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Music |

Interview: The Drums

Thursday 29 January 2015

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Words Ailis Mara

The Drums arrived home from their Encyclopaedia at the end of 2014, and it seems this tour, and this album, mark a new step forward for this New York band. Stepping forward in the direction of more meaningful music and events for their fans, but more importantly for Jonny and Jacob too.

We chat with The Drums about what has happened with the sort-of-newly twosome since the last time the guys spoke to Spindle magazine three years ago and what they’ve done since they got to London (which consists of going to Tesco and sitting in the dressing room). We talk their last tour and the fact I went to their Portsmouth show, which they well remembered as a harbour town, and that it had a swimming pool. I didn’t even remember that.


We interviewed you guys, well I think it was more that Amy met you drunkenly in a pub, but it was in our first published issue of the magazine. That was three years ago now.

Jacob: We’ve been here since the beginning.

What are five things that can catch us up with The Drums in the last three years?

Jonny: We came off tour in… Do you remember?
Jacob: Probably like mid 2012.
Jonny: Hmm, what has happened? We were reduced to two members.
Jacob: Probably the first thing is Portamento came out. That record, then after that record it all kind of fell apart.
Jonny: It did not all fall apart, we lost a band member. Which for a month felt like it was all falling apart.
Jacob: Really, in the past three years, only one big thing has really happened and that’s releasing this new record. Because we spent about two years making it.
Jonny: Yeah, we haven’t done much but record and write and it’s never as glamorous or dynamic as you think it is, like how it’s portrayed in the media.
It looked like a kid grabbing a cookie and getting caught. Jonny said of opening to dressing room door to ask the guys sound checking to wait five mins…
Jacob and I, we just worked intensively on this new record you know. After Connor left I think we were both a bit confused about the future and everything was a little blurry. I think deep in our gut we knew we’d persevere and keep going, but we felt a little hurt and disillusioned by the industry and everything felt kind of yucky. Sometimes you just need to take time, sometimes the only thing you can do is take time, and time can fix a lot of things if you just let it.

Very quickly, we made a mental shift from thinking (sad voice) “oh gosh, now it’s just down to the two of us” to (happy voice) “oh gosh, it’s just the two of us”. And it was really how we perceived ourselves and once we flipped that switch we were able to just start recording this new record. We wrote the first song ‘I can’t Pretend’ and we realised we didn’t have to ask anyone else. Like ‘hey are you guys cool with this song” or “how do you feel about this base line”. It was just Jacob and I who have known each other for twenty years, who at this point our brains have just mended into one when we’re creating something. So there’s very little dialogue when we’re working we just know what’s good and what’s bad and what we can use and what we cant. Which is not the case when you have more people in the room. That was a really eye opening thing. It just made way for this really fantastic record, that for us a real musical adventure.

I think the stuff we’d done in the past, while we were at the helm of it, just having people in the same room kind of effects what your doing. It’s like when no one else is there we get to get our hands really dirty and just be more selfish and more self-centered which I think is great for an artist to be. When you’re thinking about pleasing everyone, that’s when its very easy for your work to get watered down because you’re trying to throw the widest net to make everyone happy.

That’s not always necessary.

Jonny: It can really dilute something that could have been really potent and powerful. Jacob and I, our brains align with pretty much everything. It was just such a streamline thing. That doesn’t mean it was fun, because it wasn’t. There were times when we felt very lonely, that we didn’t have this strong support system that we felt initially. But I think this record wouldn’t have been made had we. There are just so many pressures that come with that. It’s a big lesson we’ve learned, getting away from it all is really when you can make some beautiful music. It was nice.

The album is amazing. It’s a lot different; it’s heavier than stuff you’ve done before.

Jonny: I think we were at a place where we were allowed to be heavier. Our focus went very quickly from “what will get the kids dancing?” to “what’s going to make us feel good about ourselves in 30 years when we look back?” so we’re always thinking long term. People ask us all the time “what bands were you listening to when you were making this record? Who’s your main influence?” It’s always the first question. You didn’t ask it thank god, but most people.

