“That mythology, there's a lot of death and a lot of sadness that's easy to go off,” says frontperson James Cook. “The first album, I write a lot about the Nordic mythology I was reading and funny stories I was creating on my own out of that.”
But there’s much more to Drune than fantastical flights of lyrical fancy. What started as Cook’s solo project four years ago has gathered members and grown into a band with a massive sound that belies its simple three-piece constitution and challenges the definitions of conventional metal categories.
Originally from Portland, Cook came to Colorado in 2015 and began soaking up the Denver music scene, but he kept his musical aspirations to himself.
“Initially, it was just me playing guitar in my basement and kind of hoping one day I could start a metal band,” he says. “It was just kind of a funny dream.”
But that changed at a house party in north Denver where he had a chance meeting with Austin Pacharz, a bass player who happened to be looking for a band.
“I told him what I was doing and the music I was listening to, and he was like, 'Oh, I've been listening to the same stuff,' and said he wanted to start playing with me, and we've been together ever since.”
The two quickly enlisted drummer Patrick Haga and bonded over their love of doom bands like Pallbearer and Red Fang, but they also realized they had a similar taste for music outside of metal.
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“Another big influence for all of us is a lot of other genres,” says Cook. “Austin also plays in a couple of blues bands, and we're into old stuff like Grand Funk Railroad and the Chicago Transit Authority — old, really awesome blues rock. So there's a certain element that I always just wanted to play on guitar. I wanted to have a fun, kind of dark blues riff here and there to break up whatever we were hanging on. I don't want to try to do everything, but we all listen to a bunch of different stuff, and I think inevitably it all just seeps in.”
Although the members of Drune have some similar tastes, Cook says it’s actually their differences that grew the band from his basement project to the multi-faceted beast it is today, a seamless blend of throbbing stoner-rock riffs, psychedelic noodling and proto-metal melody.
“What I initially wrote in my basement five years ago is pretty different from what Austin brought on bass,” says Cook. “Patrick, he was kind of our third and final piece, and when we started playing with him live, it became its own thing, became something much more dynamic and much better.”
All of that serves to make definitively classifying Drune a nearly irresolvable task, a fact that’s not lost on the band’s members.
“Sometimes I get a little inquisitive in my head about 'What genre is this? What kind of thing are we tying ourselves into?’" says Cook. “I think in the writing process, it's hard to focus on it too much. There's a need to step back and just write what you're writing and let it sort of build on its own. I guess I'm hoping somewhere that lands in a certain genre, a certain distinction, but so far, all the reviews always add like five different descriptive words for what we're doing.”
Vexing as it may be to describe, the amalgam, he says, seems to be a welcomed digression for listeners, many of whom pick up on the seemingly disparate influences and nuances in Drune’s musical vocabulary.
“People have identified certain things that I thought I was sort of writing in code,” says Cook. “I thought I was hiding them, maybe. People have identified them, and it really means a lot.”
The songs on Seer — engineered largely by Haga — are a step up from Cook’s initial recordings. Cook says the influence of Haga’s production, as well as the new sound created by the full band, were unsettling at first.
“The kind of sounds we were getting out of it — it initially came off a little weird to me,” he says. “But I think what that vision led to was just something that is really ours. What actually came out, the final piece, was not exactly what I heard in my head, and that was a good thing that turned out to be better. It's all three of us together.”
Cook says having the other bandmembers’ input pushed Drune in a more experimental direction.
“I never wanted to be the one songwriter,” he says. “I just felt like I was going to get bored. I needed some other stuff for the songs to really become something. The lyrics have always mostly been me, but the riffs and stuff started to transition better and morph into each other and sound more like a song. That was our hope with this EP, being the first three songs that really were the band, kind of our debut. The EP sounds like a whole, collective thing.”
And more change is on the way. The members have been busy writing songs for their next album — some of which they've already started playing live — and they continue to bend and break the invisible confines of metal.
“A few songs have a little bit more groove to them,” says Cook, “a little more sludgy. We have a couple other songs that are really sad and droney and more simple. And with the new [album], with everyone's input, we have stuff that's fictional and fantastical and just out there in space, and other stuff that's a little more grounded about what's happening right now. We definitely feel pretty [driven] to do what we can to make something that stands out. ”
The group, he continues, is diverging even further from the doom playbook and writing some more upbeat songs.
“Most of our songs land at a certain BPM that's getting down there,” he says, “so we try to write one or two things that kick up a little bit and give a little bit of variance to the live [show], too. Part of it, too, is that I love going to shows and having fun and feeling like I want to move a little bit. It keeps us a little latched down to something when the songs get really slow and really stoned out.”
Drune’s next move is still up in the air. Cook says he’s not exactly eager to depart wholesale from the sound the band has established, but he's certainly open to exploring new ideas and, of course, some very old ones.
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“I'm a huge metal fan, across the board,” says Cook, “and sometimes I want to be the gnarliest band. But, really, all three of us are pretty sensitive dudes, and the music we make is a little bit emo sometimes and has some...not softer edges, but melodies.
“But also Vikings,” he adds.
Listen to Drune and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.