- Fri, 2010-04-30 16:23
The Drums exploded onto the indie scene in late 2009 on the back of Let’s Go Surfing, from their debut EP Summertime! Named 5th on the BBC Sound of 2010 poll, first on NME’s tips for 2010, in Clash Magazine’s top tips for 2010 and winning Best Hope For 2010 in Pitchfork’s readers’ poll, it’s fair to say they’re responsible for a fair bit of excitement. Their debut album is due out on June 7th 2010.
I Like Music caught up with Jonathon and Conner, vocalist and drummer respectively, and chatted about the unsettling aspects of notoriety, playing live, what inspires their music and avoiding the Brooklyn scene.
“I Like Music because…it keeps us from being bored. It gives us something to do with our day.” The Drums
ILM: What do you look forward to the most about playing live?
Jonathon Pierce: I think for us playing shows is the best part. Writing songs is great, but actually being on stage and performing them is probably the most satisfactory part of it all. This tour that we’re on right now is mainly a press tour. For us it gets really depressing just doing press and not being able to play shows, so we’re trying to book shows every night.
Connor Hanwick: Yeah, we come into town and scramble around looking for bands the night before!
Jonathon Pierce: The other night we were in Glasgow and went to this basement party with like, thirty kids there. One of the bands that was gonna play had to cancel so they asked us to play. So we opened up for these two bands, just to play y’know.
ILM: How has your live show changed and developed?
Jonathon Pierce: We played our first show less than a year ago, so we’re still sort of growing. We know what we won’t do, but as for what we will do it’s still being refined. I think with every band it’s just natural to hone into exactly what you are and what you’re going to do. Whether it’s writing or performing on stage it takes a little time to really settle in to what you’re doing. Every time you play you feel a little bit more connected not only to each other but to the songs as well.
Connor Hanwick: Because we started such a short time ago with this band we haven’t really gotten the chance to feel comfortable yet. Interviews don’t really feel comfortable, press doesn’t feel comfortable, being in a label office hanging out in the morning doesn’t feel comfortable. Because we’ve been in bands since we were kids, the one thing that we feel comfortable with is being on stage. When we get up there, it’s not like an out-of-body experience or anything, but it feels like we just came home to a group of friends or something.
Jonathon Pierce: Yeah, even going into a big studio feels strange. That’s why we record stuff on our own in our bedroom. We sort of hold on to that and being on stage as kind of an anchor, to feel grounded and comfortable.
ILM: What will it take for that to change?
Connor Hanwick: Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché to say it’ll always feel uncomfortable, but we’ve been doing this kind of stuff now almost since we’ve started and it still doesn’t feel comfortable yet. And I think that when it does feel comfortable then I don’t know that we should really be doing this anymore. It’s not a good sign.
ILM: How does the songwriting process go with The Drums?
Jonathon Pierce: We all live together, so it’s kind of like a perpetual mill of ideas, y’know.
Connor Hanwick: Usually for songwriting stuff Jon will just lock himself in a room in the morning and write all day. Then he’ll come downstairs and be like “hey, what do you think of this?” Most of the time we just love it. If there’s ever been any time where he’s brought something that hasn’t been great… well actually, he probably just wouldn’t even bring it to us if he didn’t think it was great. So usually Jacob or I will step in and play a guitar on the recording.
ILM: Have you had any chance to write whilst you’ve been on tour?
Jonathon Pierce: Yeah, Connor and I have been writing a little bit. We wrote a couple of songs last time we were in London.
ILM: Is it natural for you to sit down and start writing, or does it take some sort of inspiration to start you off?
Jonathon Pierce: When I started writing songs for The Drums it was more idea-driven, but gradually things became more personal and introspective. Certainly with these songs that Connor and I just wrote, I feel that every time we sing them I’ll be able to really feel them. They’re very, very personal. I don’t know if I like that idea so much, because I feel that when you’re being that open you’re sort of giving things away that you won’t be able to take back. But at the same time I don’t want to write insincere songs. It’s a tricky thing; you don’t want to give your soul away, but you also want to have something to hold dear. I see an end to most of the privacy I’ve had in my life!
ILM: In terms of those idea-driven songs, are those ideas lyrical, structural, sonic…?
Jonathon Pierce: The songs sometimes start with a situation. Typically that’s how it starts. Just a feeling. Sometimes it’s a very overwhelming feeling, sometimes it’s more general. After that I just think up the melody and try to play it on the guitar and build the song around it. I feel that every great melody has some great lyrics wrapped inside it. It kind of delivers the lyric. For us, we don’t really write lyrics. A lot of the lyrics on the record were just recorded as they came into my head. A lot of them are one take. It’s really weird; there’s no paper-trail behind that. It’s really immediate. But I think that’s how it should be. It should be instant and not thought through, not too clever.
ILM: Based on intuition…
Jonathon Pierce: Yeah, it needs to just spill out, and if it doesn’t then you shouldn’t be trying to write a song, at least on that day.
ILM: You’ve been involved in other bands and musical projects, what is it about The Drums that has made it work on a scale that it didn’t before?
