The Drums: ‘Real Fans Will Understand This Album Well’

Anna Dobbie caught up with lead singer Jonathon Pierce to find out more about their new album.

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Posted 16th September 2011 in Features & Reviews, The Drums | By Anna Dobbie

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The Drums new album Portamento is out this month, so we caught up with lead singer Jonathon Pierce to find out more. However, when Anna Dobbie called, Jonathon was feeling a little fragile…

How’re you?
Oh I’m ok, maybe feeling a little bit crazy.

Why crazy?
I went out last night to see this band called Iceage, I think they’re from Norway, they’re like a real true punk band. They had a genuine punk spirit about them. They jumped around and were very aggressive. I drank too much and I’ve got bruises all over my body from the show but I wouldn’t change a thing, it made me feel like I was 15 again. It’s really good to feel that way, to feel the spark of youth in your belly and it felt like high school again or something. I’m feeling a little rough this morning, but I’m going to do my best to give a good interview.

What time is it over there then?
It’s like 11 but that’s still a little early…

Will you take any influences from Iceage?
I’ve always had a soft spot for heavy metal and hardcore. I grew up listening to punk and I’ve always wanted to make a punk record.

You’re coming over to the UK in November - are you looking forward to it?
Yes, of course, the UK is so special to us. I think we were inseminated in New York but it was in the UK that things really took off for us. We had our first record deal in the UK and we got our first big tour in the UK. We really feel it’s such an honour to be embraced by people who embraced bands like Orange Juice and The Smiths. It’s really flattering to go to a place that is responsible for so much great music, it’s very humbling and we’re really grateful so when we go to the UK we try to put on the best show we can.

How do you think the scene over here differs at the moment from the American scene?
Yeah, it’s really hard to gauge where you stand when you’re standing in the middle. Overall we’re very peculiar people and very stubborn. If there was one word to describe the members of The Drums it would be delusional. We had this really bad slot at a festival, we were the first band to play and there were maybe a hundred people there, it was very small, and then a month later we played another festival and we had the best slot of the night with thousands and thousands of people watching us and it was in the same country so its very confusing when you actually stop and think about our places in this world. In Japan we played in front of 20 thousand people and in the UK we fill out big venues and you know that’s never been a goal of ours. Connor, he never wants to play a big arena or anything like that, because we’re most comfortable with small intimate venues. I don’t even know what I’m talking about because I’ve been going down a big rabbit trail. I apologise.

Let’s talk about the new album – it’s more electronic than your debut.
It doesn’t feel weird to us, it feels really natural because when Jacob and I first met each other, I think the main thing that we bonded over was electronic music and we were both very much into Synth Pop at the time. We really loved Kraftwerk and Wendy Carlos and those type of synthesizer pioneers were very inspiring to us. We were 11 or 12, we were very young and my father had given me a multi track analogue synthesizer, and Jacob’s mother gave him a Roland JO16 synthesizer so we both had this common bond and we were both also had this Pentecostal extreme upbringing, so when we found each other we both really latched onto each other and we’d talk for four or five hours on the phone and all we talked about was music and bands and mainly electro music. We started collecting analogue synthesizers and for years and years we had this big fascination with analogue circuitry. On Portamento, we went back to our first love a little bit and I feel like it may be the tip of the iceberg. I wouldn’t be surprised if our third album was completely electronic. I don’t think we’d go the Kid A route, I think we would still make simple pop songs, but maybe do them in a very minimal electronic way.

Do you think Portamento will fit with your previous ‘beach pop/surf rock’ tag?
I’m almost completely certain that anybody who just likes our band because of the song Let’s Go Surfing will probably be disappointed in the new album. That’s fine with me because anyone who likes us just for that one song and doesn’t really take the time to get to know our band and what we’re actually about and what we actually love, I actually wouldn’t mind losing those fans. It did get discouraging when we would play Let’s Go Surfing in the middle of a set at a festival and as soon as the song was over, half of the crowd would go. I wouldn’t mind if that half of the crowd never came back and I really appreciate fans who take the time to get to know what this band actually is and what we’re all about. I think the real fans will actually understand this album well.