Whilst I cross the question off my list… (Joking)

Jonny: People are like “who are you trying to copy for your new record?”, it’s such an ugly question. For us, the honest answer is that we shut it all out. Our main influence for this new record was the soundtrack to this cartoon about dinosaurs called The Land Before Time. We said let’s go a drums Land Before Time record but with wiry guitars. Let’s just try to do that, it doesn’t make any sense but let’s do it. But once it’s all said and done, it kind of makes sense.


You said you’ve known each other for twenty years, and you’ve both grown up in strong Christian families. Did you meet through church?

Jacob: Essentially, we met at a bible camp when we were kids.

Has that influenced the way you write or produce music in any way?

Jonny: I’m sure it’s influenced us more than we could probably know.
Jacob: It’s probably influenced us like completely, that sort of thing. Musically I could say when we were growing up we were only allowed to listen to what was considered Christian bands. I think we were very fortunate to grow up when we did because when we were growing up there was a lot of Christian bands doing really interesting things. There were bands doing things that sounded very similar to what was going on over here at the time, like with Sarah Records, but they didn’t even know it was going on here.

It was kind of the ideal time to have that limitation on us, and we think that because of that it’s almost like we grew up in this parallel universe. Where somebody would be like “when I was growing up I was listening to Nirvana or Patti Smith or Elliott Smith” or whatever. And we didn’t even know those people existed until like we’d graduated high school. We were living under this weird rock. I think it’s given us this completely different musical signature than we would have had otherwise.

Jonny: I think in a way we’re still living in that bubble, I think that’s why we can’t really find out place in the world. It’s why we’re not best friends with all the indie bands from Brooklyn, or best friends with like Katy Perry and Britney Spears. We’re just in this weird space where we’ll probably always be. It’s about learning to be okay with that and actually taking it a step further and cherishing that and using those weird tools that we’ve been given somehow. That’s not to say we both participate in religion at all. I certainly don’t. I think it’s a bunch of bullshit and really quite destructive in the end. I can still tap into that whole world when I need to.

Did you ever rebel against it as a kid?

Jonny: Yeah, I mean yes and no. I think I really tried to believe and from a very young age I just knew deep down that I didn’t and I thought it was all a bit silly. So I was participating but more as an observer. But it was hard to not be full on, both my mother and my father were ordained pastors of a pretty significant church in the area, I grew up in New York. So every time the church doors were open I had to be there, and not just there I had to be actively helping and participating and being a part.

It was kind of like trying to convince myself this was a real thing but then you know, I just got older and a bit wiser and ran away to New York like in the movies.

And was it like a movie?

Jonny: It sure was. And it still is.


And why Encyclopaedia, is there a meaning behind the name? Is everything in the album?

Jonny: You answer this; you’re so good at it….
Jacob: Urm, well. I think it’s just a name. There’s not this crazy deep meaning to it, it kind of fits the record I think. We were trying all of these things musically and thematically that we had always wanted to do and kind of have done, flirted with the past, a lot of the really out there songs on Encyclopaedia we’ve kind of done stuff like in the past but usually as a B-side or something like that. And on this record we decided to put it front and center to do all of these different things and everything that’s always been sort of in the back of our minds. So we just thought the title Encyclopaedia fit because this record showcases all the variety, all the different little elements that make up The Drums. And even beyond musically, just different moods.

Jonny: Sometimes the reasons that we do something, like why we named our band The Drums, or why we named the last record Portamento, or why this record is called Encyclopaedia, the reasons are so abstract that its really hard for us to formulate a sentence that describes it. But I remember Jacob, this is sort of how we connect, I remember him calling me and saying “what about Encyclopaedia” and I was like “okay, done, cool”.
Jacob: It was more like; we’ve got to call it something.
Jonny: But it ticked all the right boxes in my head that I cant explain. I was like “that’s it”.
Jacob: We’re such an aesthetically driven band, and because we’ve known each other for so long, the telepathy we have almost is that things sometimes lock into place and they just are what they are. Usually we decide on them and we’re like “the records called Encyclopaedia so anyway about this other song”. Then it usually comes to the first time we do an interview, and we go okay why did we call it Encyclopaedia because we’ve never actually talked about but I know we’re both thinking the same thing and we have the same reasons why even though we’ve never talked about it.

