The Drums: In the Studio

Memories and Melodies

Apr 05, 2010 Photography by Crackerfarm Web Exclusive
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The Most Anticipated Albums of 2010 section in Under the Radar's Winter 2010 Issue includes a short article on The Drums' debut album. Below is the full Q&A of that interview with the band.

I caught up with Brooklyn via Florida act The Drums in mid-January at their East Williamsburg apartment, somewhere between the moribund Marcy projects and the urbane bastion of hipness that is Bedford Avenue. Apropos, given that the band seem like misfits in today's Brooklyn scene, their insular milieu wedged somewhere between such somber Factory Records acts as The Wake and blithe '50s surf culture dreams. Speaking as they prepared for their highly anticipated sold out Bowery Ballroom gig, which came on the heels of an NME cover story, Radio 1 airplay in the U.K., and numerous celebrity endorsements, the band hadn't changed a bit since I'd last talked to them six months earlier at Brooklyn's Automotive High School, as honest and sweet as their music would lead you to believe. And following up an escapist EP, Summertime!hearkening to a simpler time lifted straight from the beach fantasy of a Frankie Avalon filmthe band hint that their upcoming LP will exhibit a certain gravitas, without sacrificing the band's essential elements: the fulsome melodies, sprightly hand-claps, vulnerable lyrics, and generous ethos. A very truncated version of our discussion appeared in the last print issue of Under the Radar. Here's the unexpurgated, complete transcript of my conversation with singer Jonathan Pierce, guitarist Jacob Graham, and drummer Connor Hanwick.

So we're talking about anticipated albums for this year. How's it coming along?

Jacob Graham: It's been finished for awhile, and we're working on artwork at the moment.

Any clues about a label yet?

Jacob: I don't think we're allowed to talk about it just yet.

But it's pretty much finalized?

Jacob: Pretty much. At least in the U.K.

Jonathan Pierce: We have some strong leads. [Laughs]

Is it in the vein of the EP? Are any songs from it gonna be on it?

Jacob: One song's gonna carry over, but it's pretty much all new stuff. The style's pretty much the same way, in the way we don't play on changing our style. But the EP was our most summery, kind of beach party sounds. So the full-length is a little darker.

Does the Factory Records influence come to the fore?

Jacob: Kind of. It still has that '50s sound, but it's a little more introspective probably. It sounds a lot darker than the EP, but there's still a lot of handclaps on it. It still sounds like The Drums. It's just more autumn and wintertime.

Is that the title? [Laughs]

Jacob: Yeah, "Autumn Slash Winter Time." [Laughs]

Did you self-produce again?

Jacob: Yeah, we self-produced.

Where did you record?

Jacob: Half in Florida. We'd finished half of it before we even got to Brooklyn last summer, so we had a big batch of songs, so we've been working on writing the second half since we got here.

Do you feel pressure now? I can't imagine you expected to be on the cover of the NME.

Jacob: Not really. All that stuff's exciting, but it really doesn't change anything. Everyone says that everyone's paying attention to you now, so you should change this or that, but what we were doing is why we got all that attention in the first place, so that's why we're kind of going to stick to what we're doing.

You were getting airplay on [BBC] Radio 1, right?

Jonathan: Yeah, they've been playing "Let's Go Surfing."

And it was your self-produced song, right? Not rerecorded or anything?

Jonathan: Yep.

That's amazing. I can't imagine that happens often.

Jacob: Yeah. We weren't expecting anything like that when we wrote it, that's for sure.

So Jonathan, lyrically, how do you feel like the themes differ on the full-length from the EP?

Jonathan: I think it was much more personal, without sounding dramatic. A little bit more of wearing our emotions on our sleeve. Whereas on the EP there was more made up kind of environments and stories. But I know the full-length is much more personal. We have a song about two best friends and one of them dies, and then the first lyric to that song is "You're my best friend and then you die." We go after these ideas. But overall it's much more serious. I feel like the latter-half of the album is more bare bones or something, nothing extraneous. I want to say more stripped down, but it's less frills, less decorative.

Connor Hanwick: At the beginning it sounded like The Drums, but towards the end it was like The Drums with The Field Mice thrown in. Delicate maybe. Heartfelt, and just very, very sad.

Is the melody still as prominent?

Jonathan: Yeah, it's still the melody, maybe even more so. You need to rely on the melody when you take things down and throw things away that don't need to be there. It needs to be perfect, or as close to perfect as possible.

Does it flow cohesively, or does it cover a lot of stylistic ground?

Jacob: I don't think it feels all over the place. I think it feels cohesive. It feels like an isolated time of your life. You feel like this could have been a year of my life or something.

Jonathan: The beginning of the record starts out joyous, and the end of the record is more somber. But in all of that, we hope to reflect some slight hope as well.

When we talked before you mentioned The Smiths' debut as one you admired a great deal. What were you after here? Is that a record you strove to emulate?

Jonathan: Well, the first one has to be the one where you make your stamp. Your debut is kind of like your thesis statement, and everything you do from there either has to support it or it doesn't, and you kind of fade away.

Jacob: I feel like the album's kind of aware that it's a debut album in the way that it's aware that it needs to be potent in certain ways. [Jonathan breaks to admonish a largely barking house dog, leading him into his bedroom.] "Stop it, stop it. Sit, sit. You be quiet!" [Laughs]

Regarding your decision to self-produce, you don't really have anyone around to question you. Did labels ever try to interfere when they heard the finished product?

Jacob: Never. We never really had a label try to interfere in any way. I mean, we always say we're open to any ideas, but it's only as long as your willing to have them shot down right away. [Laughs] That's always been our opening line.

Jonathan: Anyone who sees our live show realizes we have a pretty strong vision of what we're doing.

