The War on Drugs on “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, July 5th, 2022  

The War on Drugs on “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”

True Fiction

May 17, 2022 Photography by Shawn Brackbill Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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In the spring of 2018, The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel was experiencing one of those rare moments when a person’s professional and personal lives both reach their pinnacle. Having completed a grueling tour with 2017’s A Deeper Understanding, the band’s fourth release that would win a Grammy for Best Rock Album and sell over 200,000 copies, he had somehow cracked the code of making classic rock cool for indie kids. Preparing for the arrival of his first child—a son he’d name after one of his heroes, Bruce Springsteen—he approached his 40th birthday as the first songwriter in a generation to stake out new territory within the Dylan-Springsteen-Petty tradition. But with the tours done and over two years having passed since he last wrote a song, he started to feel his next creative move looming.

“I was like, ‘I don’t really think that in the spirit of not doing the same thing, this War on Drugs record should be me alone at a piano,’” Granduciel says with a laugh. “No one wants to hear that. God forbid there was a string section involved. This band, these records, it’s almost like this illusion of this fictional band. The six of us are not in the room making all of these songs together. But it’s this live band—the six of us—that you know.”

That tension—a solitary auteur increasingly relying on his thoroughly road-tested fictional band to execute his creative vision—has served Granduciel well. By March of 2018, he was ready to workshop some of the tracks that would become the band’s fifth studio release, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, with multi-instrumentalist Dave Hartley and bassist Anthony LeMarca in Upstate New York. His goal was straightforward if a bit vague: he wanted to make a better, more concise record. That ethos was quickly put to the test. Early versions of the shimmering “Change” and stormy mid-tempo ballad “I Don’t Wanna Wait” emerged as album building blocks, while a 30-minute jam was soon demoted from a potential album centerpiece to off the album entirely.

The changes were incremental but noticeable. What would have been six-minute songs on previous albums were now trimmed to five-minute songs, with nothing much lost in the arrangements. Some changes are more produced than others, however. “Victim” piles up synthesizers and drum machine hooks into an electro-pop anthem that tweaks their formula ever so slightly. The exact opposite approach dominates on the threadbare acoustic balladry of “Rings Around My Father’s Eyes” and the aching Americana of “Living Proof.” Album closer, “Occasional Rain”—a track forgotten for two years before Granduciel discovered it in one of his DropBox accounts—would fit on any War on Drugs records. “I don’t really want to reinvent the wheel too much for this band until it feels natural [to do so],” Granduciel explains. “Hopefully the difference between records four and five and the difference between records four and ten are noticeable. Hopefully there is a common thread between each thing that we do.”

Despite the fact that he shares writing credits on four tracks on I Don’t Live Here Anymore, The War on Drugs remains as much an idea as it is a traditional rock band, with Granduciel largely piecing together albums out of recorded instrumental parts and the full band mainly existing in live settings. Though most of the tracks were already written before the pandemic, the enforced isolation actually fit well within their usual creative process, Granduciel says. Instead of his band members (with multi-instrumentalist Robbie Bennett, drummer Charlie Hall, and saxophonist Jon Natchez filling out the lineup) flying out to Los Angeles to lay down an instrumental part, they now could take their time in their home studios, collecting and refining their ideas without the pressure of deadlines hanging over them. Track-by-track, the hooks are just a little bit sharper, the arrangements just a little bit more precise, the performances a little bit more focused. While Granduciel has no difficulty recounting the minutia of every decision made in his songwriting, he’s far less clear on big picture questions. For one, why is his band successful in an era when conventional guitar rock bands—especially those playing heart-on-sleeve heartland rock—are largely seen as dad-rock relics?

“I know it sounds like I should have figured this out,” he says. “I’ve been asked about it enough that it’s like ‘Don’t you have an answer?’ But I feel like if I even tried to think about it, I’d lose…” he says, trailing off as if even completing that sentence is too risky. “I never consider myself anything but lucky in every way,” he concludes, before offering a brief overview of the band’s history. All of their growth has been by necessity, he says, recounting how the band grew from a few friends who expected to go back to their day jobs once touring was over into a six-piece ensemble that was needed to play the more expansive arrangements of 2014’s Lost in the Dream. Then, as if by some law of attraction, the larger band filled larger and larger venues for larger and larger audiences. Granduciel’s fictional band has become very real. “We take it very seriously, and we love playing together and existing together on the stage and on the road,” Granduciel says. “And you can tell that these six guys are really invested in these songs, and we’re very fortunate the people care. It’s the dream.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.thewarondrugs.net

Read our review of A Deeper Understanding here.

Read our interview with the band about making A Deeper Understanding.

Read our interview with Adam Granduciel on recording A Deeper Understanding.

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