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'A crazy menagerie'
In the dark corridors of West End Motel, Mastodon meets the All Night Drug Prowling Wolves
That's Tom Cheshire in the center (with the Tall Boy); Brent Hinds is playing guitar to his left

The side project is an important part of the rock ‘n’ roll experience. For a famous musician, it’s a chance to blow off a little steam, have some fun and, most importantly, change the high profile to low – if just for a little while.

The fans, of course, benefit by seeing and hearing their hero with his guard down, in a small place, with all the trappings and restrictions of the Big Time nowhere to be found.

This weekend, Brett Hinds – the guitarist and vocalist for the progressive metal band Mastodon – plays the Jinx with his side project (well, one of them) West End Motel.

This band, which also features singer and songwriter Tom Cheshire of the hard–rocking All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, is a loose seven–member conglomerate mixing dark, swampy and exceedingly lyrical rock ‘n’ roll with quirky country–tinged balladry. Sometimes it feels as if the musicians are just having a great time making things up on the spot.

In other words, it couldn’t be more different from Mastodon – or from the Prowling Wolves, for that matter.

We spoke this week with Tom Cheshire, who is clearly enjoying gigging around with his old pal.

How far back do you go with Brent?

Tom Cheshire: I met him in the early ‘90s, when I moved from New York City to Atlanta. I saw his band, Fiend Without a Face, play. We started playing together, and it was very casual, hanging out, drinking beers and that kind of thing. Very late nights, you know?

He was in some other bands, and I was in some other bands, and I just started writing some songs under that name.

Basically, it was more of an outlet. And they were very, very simple songs – the evolution is pretty amazing, because now it’s a full band, and everyone has a lot of input that we really respect.

But they really did start off as almost infantile – kiddie tunes, I guess, but with adult lyrics. And they still are that way, but now it’s with seven or eight people.

As I heard it, you expressed admiration for Tom Waits, and Brent was into Zappa.

Tom Cheshire: I myself, except for having respect for him, didn’t know much about Frank Zappa, except a girl I was dating, who is now my wife, she kind of turned me on to him. And I’ll tell ya, Brent definitely listens to a little bit too much of it!

But I guess my point is, I didn’t know much about him, so I was basically going to school on those many late nights. ‘Cause he was playing me a bunch of that stuff.

To top it off, he didn’t know anything about Tom Waits. He just said “That guy’s crazy.” He knew him from being a drunk or whatever, but that’s about it.

Before I was into Waits, I remember being blown away when he said “Babies are writing songs before they’re even speaking. They’re just humming melodies – and actually, they write better tunes than people who have been playing music for years.” There was that beauty in it.

Once we kind of knew what we wanted to do, we got these other players involved in it, kind of believing in it – it was really coming to fruition that “Yeah, we’re a gang, we’re pirates, we’re this and we’re that.” It’s a crazy menagerie with a bunch of penguins.

OK – for those familiar with what you do, and for those who know what he does, how do we explain this band?

Tom Cheshire: I’m miniscule as a national act, compared to him. But we’re mates, and that’s what mates do – we’re friends, we’re drinking buddies and we’re music buddies.

I still play under the name All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, but unfortunately a couple of those guys have too many puppies at home to hit the road, you know?

Ben Thrower, who plays with me in Prowling Wolves, plays acoustic guitar in West End Motel. And I don’t know, we have this goal to just hit the road and do all we can to get these songs out there somehow.

Has it been difficult to organize because Brent tours so much with Mastodon?

Tom Cheshire: They do and they don’t. We’ve been pretty lucky – the Mastodon boys pretty much took off this summer. So our record comes out on June 7 – it’s a double record with Fiend Without a Face and West End Motel. But we’re already in the studio recording our next record.

This summer, Mastodon’s going to be doing a couple of big festivals in Europe, and God bless ‘em, to put food on their table.

And the goal is for us to do an East Coast tour in the fall, and a West Coast tour, and then – in a perfect world – after the first of the year we gotta get to Europe because we’ve got a lot of interest from folks over there. I get e–mails from ladies from Prague and Russia wanting to hang out – and I feel like I need to do that for ‘em.

I have a great rapport and a romantic relationship with Savannah, Georgia. This is going to be out last official show of the summer, until we get back out on the road at the end of August or September. So we’re going to try to blow this thing out.

West End Motel

Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.

When: At 11 p.m. Saturday, May 28