Denver-based doom-metal quartet Green Druid didn’t go from playing local dives to releasing its debut album via the influential Earache Records label overnight — though sometimes it feels that way.
“To be honest, it’s still kind of surreal,” says guitarist Graham Zander. “In a lot of ways, I think we went from zero to sixty.”
Green Druid formed over a two-week period in late 2014. At the time, Zander lived with guitarist/vocalist Chris McLaughlin, and the two would gather in the basement, smoke some weed, play records by legendary doom bands Electric Wizard or Sleep (among others), and worship the deep, slow, sludgy guitar riffs. Soon, these listening sessions morphed into jams, and once Zander and McLaughlin had some songs in the works, they added drummer Ryan Sims (a “caveman” behind the kit, according to Zander) and bassist Ryan Skates (“the biggest Black Sabbath fan I know,” Zander says).
The four went to work writing and recording a nameless EP, then a full-length called Ashen Blood, which they celebrated with a local release show last summer. Now, the band is re-releasing both (combined, re-sequenced and titled Ashen Blood) via Earache Records — a pioneering label in extreme metal. At seven tracks and 75 minutes long, it’s a faithful celebration of the stoner and doom genres, complete with wizard robes, fantastical lyrics, plodding tempos and earth-moving guitar riffs. Green Druid does stoner and doom right.
Westword caught up with Zander to talk about the band’s past, present and future.
Westword: Tell me how you connected with Earache Records.
Graham Zander: We recorded for like a year and a half. We were really taking our time writing this album, putting it together piece by piece in a lot of ways. And then in June of last year we printed up a few CDs and put together an album-release show, and it was actually really well received, and we were kind of surprised.
So Bandcamp ended up including us on their list of the best metal of June 2017, and...well, I don’t know if that’s what Earache saw or what. I actually still haven’t asked them how the hell they found us. One morning I woke up and I saw an email from the U.S. label manager, and he was like, “Hey, is there a member of the band I can chat with?” And I saw Earache Records, and to be totally honest, I wasn’t too familiar with them by their name alone. But then I looked at the catalogue, and I was like, “Oh, sick, they did Morbid Angel. They did Carcass. They did...Sleep?!” It was really a “Holy shit!” kind of moment for us.
Wow. That is not common. Record labels don’t make a habit of calling bands out of the blue and offering them a deal.
Yeah. We were pretty stunned. And they were like, “How would you guys feel about working with us in the future?” And to us it was a pretty easy answer. It was like, “Duh.”
Had you shopped the album around to labels at all?
No! That’s the crazy thing. We were talking about submitting it a few places, and we were thinking of smaller labels like (Denver’s) Sailor Records, which puts out some really great stuff. We thought that would be cool. But it was a much smaller scale that we were imagining, which just furthered the “Holy shit!” vibe of getting hit up by Earache.
The slow, sludgy stoner doom sound: Was that the plan from the beginning, or did you find your way there?
We didn’t really set out to break any new ground or reinvent the wheel. We were just kind of like, “Hey, let’s have fun and write some stoner doom songs and have fun with it.” And it ended up being more well received than we expected for something that was so...I wouldn’t say hastily thrown together, but we just weren’t really thinking too hard about it. It was just, “Let’s just write some riffs and see what happens.”
I’ve been in other bands where we had all these different influences we were trying to integrate into the music, just for the sole goal of being unique. But in the end, you realize it sounds unique but the songs aren’t really that well written. At the core of what we try to do and will continue to do is just write good songs. Before we try and be unique or progressive or anything like that, the first question is: Does it feel good, and can I listen to this?
Green Druid grew out of sessions listening to records in the basement. What bands influence your sound?
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We wear our influences on our sleeves, as do many bands in this genre. We all have a deep-seated love for Black Sabbath, Sleep and Electric Wizard. I think all of us in Green Druid consider them to be the holy trinity of doom. I think a lot of our prettier moments in Green Druid are really influenced by later Earth records, like Hibernaculum and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull. As for our noisier sections and feedback and stuff, we love bands like Sonic Youth. Our droniness, I think, comes from bands like Sunn O))) or Swans.
Your Bandcamp describes your music as “Brooding. Atmopsheric. Isolationist.” I understand the first two, but what do you mean by isolationist?
Generally speaking, we’re kind of inspired by things that make you feel small. Whether that’s ginormous creatures — we love fantasy creatures from video games like Dark Souls or Bloodborne — and the feeling of smallness on a physical scale. And then on a more cosmic scale as an individual and a human being, we’re so small in the grand scheme of things. But, yeah, that’s what the riffs make us think of: giant creatures stomping around.
Green Druid, with Palehorse/Palerider, Chieftain and Matriarch, 9 p.m. Friday, March 23, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, 303-733-0230, $10.