INTERVIEW: Graham Zander of Green Druid

“Ashen Blood,” the debut full-length release from Denver, Colorado’s Green Druid, signals the arrival of a new force on the stoner/doom metal scene. (Read Live Metal’s review here.) With seven tracks lasting 74 minutes, the band pushes its droning, hypnotic compositions to the limit, resulting in a recording that feels both meditative and exhausting. After its original, independent release in 2017, Earache Records is set to unleash “Ashen Blood” on a much larger scale on March 16. Guitarist Graham Zander recently called in to Live Metal’s Greg Maki to discuss the album, the band’s “Weed Olympics” and more.

LIVE METAL: Green Druid is a name that’s probably new to a lot of people out there. So to start off, can you give a little introduction to your band and what you do?

GRAHAM ZANDER: I guess I would classify us as stoner/doom metal. We set out with a goal in the very beginning of just writing some simple stoner/doom songs. The other guitar player, Chris (McLaughlin), and I started out with that and eventually decided that we needed to get a band together, and that’s how Green Druid formed. So we released that first little EP, which is now being released as unit along with our later release, “Ashen Blood.” Lots of psychedelic elements. That’s a big focus for us, I would say.

It’s a very specific sort of sound or subgenre, if you want to call it that. How did you find your way to that?

Me personally, in high school, I was a huge guitar nerd. So I was always listening to bands like Mastodon and ravenously consuming all of their music and learning it on the guitar. So I think from early on in my guitar playing, I kind of have a deep-seated love for sludgier riffs and that kind of style. So I found my way from Mastodon to bands like the Melvins or bands like Neurosis, and then that naturally led to Sleep and Electric Wizard. And I just kind of fell in love with the simplicity of the genre, but it’s one of those deceptively simple genres, where it’s kind of easy to create a really basic, crappy version of it. (laughs)

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So the album, “Ashen Blood,” Earache Records is releasing it on March 16. You actually released that independently last year, is that right?

Yeah, yeah, that’s correct. We released it in, I think, June of last year.

So is anything changed from that release to what Earache is putting out?

Not much, really. That was one thing that I was really pleasantly surprised with. They didn’t want us to re-record anything. Their words were that they thought that it would lose the spark of the original idea. So they wanted to keep it pretty much the same. The only thing that’s different is some of the track listing is a little different. The EP portion of the record, we switched the last song with the first song. That’s really the only change.

Is that “Nightfall” you’re referring to?

Yeah, “Nightfall” was actually left off the vinyl release, now that you mention it.

OK. That originally opened the EP, and now it’s closing the album. Why was that changed? Was that the label’s choice?

Yeah. I’m not entirely certain why that change was made. Originally, I think the idea was that that was like hearing the sounds of waking up on a stone altar about to be sacrificed, and then that was kind of the lead into the song “Ritual Sacrifice.”

Now it’s kind of a nice way to ease out of everything, kind of decompress.

Yeah, that’s a good way of thinking about it.

I’m really curious about how these songs come together, especially when they’re so long—like “Cursed Blood,” 18 minutes. When you’re putting these songs together, how do you know and decide when that’s enough, when it’s done?

I think originally, the EP was composed almost entirely by Chris and I, just kind of sitting in the basement of my old house, like I said. So a lot of those riffs and structures were created by us and fleshed out by the band. The other half of the album—with “Pale Blood Sky,” “Agoraphobia” and “Dead Tree”—was a much more collaborative effort on the band’s part. Everybody contributed ideas to every song. They were kind of fleshed out at rehearsals, and some of the riffs were even come up with on the spot to kind of fit where we were going with the song.

As far as knowing when to be done, (it’s) when it feels right or it feels like it’s either time to change or finish. You mentioned “Cursed Blood,” and I think the reason that one’s so long is we just wanted to really wear the listener out by the end of it, like almost be kind of hypnotic. We were listening to a lot of bands like Swans at the time.

You guys are from Denver. What is the music scene like there? Are there other stoner/doom metal-type bands there? How do you fit in?

The music scene in Denver is phenomenal, almost for any type of genre at the moment. It’s really blossoming. There’s a great metal scene all around. There’s a great jazz scene, a great experimental scene, and I’m sure there’s dozens more that I’m completely unaware of. There are a bunch of other really great doom and stoner bands, and just heavy bands in general in Denver, which is really fun to be a part of.

How are the “Weed Olympics” going for you so far?

(laughs) They’re going well. We’re trying not to take it too seriously, if you haven’t noticed. It’s kind of just a fun way for us to get together once a week and smoke some different strains of weed and just kind of be goofy with everybody, and promote the album. We’re having a lot of fun with it.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In conjunction with the release of “Ashen Blood,” Green Druid is testing out 16 strains of weed for eight weeks. Each week, the band is posting a video of its “smoke off” between strains on its Instagram page. Fans can vote on their favorite strain via the band’s Twitter page. The semifinals will be held the first two weeks of April, with the grand finale set for April 20.]

I know the subgenre is called stoner metal, but how much of an influence does that have on the music?

I think the short answer is a ton, but at the same time, not a lot. (laughs) I think the music can stand on its own without weed. That’s not a necessary part of the composition process, and it’s also not our focus thematically, for example. But I do think that it does play a large role in how you interpret the music once you’re listening to it. Especially at a live show, it almost turns into this meditative experience, especially with those really slow, droning bands—like Sunn, for example. It turns into this meditative experience, and weed only takes that to another level.

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So is there one thematic focus, or does it vary from song to song?

It varies a little bit. I think when we were writing “Ashen Blood”—the “Pale Blood Sky,” “Agoraphobia” and “Dead Tree” portion of the album—we were really focused on a lot of horror elements and kind of really dark atmosphere. We’re, overall, very influenced by video games, I would say, specifically fantasy video games.

There are a handful of shows scheduled so far, and you talked a little bit already about what the live show is like. Are there plans for more extensive touring after the album comes out?

Yeah, definitely. We want to hit the road. We’ve got something in the works right now—nothing too specific. (laughs) But yeah, we’ve got some local shows, and we definitely want to hit the road later on.

Looking forward into the future, what kind of goals do you have for this band?

Right now, we’re still kind of in this intermediary period between going from the band being something that we took seriously but it wasn’t our jobs, to suddenly having to kind of really kick things up to the next level. So we’re just kind of adjusting to that right now. Then for the future, I think every single one of us really wants to make this our career. If we could get by playing music that we love with people that we really love—my bandmates are my brothers, honestly; I love those guys like family. I see a bright future for us as a band.

Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?

Thanks for having me. “Ashen Blood” is out, Earache Records, March 16.

LINKS:
greendruid.bandcamp.com
www.facebook.com/greendruidband
www.earache.com

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