Troy Sanders is sitting in rush-hour traffic in Atlanta, where he’s working on a new record with the three-time Grammy-nominated metal band Mastodon. But he’s telling Playboy.com about a very different kind of album—one he recorded with Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, At the Drive-In drummer Tony Hajjar and film composer/keyboardist Mike Zarin. Joining forces under the moniker Gone Is Gone, the foursome collaborated on an atmospheric and infectious batch of tunes back in 2013, just before Sanders went into the studio with Mastodon to lay down the critically acclaimed Once More ’Round The Sun. “I wasn’t looking for another band to be in,” he explains. “I don’t believe either Troy or Tony were looking for another band, either. It just kind of snowballed gradually and naturally.”
In many ways, Gone Is Gone is the perfect amalgam of the members’ day jobs: the hypnotic catchiness of QOTSA, the tasteful heft of Mastodon and the crisp dynamics of At the Drive-In, bolstered by Zarin’s cinematic flourish. But despite the band’s pedigree, Sanders insists Gone Is Gone is not a supergroup. “It wasn’t created to put a few semi-famous guys together in a successful band,” he says. “The four of us are friends and we enjoy each other’s company.” Gone is Gone will release their self-titled debut on July 8, but Sanders reveals that they’ve already got more songs in the can. “This record is just the beginning,” he offers. “Gone Is Gone is not a one-and-done entity. There’s much more to come.”
Below, Sanders discusses the band’s genesis and the mortally serious circumstances behind some of his lyrics.
I understand you were in line at the DMV when you got the call to join Gone Is Gone.
Yes. [laughs] I was in a really long line, too. I was number 113 and they were on number 60, so it was an all-day event. But my phone rang, and was Troy Van Leeuwen. We’d always talked about doing something—opening a bar or starting a band—because we feel that two Troys are better than one.
How does having two Troys in the band work when you’re all in the same room? Does one of you have a nickname?
I’m Sanders, which makes me feel like I’ve got some seniority. Troy Van Leeuwen is TVL.
Who came up with the band name?
I had a handful of band name ideas, and that was one of them. The other guys really liked it because we knew that we wanted to touch on topics of sincerity. We weren’t gonna be afraid to channel emotions that deal with all things fragile and frail and fleeting—like life itself. The idea behind the name is that nothing is guaranteed and opportunities will not always present themselves.
What was the runner-up?
I don’t remember, but I liked Eject!, with an exclamation point. But I think Gone Is Gone is fitting because the band is becoming the sum of its four parts. It’s not a Troy Sanders solo album; it’s not a Queens Of The Stone Age rip-off. It’s our own thing, and we love it. Hopefully a couple other people around the world will like it, too.
How do you feel about the term supergroup?
I think it’s cocky, and I don’t think it really applies. I understand it as a label, but it should be obvious that we didn’t piece this band together to find immediate success or fame. We’re all quite fulfilled travelling the world with At the Drive-In and Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon. And Mike runs a music company out of L.A. that composes music everyday, all day long. We all know each other from sharing stages over the years. But if you’re gonna create a supergroup, it should be truly super: Get the guy from Iron Maiden, the guy from Metallica and the guy from Aerosmith with Lady Gaga, you know?
You guys filmed a video for the song “Starlight.” What was your lyrical inspiration for that song?
“Starlight” is about… my wife was battling breast cancer. I was right there with her, and we felt we had two choices. Number one would be: Cry yourself to sleep, go into a downward spiral, ask “Why me,” disintegrate and die. Number two would be to face it head-on with all of our energy and might and prevail. So the song is about taking that route. But I enjoy not being so literal with lyrics, so I used the metaphor of being suspended in outer space. You’re going to die unless you muster every ounce of energy or something miraculous happens.
How is your wife now?
She’s doing fantastic, and she’s completed her treatments. We hit this thing straight on with surgeries and chemotherapy and the whole onslaught of treatment for the horrible, nasty, stealth disease called cancer. So we reached the end of the tunnel that felt like it was light years away last year. And I feel like it’s changed us both for the better.
You also did a video for the song “Stolen From Me.” What can you tell us about that one?
“Stolen From Me” was the last track of this album that I recorded vocally. I was in Los Angeles and I was on the phone with my wife, who told me that our immediate neighbor had just been robbed blind in the middle of the day. She came home in the afternoon, and there were two people robbing her house. They bolted as soon she came in. She was very shaken up and she was over at our house. Before that call, I had a brief writer’s block for the song, and then boom—I had my inspiration. So that one is about karma and getting what you deserve. Moral of the story: Don’t steal from people.
There’s been just one Gone Is Gone show so far. Do you have any plans to take the band on the road?
We’re working on that now. It’ll be sometime next year. We want to do something special as opposed to just four guys onstage playing an album’s worth of music. So we’re putting together some things now. It will be unique.