Connor Hanwick: We’ve got to this level because we did all that other stuff before. We were just talking about how we’ve been bands since we were 12 years old. There was always something missing, or it didn’t feel like it was cohesive. We would just keep doing it, because what else can you do? But as a result of being in those other bands we were wiser. It wasn’t so much that we knew what we were doing or knew what we wanted it to be… there was a specific idea, but I guess we didn’t know how to execute it. We were constantly saying ‘no’ to things. We don’t know exactly how to do what we want, but we know what we don’t want. It’s a process of elimination in a way.
Jonathon Pierce: Another thing is that there aren’t a lot of bands doing old things. It’s funny to be hailed as the new thing, because to us what we’re doing is really an old idea. It’s just the classic band writing simple pop songs thing. Essentially we’re sort of boring! But I think right now… it’s like all the kids want to get tattoos to be interesting and different, but then everybody has tattoos, so the kid who doesn’t is the one who stands out. That’s sort of like us. We’re just taking that tried and true road of just stripping everything down to simplicity, whether it’s the songwriting or the stage show. Even live we don’t want crazy lights and smoke machines and all that. We really just want to be a band that represents the song. The song is what people love, but it’s become about getting the right producer, or the right person to remix your track. We just want to be a band that puts out albums every two years. That’s what you get, there’s no collaborations, just a simple, classic idea.
ILM: Do you think the inevitable changes that come with getting bigger will affect that ambition, or do you have a clear path for yourselves in mind?
Connor Hanwick: You mean like, do we have a conclusion in mind?
ILM: Maybe, yeah…
Jonathon Pierce: I think we sort of have a plan of exactly what we want to do, the amount of albums we want to put out and when we’ll be done.
Connor Hanwick: That’s why we have to be so careful and specific about our choices. A lot of bands get lazy in other aspects. They think it’s just about the song, but for us it’s a collective thing. Everything counts. Sometimes it feels like we’re on this high-wire because there are so many steps to take. Especially now that people are watching. There are a lot of steps we have to take to get to that desired outcome of how we want people to see us. And not just now. I want a kid twenty years from now to give his friend a mixtape and to say “you’ve gotta fucking hear this band, they’re from twenty years ago!” The other stuff, like magazines and stuff, is cool, but that’s what’s important to me.
ILM: What sort of influence has Brooklyn had on your music?
Jonathon Pierce: We all love New York so much, and we’ll probably write our next record there. The first album was predominantly written in Florida. That was sort of, for lack of a better word, a strategic move to go down to Florida and write a record cut-off from everything. We had no friends and we lived in an apartment on the highway in a small town called Kissimmee. We just wrote a big batch of songs, and then came back to New York six months later with the EP and most of the album done. Had we not done that, maybe there would have been some unwanted influence. You have to wipe the slate clean in order to find something fresh.
Connor Hanwick: New York can be an incestuous place. A lot of people trying to do what everybody else is doing but in a better way. That doesn’t really work. You’re all just doing the same shit. So New York as a music scene, or a music-centric place doesn’t necessarily have an effect on us because we don’t really like a lot of the bands from there. There are some really, really good bands, but the Brooklyn thing which is kind of synonymous with certain bands is what we avoid. We’re kind of the anti-Brooklyn band. But you can’t be in America without having some kind of feeling towards it. Some people hate it and some people love it. Either way, it’ll have some kind of impact on you. New York especially is always a place of rejuvenation. There’s always new things coming out of there. It’s like a subconscious competitive thing I guess.
ILM: What have you been listening to lately?
Jonathon Pierce: Currently we’re listening to a band from London called Veronica Falls, and a band out of Brooklyn called Night School.
ILM: What about your collections, are you into your vinyl, or do you stick with mp3s…?
Jonathon Pierce: It’s hard to collect things right now cos we all live together. There are six of us in an apartment that’s meant for maybe three people. And there are two dogs there as well. It’s really hectic, and there’s no room for anything, so it’s hard to collect music right now!
Connor Hanwick: Although I did go to Stephen Pastel’s record store in Glasgow the other day. We were only there for two days and I went both days! I spent a lot of money and got some really good stuff.
ILM: What did you get?
Connor Hanwick: A 7” by a band called Chin Chin, the first three LPs from the Wipers on CD, a 7” from a band called Dub Narcotic Sound System and a bunch of other assorted goods, but those are the highlights. I got a rare Durutti Column 12” that I didn’t know existed. I was excited about that.
ILM: How about experiencing music live as a fan, who have you seen that has left a lasting impression?
Jonathon Pierce: This band called Cats On Fire are really incredible live. The lead singer is sort of David Bowie meets and alien or something. You just can’t take your eyes off them. I think they’re from Sweden. I actually saw Slow Club at SXSW, and I don’t know if I was drunk but I thought it was incredible. Really, really great.
Connor Hanwick: I saw a band called Hunx and his Punx at SXSW. They were awesome. About eight months ago I saw Francis and the Lights in a really small club in New York called Zebulon. He’s the greatest. When I was 13 or 14 I saw the Strokes in Mercury Lounge. In 2000 or something. I was just like “those guys are so cool!” And I still feel that!