You're a very polarizing band, which is a good thing. People hate you and people love you. To me, there's something wrong if no one hates you. [Laughs]

Jonathan: It's sort of unintentionally a goal of ours, because there's so much out there and you don't feel anything towards it. With The Drums subconsciously I'd much rather have everybody hate us than have people be indifferent to us. It means that the band has something specific or essential to their character.

I hate to criticize bands, but there are bands like Coldplay out there, and I don't really feel love or hate towards them. What they do is fine, but they don't seem to piss anyone off. It's very pleasant.

Jacob: Well, I can't comment on them.

Yeah, you share management. [Laughs]

Jonathan: I've always felt like with certain things, well my grandma likes that music, and that's great, but there's nothing even close to resembling something bold or offensive. I'm not saying weird or crazy. But it kinds of come down to what audience you're trying to reach. If you're trying to reach everyone, you can reach everyone, but not touch the heart of anyone.

Connor: But I don't think it has anything to do with size. If you're a band like U2, their level of sincerity rivals 80% of the bands on this block. You feel indifferent to it because it doesn't feel sincere, it doesn't feel honest.

To use a film comparison, something like Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, the way he didn't care if people hated it. When everyone walked out on it, he said, "Good, then I'm doing my job." I think art should rile people up.

Jonathan: It should be communicative. But at the end of the day, for us and for Lars Von Trier and all those people, being selfish is a good thing. Exposing yourself. To go back to sincerity, expressing your innermost desires. That's actually being very generous in a way. You aren't guarding yourself.

It's vulnerability. And I don't see a lot of vulnerability in a lot of modern bands. I like Animal Collective a lot, but I don't see the vulnerability there, which is fine. But it seems like it's almost frowned upon these days. Jonathan, I remember what you said about the Lou Reed line, "I want to play football for the coach" the last time we talked.

Jonathan: Yeah, it's like the best line ever.

Are you a big Velvets fan?

Jonathan: I'm not as much as this guy is. [Points at Connor.] I don't think we take direct influence from Lou Reed, but we do love him.

You remind me a lot of Calvin Johnson live, and I mean that as a compliment.

Jonathan: Oh, I like that. Connor's kind of shown me the way with Beat Happening, I've really been listening to them a lot.

Their ethos kind of reminds me of yours. They just put it out there.

Jonathan: Well, Calvin was so cool because he sang kind of like an idiot and danced completely like a moron [laughs], and just did not care.

There's no self-consciousness there at all.

Jonathan: He's still doing so much. He was at the Market Hotel a few weeks ago. He did some stuff with some guy with the Gossip, playing off his weird acoustic album.

I'd love to see a Beat Happening reunion.

Jonathan: Yeah, me too.

So what's your long term plan? Can you see yourself being in this for the long haul?

Jacob: I don't know how many [albums] we'll end up making, but we'll end up making more.

I really enjoyed following bands' trajectories back in the '80s and '90s. It seems like everyone loses interest in bands right away these days.

Jacob: I don't think we're gonna make 50 records or anything, but I think we're so happy with everything. It's something all four of us have been working for all our lives, and we've got it now. So it's like we're married. We're ready to settle down.

Jonathan: We're ready to fuck. [Laughs] But there's a really specific concentrated idea with this band, and I think we'll know when we need to stop. I don't think we'll be afraid to just call it, because we'll know.

Do you think the dynamic's changed since Connor joined?

Jacob: It's been almost 9 months, but it hasn't been that it's changed so much, but it's just another member in the mix. Jonathan does most of the writing and we throw ideas at him.

I thought it was pretty wild that Boy George is a fan.

Jonathan: He's actually a really nice guy. We invited him over for dinner just as kind of a joke, and he showed up. [Laughs

Jacob: He's really cool. He had some words of wisdom for us. It's weird because I don't think any of us are huge Culture Club fans or Boy George fans, but he has some amazing songs. So it's kind of nice to hang out with somebody like that who you aren't star struck by because you weren't obsessed with him as a teenager, but has undeniably written some great songs. You can really pick his brain, because he's been through a lot.

I'll bet. Remember when he had to go out and collect trash in New York as part of some kind of plea bargain?

Jacob: Yeah, so we can definitely relate to him. [Laughs] No, he's cool.

Have any other noteworthy people shown up at your shows?

Jacob: We met Mike Joyce from The Smiths. He randomly showed up at one of our shows in Manchester. Just a super nice guy, and really encouraging. He invited us into his studio to record a couple songs for his radio show.

That's amazing [admiring framed singed Smiths 7" handed to me].

Jonathan: And that's for you to take! [Laughs]

Jacob: We give one to everyone. [Laughs]

Jonathan: But some real icons, like Debbie Harry. And Camera Obscura have come to see us. Who we love. And The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the only Brooklyn band we really like. Peggy [Wang] from Pains is actually singing with us at our Bowery show tomorrow.

Oh yeah, Peggy, she used to host that show New York Noise. Great show.

Jacob: Really! The public access show with videos and bands? I didn't know they had hosts.

Well, on occasion, like at SXSW and CMJ.

Connor: I'm getting a public access show soon.

Are you serious?

Connor: It's a cooking show. It'll be funny because I don't know how to cook. [Laughs]

So, what have you guys been listening to lately?

Jonathan: Jacob only listens to the Field Mice.

Jacob: Always.

Camera Obscura's obviously a favorite of yours. I saw them on a play-list recently.

Jacob: They have a great sound, and some songs that just knock it out of the ballpark.

Like "French Navy." Wow.

And "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." That's just an amazing song. I can wrap it up now. Anything you guys wanted to add?

Jonathan: How are you?

I'm great. [Laughs]

Jonathan: Let's end it with that.

www.thedrums.com



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alexandre maciel
April 9th 2010
10:36pm

They are fucking awesome