These days, things are looking pretty bright for Tom Pini, audio engineer and founding member of Drangus. Back when he started the project in 2013, not so much.
After getting fired from what has been arguably the most nationally successful rock band to come out of St. Louis in the last decade, Pini wasn't exactly feeling great. "I was in Foxing for a minute, and I ended up leaving the band," Pini says, adding after a brief pause, "not by my free will.
"But, y'know," he continues, "that's how it goes sometimes."
Pini traces the group's moniker, a favored insult of Tim and Eric character Dr. Steve Brule, back to that not-so-cheery time in his life. "If you flash back to me six years ago, when I started the project and took on that name, I was ..." he trails off, grimacing slightly and furrowing his brow. "I messed up. I got booted out of a band that's really cool, and was just looking at my life like, 'Dude. You fucked up. What are you doing? You're gonna miss your whole life; you're gonna miss the opportunities that are there.'"
While Pini is upfront about his departure from Foxing being not his decision, he's less open about the specific reasons for it. Whatever they are, the split spurred him to begin recording music of his own. He says he told himself, "Alright, you're gonna start this project, and you're gonna call it Drangus. Because that's how you feel right now."
A little more than half a decade removed from those dark days, what used to be a solo project has become a three piece: Anthony Patten (also of Jr. Clooney) handles guitar, bass and some vocal duties; Keith Bowman, who also plays with Tonina, covers drums; and Pini, who provides vocals, keyboards and production, continues to be Drangus' primary songwriter.
The group's most recent release, Love, Dust to Dust, is the band's first full-length, following two singles (2016's "On That Good" and 2018's "I'm On Your Side") and one EP (Today I Am, released in late 2017). In many ways, Love, Dust to Dust is a significant departure from Drangus' previous releases: More ambitious in just about every sense, the collection of seven songs features sprawling compositions, crisp production and experimentations with new sonic textures. And whereas the first three Drangus releases were composed almost entirely of electronic sounds (with the exception of Pini's vocals), this most recent effort is characterized by extensive use of live instruments.
The most frequently featured collaborator on the album is trumpeter Khamali Cuffie-Moore, who appears on four of the seven tracks. "He's all over the record; he plays with Keith a lot, and some other players we love around town," Pini says. "He's a great player."
The album's latter half relies heavily on drummer Bowman's simultaneously agile and aggressive playing, best showcased in the drum and bass style groove on the album's closer, "Walks."
According to Patten and Pini, connecting with Bowman was the catalyst to the album's collaborative nature. Tracing the history of how the album's performers became involved, Patten says, "It was Keith coming on board, and then from there, a lot of Keith's connections to the jazz scene."
"Everyone in the band really appreciates jazz music," Pini says. Thanks to Bowman, he explains, "There's this whole pocket of jazz players we know now, and we're super excited to go see them play live. They inspire us, and tell us cool records to listen to."
Though Drangus began as a solo project, it has become something very different in the six years since Pini began it. He explains, "Our mission as a band is to bring people together. You know about this city, how disjointed it is, how segregated. It's all these little pockets where people are cliquey, and don't really wanna fuck with each other." Going forward, Pini hopes that Drangus can help to "break down the barriers that divide the creative people in this city."
And to Pini, that people-centric approach is what makes Drangus special.
"I feel really blessed. I feel grateful," he says. "I get the opportunity to work with some of my favorite people. We'll see what comes next."
Drangus plays the Bootleg at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21. See our complete guide to ShowcaseSTL for more details.