Watch out

New York wonderduo The Drums let rip as they return to the studio
By Alex James Taylor | Music | 17 August 2015

When New York band The Drums first arrived on the scene in 2009 they were hailed as the next everyone, from The Smiths to The Beach Boys. In the world’s haste to compare, what was missed was that these guys had carved out a place entirely their own, a sound both progressive and inherently personal to them.

Having put out their 2010 eponymous debut as a four piece the band suddenly found themselves down to three, and then, post-Portamento (2011), just two. Rather than fall apart Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham found themselves revitalised as a duo, creating their most complete and ambitious work yet, Encyclopedia (2014), an amalgamation of their aesthetic, sound and ethos. Through it all, they never glanced backwards, forward-thinking is the fuel The Drums burns on.

Each album directly mirrors their headspace at the time of writing, and although Encyclopedia still has those dark undertones that are synonymous with their sound, the record feels altogether more free and creatively ambitious. Self deprecating and stylish without pretence, each track holds its own individually, and as an entity they ebb with a melodic flow, taut and luxurious their sound glides with immaculate timing.

For self-proclaimed perfectionists Pierce and Graham the devil is definitely in the detail. All the drama that has surrounded the band in recent years seems almost apt, for that’s what the Drums are all about, the trails and tribulations of young romance, all presented in the lexicon of love and lust: “If they stop loving/I won’t stop loving you/If they stop needing you/I’ll still need you, my dear,” calls out Pierce in Down by the Water, a fan favourite.

“Art shouldn’t be democratic. Think about a painter with a blank canvas, Im sure there’re painting duos who do just fine, but for the most part that’s a strange idea, you have a vision and you do the painting, we look at our music that way.” – Jonny Pierce, The Drums

Alex James Taylor: So what have you guys been up to since releasing Encyclopaedia back in September 2014?
Jonny Pierce: We’ve been sort of taking a bit of a break really since we did a big four month world tour. We’ve decided to take a little break from everything, well, we have started working on our next record.

Jacob Graham: [laughing] I was going to say, it’s not a break really. We’ve really dove into writing and recording.

JP: Yeah, but I feel that compared to life on the road it feels like a break. That’s what we’re best at and when we feel most comfortable, the recording process and writing, outside of the public eye. So we’ve just been hiding away a little, Jacob in New York, and I’ve just moved to L.A. so we’re both sort of chipping away at songs on our own and then getting together and working them out.

AJT: Does the writing process feel different now that you aren’t living in the same city, are tracks more individual?
JG: We’ve sort of done every single kind of arrangement possible, sometimes we get together and try to start songs together but, I dunno, on the last record we did a lot of, “You do your songs, I’ll do mine, and then we can come together and wrap it up.” It seemed to really work for us, it expedites the process I think, but not in a bad, rushed way, more in a concise and conducive way.

JP: Yeah, we are both similar in a few ways, and we’re different in many ways, so I think it’s important for us to start these works on our own and then the other person can come in and compliment it, adding little things whilst being sensitive to the song being very much my song, or very much Jacob’s song. We’ve learnt, only through time, to not fight against that but embrace that idea.

JG: It’s just so much faster because even if we both have in mind, “Let’s do an upbeat number,” or something, and are thinking on the same page, it’s still this whole process of being democratic about the whole thing.

JP: Art shouldn’t be democratic though. Think about a painter with a blank canvas, Im sure there’re painting duos who do just fine, but for the most part that’s a strange idea, you have a vision and you do the painting, we look at our music that way. 

JG: It’s really hard to say, “What do you think about this bassline, that I love?” You’re kind of setting yourself up, and also because we don’t jam, ever, we don’t even know how to jam.

AJT: It’s really interesting that you say that because the majority of bands I speak to write songs purely through jamming.
JG: Yeah, that’s how they write music but that just doesn’t work for us, it’s a conceptual thing, we don’t want a song to, sort of, evolve. 

JP: When everyone’s like, “You know what? I feel like we’ve really hit a spot where this feels really good.” [laughing] That’s so douchey to us. We’d rather go off on our own crazy ideas, and it’s more time effective, and we’re also sort of socially awkward.

JG: I think we work more like film soundtrack composers than like a band.

AJT: So do you get together before starting an album and say, “Let’s start writing this record now, it’s going to sound like XYZ and we are going to use these particular instruments?”
JG: We talk to each other the whole time through and as soon as we get a song where we think it’s a thing, we will start from there and talk about the direction of the record. We feel like we’re on the same track.

AJT: Sure, so how’s this current tour going so far?
JP: We’re enjoying it very much. By the end of the last tour we all wanted to just die, we were really unhappy and miserable. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing and a wonderful four month tour and on paper it was great, almost every show sold out, we did the whole world. But it was really gruelling by the end, I remember we had just finished Europe and then it was like, “Okay, on to Asia,” and we were just shattered. Thank god Asia is our favourite place to tour, otherwise we might not be sitting here right now.

JG: It’s really crazy because we’re plagued with self doubt all the time, we always feel like our band is held together by, like, scotch tape, and that it could just fail miserably at any moment. So this tour has really been great, it’s like ten shows, or not even that, it’s really quick and every show we play just reaffirms things, that people actually do care about what we’re doing and our fans are still there It’s the nicest thing seeing someone who is genuinely touched by our music. Our songs are so personal and I like to think that they have a very real element about them, we aren’t singing about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, we’re talking about real things, broken hearts, feeling sad, and sometimes feeling really good. 

