Ghosts of Glaciers on keeping humor in metal: "Metal is not meant to be completely serious"
Ghosts of Glaciers has played a lot more shows than most bands in the two years since forming. Because the metal group's sound isn't just rooted in that style exclusively, the trio has been able to appeal to a wider audience. The outfit's heavy drones are caught up in the sludge and the fluid melodies disappear like morning fog in sunlight and come in with a dense, inexorable flood of sound. In its relatively short time together, this three-piece has mastered the art of dynamics and a mixed approach to creating rhythm that ignores a strict playbook of what is "supposed" to be done.
The act's newly released, self-titled debut full-length album shows the band's multifaceted talent and cohesion. We recently sat down with the affable members of Ghosts of Glaciers, who, even at a relatively young age, are veterans of the underground rock scene in Denver and one of the few that has crossed over out of the heavy sub-scene to others, all by virtue of the quality and accessibility of the music and the good spirits of the people making it.
Westword: When did you start this band?
Mike Rouse : Summer 2010.
Steven Jackson: Then we played our first show in December 2010. That's what the live EP is from. It was at Moe's Original Barbecue.
Ben Brandhorst: That was with Solar Bear. I played two sets that night because I was in Solar Bear, as well.
How did you meet each other?
BB: Steven and I have been playing music for a decade now. We all met in high school really through mutual friends.
SJ: We used to be in a band called Illuminado. Things started drifting apart with that. We're still friends with all of those guys but we basically started this because we weren't doing too much musically.
MR: I was in Megalodon, which included a guitarist from Illuminado. The three of us were the only the members in those two bands that weren't in two bands. Everybody else was, I guess, a fair amount busier than us. We got together and just jammed.
SJ: It was riffs I'd been messing around with. But Michael initiated it.
MR: I wanted to jam and Steven brought all this material to the table. We had this general idea we wanted to be slow, post-rock metal.
BB: We wanted to mash up all the genres of metal we could in a tasteful post-rock sense.
SJ: And we're having a good time. It's pretty clear we're not trying to be true black metal.
BB: Metal is not meant to be completely serious.
What got you guys, individually, playing metal?
MR: When I started playing bass, I was all about punk rock. That's what I learned -- Ramones songs, Misfits songs, Rancid and stuff. When you get into the scene, you get introduced to grindcore and hardcore and these heavier sides of it. That got me interested in black metal and death metal. It was more the influence of these other guys and the surrounding group of friends that brought post-rock and post-metal to my ears.
SJ: I've always listened to metal ever since I was little. I always learned metal riffs. Illuminado was not a metal band necessarily.
BB: We were a post-rock band.
SJ: Part of it was I had always played in lower tunings for years and years. Then, when I was in Illuminado, we were playing in standard. It was cool and all but I was really into lower tunings. When we were starting, I was like, "Yes! We're going to play some low tuning again."
BB: I'm the least metal out of everybody in this band. I like weirder music. I'm a huge fan of instrumental music overall. Seventies prog rock is a huge part of my life. Emerson, Lake & Palmer is by far my favorite prog rock band. What I grew up playing is punk rock. I started playing drums when I was twelve and we covered Dead Kennedys songs and shit like that. That's where I gained my chops. I was introduced to heavier music through our group of friends and found what I like. I don't like all metal. I don't really like black metal necessarily or anything like that but if it's good I like it.
It shows in the styles we play too. I'm not a metal drummer, so I change things the way I would want to play them, rather than what a metal [drummer] would do. We have one song with blast beats, and it only has eight bars. They're my least favorite things in the world. I was taught playing drums mostly through high school drum line experience, so musicality is a huge part of the percussion I want to play. Playing all things at the same time has no musicality to me.
SJ: We're a dash of every kind of metal we want and mix it with post-rock and melodic stuff to make it cohesive.
MR: One of my main metal influences is stoner rock like Sleep. When I first joined the band I said, "I kind of want to play some post-y, drone-y stoner rock, and we have that.
Your music is pretty diverse overall and doesn't seem to express a loyalty to a narrow aesthetic.
BB: That's why people who don't like heavier music like us. Friends of ours -- girlfriends, parents and shit -- are down with it. That's so surprising because we get so loud and angry sometimes.
SJ: I love vocals in plenty of things, but I feel like what we're doing with instrumental stuff makes it more unbiased. Like he was saying, maybe people who wouldn't listen to that kind of music on either side could be into it. Maybe someone who is into the more melodic post-rock stuff wouldn't listen to heavier stuff.
MR: And a lot of straight metal kids aren't going to listen to anything proggy or post-rocky. They can still get down.
SJ: We try to make it something we would want to see. Sometimes we will have a random part that will come out of nowhere and make you laugh. Tera Melos is a good example of that.
BB: Don Caballero. I'm a huge math rock fan with crazy time signature, polyrhythms and the like. Just being a drummer, that is so appealing and it's grown on me a lot.
SJ: Another huge influence on my part is the Mars Volta. I haven't heard that kind of prog rock as much. Omar Rodríguez-López, I don't know if people would recognize it, some pick things I do are heavily influenced by him. I also enjoy the randomness that comes with some of that music. Another huge influence for me with post-metal stuff is Cult of Luna and Isis.
MR: If it wasn't for this band, I would never play an odd time or venture into any kind of prog. I'm really glad that I do but my taste was always pretty straight ahead.
BB: This band is such a funny amalgamation of all of our influences, basically.
SJ: We're all like-minded people too.
BB: We just hang out and if it makes us laugh, we'll just put it in a song.
SJ: I'm down when I look into the crowd and I see someone laugh at a part like that.
BB: That's the best reaction you can get when people start laughing.
Ghosts of Glaciers, with Will Daniels, King Guy and Flagship, 9 p.m. Friday, July 20, the Mouth House, 2858 California Street, $5, All Ages