalist and write lyrics that are very personal to me is incredibly rewarding. It’s a real compliment that those guys want me to be the sole singer in the band, that makes me really happy, and it means I can really explore my own personal ideas.”

How important was it for all of you to be able to explore different musical boundaries on this record?

“Lots of people start ‘other’ bands for a variety of different reasons. I think this is a really good example of a band being put together for the right reasons, we truly appreciate one another's friendship and camaraderie, there is trust and respect between all of us, and we’re diving head first into uncharted territories for the four of us. It’s a really productive and positive situation that we’ve thrown ourselves into. Doing that improves you as a musician and an artist and growth is essential.”

We can hear a lot of experimental 80’s synth pop on the record; Talk Talk, Tangerine Dream and like. How big an influence was all that stuff on the record?

“That’s awesome that you mentioned those two artists! We’re all very big fans of a broad spectrum of music, but every time anything from the 80’s comes up we’re all super attached to it. It’s very essential to us, that 80’s pop energy, our drummer Tony and our keyboard player Mike both met when they were doing movie trailers and soundtracks together, so all of this was born out of synths. Creating vibes and creating moods, rather than creating songs, what we were trying to achieve was very much that world, so much so that, when I first heard a lot of these songs, I became so enamored with them that I didn’t really think I should put any vocals over them. I was like ‘I don’t wanna ruin this music!’ Not ruin it, but just put my voice over that feeling that this was something that would be perfect on a movie. It was inspired and created with movies in mind and developed due to our love of bands like Talk Talk and Depeche Mode. Even though none of this was really spoken about – it was sort of an unspoken bond.”

Is there a lyrical narrative or through line from you on the record?

“I usually have a really good answer planned out for this question at this point, but I’m not quite sure I’ve formulated it yet for this record. This was driven by Troy Van Leeuwen and myself, and our perspectives on the last two years, and the events that we shared personally. It stems from a very personal place, and I tried to mask a lot of it with metaphors, because a lot of it is very dark. I don’t know that I want to give that up immediately to the listener, so they can make their own mind up. But what I will say, is that this is essentially a two-year long conversation with a therapist who doesn’t exist.”

Mastodon, Killer Be Killed, Gone Is Gone – what is it about collaborating with various artists that excites you so much?

“It’s just an opportunity, and you never want to pass up these opportunities. I heard that Greg (Puciato) was going to be doing a band with Max (Cavalera) and he just mentioned it to me, and I thought the chance to play with those people was too good a chance to miss out on. So, I did it, and that was Killer Be Killed. Then I hear from Troy Van Leeuwen that they are starting this band and my name has been mentioned as a possible vocalist, it seemed too good to turn it down. You get a lot from just being around people, other artists, friends and working out how they work, what inspires them. And it’s fun! Let’s not forget that! This is a ‘job’, but it rarely feels like one when you’re just making music with your friends.”

How do you feel about the term “supergroup”?

“Well, it’s not really a supergroup in the heads and minds of those involved. They are just the people you see, the people you are friends with, and you want to spend time with them. I can see why people like to dress these projects up in such a way, but, really, most of these bands are just the result of American bands seeing each other during the European festival runs in the summer. I’d be willing to be the 95% of those bands were formed because you meet someone from a band that you are doing the festival circuit with, get on really well and want to see more of them afterwards. You’re hanging out late at night in some field in Germany and you go ‘We gotta start a band!’, I’m sure there are thousands upon thousands of supergroups that have been conceived but never formulated in that environment. It’s just friends, that’s how they come to pass, there’s no ‘If we get this guy and that guy and the other guy together then people will think we’re a supergroup!’. They aren’t created like that, and I feel that people often think that’s why these bands exist, the truth is far more innocent.”

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.