I guess I’ll need to begin this article with an anecdote, so here goes: I met Troy Sanders while I still worked at Twain’s Billiards and Tap. He came in to eat with his wife, his infant son and some friends of theirs. Having seen him and some of his band mates come in before, I thought little of it and treated them the same way I would any other table. After all, I was at work.
After a while, one of my coworker’s families came in to eat, and upon learning of Troy’s presence, insisted that I inform him that they would like to buy him a drink. Rock stars love drinking, right? Except not this time. Troy respectfully declined the offer citing his need to drive his wife and baby son home. A classy and sensible play, but to be entirely honest, it’s not what I expected. We non-heavy-metal stars like to imagine guys like Troy double-fisting bottles of Jack Daniel’s at all times, so seeing him politely decline a second beer (he had one 12 ounce beer in the 2 or so hours they spent at Twain’s; a brewery) sort of through me for a loop.
Haley in Iron Tusk video
Instantly a new image of Troy and his life formed in my imagination. What if things in his life weren’t all head-banging and drunken fist fighting after all? Could the rock star image presented by countless Decibel and Revolver articles possibly be a skewed reality? Could a guy who I had so many times heard bellow ‘I am completely immersed in darkness/As I turn my body away from the sun’ really be a soft-spoken and considerate family man? I was determined to find out for myself. So braving the totally uncool act of acknowledging that you recognize someone from a band, I offered Troy my card and told him my idea.
Lo and behold, a few days later he responded. It seemed he was tired of doing the same ‘cookie cutter’ interviews and was ready to get more personal. I just got lucky with my timing I suppose.
Before we met up, I tried to do some internet research about Troy’s personal life, so I didn’t come to the interview empty-handed. Turns out, there isn’t much information about his family life to be found. The Wikipedia article on Troy has this listed under his personal life section:
Sanders has one daughter named Haley, who is following in her family’s musical footsteps by playing guitar; and a newborn son named Yuri.
Haley wearing Joey Jordison’s Slipknot mask
So, despite my attempts to come into the interview armored with questions, I was left with almost no ammunition, and having no idea what to expect. Luckily for me, Troy’s an ace with interviews and winging it was preferable to him.
Troy chose the location: McCoy Park in Oakhurst Village. A cool little community recreation and skate area that, despite having lived in Oakhurst for a year myself, I had never seen. Purge photographer Christy Parry and I met him in the square and followed him to his chosen spot to commence our very informal meeting.
Haley and her cousin Kyra Sanders (Blood & Thunder video)
At first, mostly out of instinct I think, Troy began telling me about Mastodon‘s goings-on and their changes as a band. As much fun as it was to hear it from the horse’s (or mammoth’s) mouth, I had to steer him back into the direction of his home life and family. We began by talking about what touring life versus home life was like for him. He wasn’t shy about telling me that coming home required a finely tuned on-and-off switch in mindsets, which at this point had become automatic for him. ‘Exiting the tour bubble,’ as he put it, was essential to maintain a balanced home life. Things happen on the road at an entirely different click, and coming home at the end of it can sometimes feel surreal. He was happy to say though, that his family was supportive of his lifestyle choice and happy for him in his success.
His wife, Jeza, plays a vital role in maintaining the necessary equanimity to fill the role of a supportive father and husband while living on the road a great deal of the time. She is the steward of his dual life at home in the same way his touring manager plans and organizes while he’s thrashing for the masses. For her part, Jeza enjoys the time she gets to spend with the house to herself. (If you don’t count sharing it with their infant son Yuri Blue and their two rescued dogs Dozer and Helmet) Jeza and Troy have been seeing one another for 9 years and were married a year ago September 18th, (Happy Anniversary, guys!) but little has changed for them since it was made official. Their relationship is much like that of a traveling salesman and his family; as a father, Troy makes ends meet the best way he knows how– by leaving his family periodically, and Jeza respects him for his sacrifice.
Left: Troy, brother Kyle, Haley & Kyra (Blood and Thunder video shoot) Right: Haley w/Kirk Hammett‘s mummy guitar
In fact, as a family unit, they’re really not much different than mine or many other families. My father was in the military, and while he tried his best to keep us with him as he was stationed from place to place, his job did keep him away at times. Haley Jayne, an enthusiastic young lady in her own right, can relate to this. She misses her father while he’s away but understands what touring means and why it’s necessary. She has lived with these conditions most of her life (Mastodon began their heavy touring when she was only 3), and to her it’s normal. And while it can be argued that her family is non-traditional, Haley herself is a happy and well-adjusted youth, a fan of Lady Gaga, T-Pain and Eminem. She claims to be ‘a normal teenager who is ‘not too popular,’ but has ‘plenty of friends.’
Having lived through the teen years, I know first-hand how easy it is to harbor resentment for one’s parents at that age, and yet Haley seems to have none. Living part-time with Troy and Jeza and part-time with her mother, Haley recognizes that with the hardship of having an absentee father part of the time, come the perks as well. She has been in two of the band’s videos (‘Iron Tusk’ and ‘Blood and Thunder’), met Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and played soccer with Phil fucking Anselmo! (I have to admit, at the age of 13, I probably would’ve traded my life away for that last opportunity.) She loves her ability to come back stage at shows and feels like the music industry is as natural a line of work as bank management or being a school teacher. And while she takes a healthy interest in music, having learned to play the guitar, Haley is undecided on her career interests. (And who can blame her? It was a full decade later before I knew what I wanted to do with my life.)
Haley with Will & Jada Pinkett Smith
Troy and Jeza are careful to instill in Haley (and little Yuri, too) a sense of humility. When Haley’s schoolmates find out her father is in a righteous band like Mastodon, it’s easy to see how they could be impressed, but her family makes sure that she realizes that her different circumstances do not make her any better or worse than anyone else she meets. She is simply a member of a unique family. Just like the rest of us.
For Troy, being at home with his family does not completely remove him from his alternate life as a recognizable musician. He has work to do on that front even while stationed in Atlanta. From band practices, to publicity work, the grind never seems to stop. As I’ve already shown, even while out for a simple meal with friends and family, there is always the chance that he will be recognized (or as is band mates like to call it, …’Don’d') and approached by fans. He doesn’t mind it too much though, realizing that it’s all part of the game.
Although the Sanders love Atlanta and have called it their home their entire lives, they have a ’5 year plan’ to change settings when the time is right. When Haley is 18, preparing to enter college or whatever she chooses to do after high school and Yuri is 5, and entering elementary school, Troy and Jeza intend to move the unit to Blue Mountain Beach, Florida, (I guess Georgia’s Blood Mountain got boring for Troy.) where Yuri will no doubt experience an upbringing not unlike Haley’s: perhaps unusual, but amidst a stable family nonetheless. They chose this time frame in an effort not to disrupt their children’s upbringing and sense of security, because the kids are what is most important to them.
Brother Darren, dad Barry, mom Jody, brother Kyle, Haley & Kyra (Slayer show, Tabernacle 2005)
That, I believe, is the root of what I found spending time with the Sanders family. That they are, at the very core, just another family. Look at your own family. Whether they are button-down, middle-class types, or wild and sometimes dysfunctional (I think most families are a little bit of both), they are what you were born into. The Sanders family is not different, despite the reputation sometimes pinned on Troy and fellows like him by the media. Sure, they have their ups and downs, and sure there might be misconceptions from those looking in from the outside, but I believe this is the case with each and every family that I’ve ever spent any time with. Mine included.
Photo Credit: Christy Parry (Black&White Photos/Header)
Thanks to Troy for the great family pics.