There’s always been something special about The Drums. It’s hard to be unique nowadays, as it seems hundreds of new bands are forming every day. I remember listening to Best Friend for the first time; the music was so joyous and upbeat, yet when that first lyric of “You’re my best friend / But then you died” was sung, I was in shock of how a band pulled off a surf-pop atmosphere against blunt lyrics. It’s as if the two contradict one another, yet this New York duo are able to make them balance perfectly. The Drums were truly unique.
With the recent release of their third album Encyclopedia, the band have taken North America by storm with their infectious indie-pop. To get the scoop on the new album, we had the opportunity of meeting up with The Drums’ Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham while in Toronto. Enjoy the conversation below as we discuss creating Encyclopedia, items on its new album cover, intimate lyrics, and secrets.
AMBY: It’s an exciting new chapter for The Drums as you just released your most adventurous record yet, Encyclopedia. Congrats on its release! What was the experience like recording the album with the original line-up?
Jonny Pierce: At first it was very daunting and scary. After the dust settled off of Portamento, we spent about three years on the road and never really took a break. It was a scary thing to kind of come off the road and realize that it was just Jacob and I again. After a little bit of time, something clicked and we came to a realization that we can now do things in a different light. We thought that maybe this was the creative freedom we needed to really be able to nail everything we’ve ever wanted to do musically. We’ve always connected on music, but very specific elements of music. We were able to come together and do exactly what we wanted.
AMBY: I recently read how if it weren’t for reverb, the band probably wouldn’t have formed. When you reflect back on that, which songs or artists did you hear with reverb that made you think, “We should try this whole band thing out”?
Jacob Graham: You know, when the band first started we were really into girl groups from the sixties and all of the stuff that Phil Spector had produced.
AMBY: How did that impact Encyclopedia?
Jacob Graham: I think on Encyclopedia things either have a lot of reverb on them or they have no reverb on them whatsoever. It was very conscious; sounds are either on the front or in the back. That was kind of exciting for us.
Jonny Pierce: Now it’s more so whatever works or whatever is the best vehicle for the song. When it comes to a song like I Can’t Pretend, it’s very landscape-y but then some songs are wiry and have really blunt and dry guitars going through the whole thing. I feel we were trying to experiment a bit more and let each sound be delivered in whatever way sounds best. Some sounds should always have some reverb with them while others are better left unquestioned.
AMBY: The album cover for the new record is very interesting – there’s everything from a football, pineapple, goldfish, to milk. Did you individually pick which items you wanted on the cover? What’s the significance of those objects to you?
Jacob Graham: Most of those objects are things that we had in our living room [laughs] and we just thought how “this will be us.” We really feel like each one of those items stand for something; there are twelve items and twelve songs and each correlate with each other.
AMBY: That’s such a neat theme for an album cover. How about the empty couch with the two of you sitting down? That must have been intentional.
Jonny Pierce: The cover to me is a narrative all in its own. You mentioned the couch! It’s supposed to sit four people but instead there’s just two. We sort of used it as a place marker.
AMBY: I’ve always felt like The Drums’ catalogue was never vague or impersonal with lyricism. From Down by the Water to There Is Nothing Left, there has always been a real immediacy where you share your setbacks, disappointment, and relationships with your listeners. Has it always been easy for you to break down that barrier of privacy?
Jonny Pierce: I write all of the lyrics, with the exception of Wild Geese, but I don’t know… I’ve always been writing songs. I feel it’s very in right now to not say anything [laughs]; everything is very breezy and vibey but they’re not saying words that mean anything. On the new record, we wrote about everything from true hopelessness, depression, being lonely, being gay, to being atheist. There are a bunch of different things.
AMBY: It’s ballsy to put yourselves out there like that. I respect that a lot.
Jonny Pierce: Thank you.
Jacob Graham: I feel that now that the rules have been set, we can start to bend them a little bit.
AMBY and The Drums: [laughs]
Jonny Pierce: I think honesty with writing sometimes scares people away. We tried to write it where it’s inviting and everyone loves it. We really wanted it to be something that slowly clicked with your system and people could feel comforted by.
AMBY: I think that’s why fans connect so well; you’re being as genuine as it gets and it’s nice being part of something like that.
Jonny Pierce: Oh, good. That’s the whole point.
AMBY: We have a new segment on the website called Three That Matter — it’s where we ask artists about songs they currently love. Which three songs are your personal favourites at the moment that comfort you?
Jacob Graham: You’re probably asking the wrong people!
Jonny Pierce: We don’t know what’s going on in the world.
Jacob Graham: Do you mean current songs?
AMBY: Anything you’re enjoying.
Jonny Pierce: I don’t really listen to music, so it’s difficult.
Jacob Graham: I’ll say This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush.
Jonny Pierce: The Beats International song! [starts singing]
AMBY: You both don’t listen to a ton of music on the road, do you?
Jonny Pierce: [laughs] No, we kind of keep it quiet.
Jacob Graham: Are you talking about this one, Jonny? [starts playing The Beats International off laptop]
Jonny Pierce: Yes.
Jacob Graham: That’s Fatboy Slim’s old project.
AMBY: Oh very cool, I like it.
Jacob Graham: We need one more.
Jonny Pierce: What about Love?
Jacob Graham: It’s from Walt Disney’s Robin Hood.
AMBY and The Drums: [laughs]
Jonny Pierce: One of our biggest influences are movie soundtracks.
AMBY: Did that have an impact on Encyclopedia?
Jonny Pierce: We wanted our album to have high peaks and low valleys and be very colourful. We were listening to a few soundtracks to get in the spirit of Encyclopedia… but we shut everything off when it came to creating the album.
AMBY: I never knew that, what a fun Drums tidbit. Well, I have our final question for you both: what’s something about The Drums that nobody knows yet?
The Drums: Hmmmm…
Jonny Pierce: There’s gotta be something.
Jacob Graham: I sort of sometimes like to listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers…
AMBY: [laughs] I love how you say that with so much hesitation.
Jonny Pierce: Well don’t look at me!
AMBY: You don’t like them, I’m guessing?
Jonny Pierce: No, I never really got that.
Jacob Graham: I don’t even know why I like it! Maybe it’s because we only listen to Disney soundtracks [laughs].
Thank you The Drums, for giving us your answers!
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Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout