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Metal Maniacs: KOOK Come to BackBar

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CRAZY KIDS: Karl Larson, an early member of High on Fire, leads San Jose metal outfit KOOK. Photo by Greg Ramar.

CRAZY KIDS: Karl Larson, an early member of High on Fire, leads San Jose metal outfit KOOK. Photo by Greg Ramar.

Tucked behind the burned out husk of an old tattoo shop, there is a little room decked out with posters of countless metal bands. Above them all hangs a huge banner emblazoned with the letters K-O-O-K—with the second “K” flipped horizontally.

“Personally, I wanted something that was symmetrical, word-wise. Something you could spin different ways and always have it be more of a symbol than a word,” says Karl Larson, the band’s guitarist and primary songwriter. More than just symmetry, the logo creates a sort of mathematically impossible logic.

“One is less than zero, and zero is greater than one,” Larson says, looking up at the banner, which could be read thusly: 1<00>1.

“That’s just how Karl’s brain works,” Jeff Wilson, the band’s bass player, says from the other side of the room.

There is obvious camaraderie between the band members as we talk. Besides Eric, the band’s drummer (a recent transplant from L.A.), all the members of KOOK have been a part of the San Jose scene for years.

“I was in kinda like an AC/DC band, called Sin City. Then that changed into a band called Motorfly. And then I was in Imperial Space Pod,” Larson says, name-checking the groups on his resume. Notably, Larson also played in the earliest incarnation of Oakland-based metal band High on Fire—itself a spinoff of San Jose doom legends Sleep.

“Very, very beginning,” he says, of his time with the group. “Me and Matt (Pike) just started writing songs and then that just kinda morphed into what became High on Fire.”

Pike is a legend in metal circles for his continued output with bands like High on Fire and his role in Sleep. Back in the ’90s, Wilson’s old band used to rehearse in a practice space next to theirs.

“They were so fucking loud that we had to clear out and wait for them to be done,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Seriously guys, does it really need to be that loud?’”

“It does, though,” says Troy Aschenbrenner, KOOK’s singer, interjecting with conviction. While KOOK’s music is certainly sludgy and indebted to stoner metal (Baroness, Ghost, Kylesa, and the Melvins are all listed as influences), Aschenbrenner’s vocals distinguish the group from their peers. Like Ozzy, Aschenbrenner is a metal singer, landing his delivery somewhere between Mercyful Fate and the dark theatrics of Nick Cave.

“It sounded a bit like a heavy version of The Cramps to us—the first songs that we were throwing out,” Larson says, sitting on an overturned road case in one corner of the room. “I think it’s Troy’s element, the style of singing mixed with the heavy thing, it just creates a different sound.”

Aschenbrenner nods, before saying something that sounds decidedly un-metal.

“Growing up, my parents were just Elvis, Elvis, Elvis,” he says. “I love Elvis. I saw Elvis.”

The sense you get talking to the band is that they love playing music, and they love meeting other people who love playing music. Wilson even runs a metal production group, Heavy San Jose, which is working on booking a dedicated metal night in the South Bay one Saturday a month. “It’s like with anything,” he says. “If you want something to happen, just make it.”

And since KOOK started out, that’s what they’ve been doing: making connections with likeminded bands, and trying to get them to San Jose to play.

“We put that on,” Wilson says, pointing toward a banner for a fest called Beers in Hell, which was held at the late, great Johnny V’s dive bar and music venue. “That was 11 bands. I’d never seen Johnny’s like that. We went from 6 until 2 in the morning. That was the first time I really thought San Jose might be able to support a scene.”

Nice guys or not, KOOK make sure their music is loud, visceral, something you can feel. “A friend said to me one time he saw us he felt like his guts got rearranged,” Wilson says.

Aschenbrenner nods in agreement. “My brother said the whole floor was shaking.”

Dec 17, 8pm, $6-$8
BackBar SoFa, San Jose

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