AJT: Each one of your records seem to directly mirror your frame of mind at that particular time, how is your current headspace?
JG: We have a few songs written for the new album and I think they are all pretty dark, they don’t sound so dark but the subject matter is.

AJT: That’s what you do so well though, the contrast between the sound and the content.
JG: On the last record we let ourselves just sound dark whereas before people would always say, “So, your music sounds happy, but the words are sad,” and because we didn’t do it so much on the last record I think we’re starting to miss that a little now.

JP: And I think we were kind of pissed. We weren’t really in a good place and we just made a record that reflected that.

JG: A lot of the songs we are working on for the next record are sort of upbeat and fun.

AJT: How about in terms of the instruments and composition, because Encyclopedia featured quite a bit of synth, which was pretty new for you guys.
JG: In some ways we are trying to get back into sounding like a garage, sixties band, like kids in a garage with a guitar they found in the garbage. Encyclopedia in a lot of ways was sort of a learning process for us, we pushed ourselves really hard on it and because of that I think now we can do a lot of things a bit more effortlessly so it doesn’t sound so laboured over but it still has those little twinkles in there.

JP: Now it’s like we can write a bit faster, songs aren’t so precious, and they have this thrown together quality that you might have found on the first record, but the sonic quality is a bit more expansive.

JG: I think it’s because we’ve hit out stride in a way, Encyclopedia felt like pulling teeth but this record is just coming together, almost like the way Portamento was to our debut album.

AJT: You’re both involved in a lot of solo projects, are these different creative outputs necessary to you both?
JP: I think it’s more about garnering personal strengths so when we come back together we are both just super pumped up on creativity, because it’s just so easy to vomit out a lot of crap sometimes.

JG: That’s the thing, I think creativity is almost like a muscle and you have to be constantly working out and exercising it, otherwise it will just turn all flabby.

JP: But isn’t building muscle also about letting the muscle rest?

JG: Yeah you do that when you sleep [laughs]. If you just don’t stop the momentum will see you through.

AJT: I’m interested to know what sort of music you guys listen to…
JP: Not much really, not because I’m jaded about it but I just really treasure silence or the ambient sounds of the city or the sounds of the countryside, those are really inspiring to me.

JG: We like soundtracks, film stuff. I recently realised that ever since I’ve had a portable music devise every time I leave my apartment it goes right in my ears and I haven’t stopped listening to music since like, 2008.

JP: We agreed that we both hate music [laughs]. Not like we hate what’s going on in music, we just hate music, it’s just a phase but I think it’s an important one to go through.

JG: I think with music, because of the internet and all that, you can get so specific about what you want to listen to and you keep digging. This is probably going to sound super Williamsburg or something, but now I find myself looking for music that is almost not music in a way, music that has ideas you wouldn’t normally come across, or just noise basically [laughs], I never thought I’d hear myself say that. It’s weird because we’re obsessed with melody I think sometimes you just feel overloaded like it’s crushing you or something.

AJT: I know that fashion is very important to you both, how crucial do you think it is to a band or artist?
JG: I think for a band it is nearly as important as the actual music. I think we used to say that it is as important.

JP: More important [laughs]

JG: Now I think it’s only nearly as important.

JP: We know a lot of bands who are doing well but their look is much more important than the music.

JG: That’s true, these days, and for a long time, people hear with their eyes to some extent. When we first started and were getting attention people were constantly comparing us to The Beach Boys and I guess I can maybe hear that if I really stretch but I think they were saying that because Jonny’s blonde and the press photos were on a beach. It was more of an imagery thing than a sonic one.

JP: When we put out Encyclopedia the same press said, “We’ve got a great new surf record from The Drums,” like they didn’t even listen to it.

JG: Yeah, that was happening a lot at the beginning, we sort of realised and thought we could play with it a little bit so when we put out Portamento we put out that album cover with a picture of Jonny as a little kid but coloured his eyes red so he looked like a demon and everyone was like, “This is crazy dark!” And it really wasn’t much darker, but just having that album cover made people write that. I think I was really annoyed by that idea at first but I think that once you understand the rules of the game you can play with that. To us the way we dress on stage, or whatever, is tantamount to what fonts we’re using in our artwork and that, it’s a whole vision for us, it all becomes one cohesive thing.

JP: All the bands we have ever loved have been obsessed with every single detail, control freaks basically.

AJT: And that ethos rings true with your close friend Hedi [Slimane] at Saint Laurent too.
JP: Oh yeah, he’s the ultimate punk perfectionist.

JG: I think that’s why we get on with him so much, we can just talk for hours about details or something, like, “Hey Hedi, don’t you think it looks cool when people’s sleeves are, like, a little too short?”

JP: And he’ll be like “Yes! You have to see a bit of wrist.” [laughs]

JG: Things like that, we’re kindred spirits.

JP: We love to complain together but he’s also one of the sweetest people we’ve ever met, he’ll talk to everyone and he’s just incredibly kindhearted.

The Drums play at Irenic, San Diego on August 20th

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