I’ve heard it’s quite autobiographical? What have you taken from your life to put in this album?
I think the biggest theme that I’ve taken from my life is probably this fear of abandonment and also an overall neediness that I’ve had – just wanting to be in relationships. I was born a romantic – my mother always says I was a romantic from the start – and so I’ve always kinda been drawn to the sadder side of life because I think sadness so much more fascinating and much more romantic than happiness. I think that it’s a much more textural emotion and it’s a much more beautiful emotion than happiness, in a sort of poetic way. I’ve always been drawn to sadder songs, to sadder movies, to sad artwork. All my favourite movies end in tragedy and I don’t know why that is. I think if I had to find an answer to why I prefer things to be sad it’s because I think people choose to do things that they relate to and my upbringing was not a pleasant one; it was a very unhappy childhood and I think who you are as a child and as a teenager is in a way who you’re going to be for the rest of your life. I think that’s why a lot of these songs feel sad and hopeless, it’s really all I can write about. I made the decision to write a really honest personal album and that’s why there are no happy, joyous songs on there. It’s a really simple idea but I think simple can be really powerful. Grown men these days are under a really real pressure to come across as really strong and not show any sign of weakness especially in America and always have their guard up and I just want to say how it really is.

The picture on the cover – is that a photo of you as a child?
It is – it’s a photo I had in a photo album that I stole from my parents’ house when I ran away from home. My mother had made a photo album for each of us and it’s the one place where there are photos of me from birth to about 15 years old. I was looking through it when I was writing Portamento and I wanted to use an old photo. There’s something very cryptic about it, very dark, and I thought it really went with some songs on the album like Book of Revelations and Searching for Heaven. We painted my eyes red in the photograph. I felt that was why my parents always feared me – like a demonic child, because I never really bought into the religion that they were trying to shove down my throat. I wanted all the album artwork to be reflective of the album. We want everything to go together, the music, the videos, the artwork, to make the perfect pop package.

You’ve just launched Visiomento on your website…
I can’t talk too much about it because it’s meant to be a surprise of sorts, we’ve always been a very visual band and most of the songs on the first album were inspired by something visual. Our new album isn’t really inspired by visual things, it’s inspired by real things, but we still wanted to incorporate the visual side, but in a way separate from Portamento. We still wanted to flex our muscles and put out things that are interesting to watch. I don’t think we’ll ever be a band that ignores visual things. Jacob is completely obsessed with how things look – he cuts all our hair and styles how we dress and all that. We’re all very conscious of that. Bands like The Ramones or The Zombies – there’s a very certain look that all members of those bands had, the jackets that they wore, they took their appearance very seriously. I think we’re in that world where we take ourselves very seriously – you have to not just put out an album, but also think of something visual to go with it.

You supported Kings of Leon – what advice do you have for them?
I would advise them to split up and stop making music. I don’t think they're really helping anybody – they’ve never made a song that’s really touched me in any way. I think the less bands that are making bad music, the better. I can only be honest! I honestly think that the new Britney Spears record is better than their songs – it sounds like a really great pop song and that’s what I really like. They’re very American bar rock and it’s not interesting, it doesn’t affect me at all. That Sex is on Fire song is one of the worst songs I’ve heard in my life. I would advice them to call it quits, definitely the best thing they can do. I do have to say that Jared was a very kind man and he’s smarter than he’s letting on. I don’t think he really enjoys the music that Kings of Leon are putting out. I’ve had long conversations with him and he’s very open to me. He has really great taste in music and likes really great bands – I think he looks at Kings of Leon and it’s just a job that he has. I think that’s a really sad place to be – going through the motions and collecting a pay check, especially if you’re doing something that’s creative you know. To misrepresent yourself in a creative atmosphere seems a little dark to me.

What do you think is the next step for The Drums?
We’re looking forward to a couple of years of heavy touring and beyond that I don’t really know. I don’t know whether we’ll start working on our third album or take a break – we haven’t really talked about it. I think we’re holding off to see how this next tour goes, not to make any decisions until then. I think if it was a solo project and was just me I’d start writing and try to put out another record – I’m just like that, I’m afraid to relax or stop, I’m afraid of being bored. As soon as I get bored, I get really depressed so I like to keep busy and right now I’ve really got a creative bug – I just feel creative all the time so I guess it’s a good time to be writing. I’m almost 30 years old and I feel emotionally like a 15 year old, I don’t feel numb to anything. I feel happiness and sadness and jealousy and anger, these are all very real to me, just under the surface. I don’t think that’ll last for ever – when you get numb to one thing, you get numb to everything. I think that’s why older bands can’t write good songs anymore – it’s because they don’t have anything to really say or relate to.