It’s nice you can have that though. 

Jonny: No nonsense.
Jacob: It’s why we can’t work with anyone else.


And in the past, you’ve been thrust into the limelight with hype built up around you by NME and other magazines. Have you ever felt a pressure on you to live up to that hype? Does it scare you at all?

Jonny: I think we’re in such a beautiful place right now that we’ve been dying to get to since 2009 when we were on the cover of NME when we were on the cover of NME four times in one year, all this crazy stuff. We were plucked out of nowhere and suddenly catapulted and you’re just flying through the air and you don’t know where you’re gonna land and it’s really really scary. It’s such a whirlwind that you sort of lose yourself and the ideas of why you started the band start to corrode and get ugly and suddenly the dollar, or the pound, is suddenly becoming a driving force behind everything you do.

Where as before, when we wrote the first EP and the first album, we were living in this shitty little apartment in the middle of nowhere in Florida. We genuinely thought maybe one day we’ll play a show in Miami and then come back and work our day jobs. It was the last thing we thought would happen.

This label Moshi Moshi was just searching through MySpace and just happened to come across the song ‘Lets Go Surfing’ which we had just uploaded the day before. They sent us an email saying we’d like to release this in the UK. So we thought “oh god we should start a band”. We really had no idea what would happen.

It’s so nice to be here and to not hear the crowd chanting ‘Lets Go Surfing’ between every song. We’ve weeded out the people who view us as their go to summer road trip band; we think we have a little more depth than that really. So it’s nice tonight, and this whole tour, has been full of full houses full of people who sing every word to you. Even the lesser known songs, and they’re really connecting with us and paying attention to the subtleties of this band. They’re just a bit more sensitive overall and that’s what we like so we feel like we’re connecting more.

It’s just a beautiful and rewarding exchange that’s happening now for us. Instead of “okay, now we’re going to play this song that we know is going to make everyone crowd surf and I guess you’ll crowd surf then it’ll be over and we’ll get our cheque”. The whole thing just feels a little empty. So this is the first tour, Jacob and I have said it a hundred times, it just feels good. We don’t like being on the road, so if we’re going to be on the road, its nice that it feels like the first time in five years that we’re really connecting with people.

I think Encyclopaedia has a message where the first two were a little “woe is me” to some dancey tunes. There’s a song about being an atheist, there’s songs about homosexual love, songs about sex change but as a positive thing. we’re going for it and we’re seeing the fruits of that, which is people coming out to the shows and seeing people crying to the songs that aren’t hits. It’s by far our favourite tour. I think we would choose something like this over the NME Award Tour, or whatever the hell we did. Because that is 110% ‘these are the hot bands you should know, so buy a ticket’. But they haven’t even had a chance to know if they really like this. It’s just less nonsense.
Jacob: Loving bands, loving brands.
Jonny: I love this band because… They’re popular…? It’s nice to be away from that.


Are you excited for tonight?

Jonny: I’m particularly excited because we haven’t been here in a while, and the show we have is pretty dramatic and a bit cinematic maybe. This venue just looks so beautiful; I think it’s really going to help bring that to life even more so. And it looks nice and cosy. It fits a lot of people but it feels like we’re kind of together which is nice.

Have you had much chance to explore London?

Jonny: I went to a Tesco and now I’m here. That’s tour life.
Jacob: We just kind of got off the bus and came in here and started doing this. We spend a lot of time in London.

What sort of stuff did you do?

Jonny: Well as soon as we got here we made a bunch of friends, so we just hung out and went to people’s houses and had tea. Kind of boring stuff. We’re not really rock and rollers. We like a nice conversation.

Jacob: The last day I remember here, I just walked round Kensington Gardens by myself and it was raining and I just cried. I just wept. Uncontrollably.

Were they sad or happy tears?

Jacob: Sad.
Jonny: I’ve never seen him more sad in his life. I said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you for a full day?”
Jacob: I said, “I’ve been really busy weeping”.
Jonny: He said he walked to a statue of Peter Pan and cursed God. I said “okay, I’m gonna go get a beer if you wanna come”.