The Drums’ lead singer explains how to stay boring in a complicated, experimental world.
The Drums’ lead singer, Jonny Pierce, is not interested in being interesting. In fact, during our conversation he admitted to making a New Year’s resolution with his bandmates to be even less interesting in 2010. But if he and his group, The Drums, are trying to be boring, they’re doing a terrible job.
In September, Pierce and Co. will release their self-titled debut album and continue their non-stop trek across America. This comes on the heels of the critically acclaimed “Summertime” EP—full of dreamy, woozy pop songs that garnered them comparisons to sixties surf bands (a comparison the band steadfastly denies).
Pierce spoke with us while on tour in Helsinki about The Drums humble start, their quest to keep things simple and why he feels a bit awkward about their so-called “buzz-band” status.
The Drums were built from the ashes of your former band Elkland. What led to the dissolution of the former band and the building of your current one?
Jonny Pierce: Well, Elkland was kind of a big disaster from the very beginning. I’d written a bunch of songs that I really loved and had these demos. I was pretty young when we got signed and that whole thing came out of nowhere. One minute I was living in upstate New York recording songs and six months later I had a major record deal, and it kind of forced me to move to New York City. And I said yes to a bunch of things that I didn’t really understand. I let a lot of things fall out of my hands and into the hands of people I didn’t really know or trust. When you don’t really have a foundation it’s very easy for things to fall apart, and it did just that.
So The Drums came out of the rubble?
JP: I sort of washed my hands of writing anymore songs and kind of resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to be the life for me. I just started taking odd jobs in New York City and about three years past. I was starting to get really depressed and getting caught up in all the wrong things. I called Jacob [Graham], whose been my close friend my whole life really, and I just said, “Man, I don’t know what to do. I’ve never hit rock bottom until now.”
He said, “You know we’ve always talked about starting a band and maybe it’s time we start that band.” I just kind of felt it was the right thing to do. I packed my stuff up in Brooklyn and drove myself down to Florida. Jacob was living in this small town called Kissimmee and we kind of lived in the middle of nowhere in this little apartment complex. And we started writing songs almost immediately. We wrote “Best Friends” in the first week that I was down there and we just kept writing because we felt like we found something special. Six months later we had an EP and a full album’s worth of songs. We moved to New York City and we decided to take it from a project to an actual four piece band.
From listening to your EP “Summertime” and to a song like “Down By The Water,” it seems that simple songs is the name of the game. Why do you think that this approach works?
JP: I think thats all subjective. What works well for me may not work well for somebody else. I’ve never really been drawn to experimentation or been drawn to songs that sound overly clever. I’ve always been drawn to simple songs. One of my very favorite songs is Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You.” It’s a perfect example of a simple melody and a simple lyric put together with the power to move mountains. It really kind of shakes me. You know, songs like that, and maybe songs like “Out In The Streets” by The Shangri Las. Then there are songs like [The Smiths'] “This Charming Man.” It’s simple melodies, and I’m also drawn towards the sadder melodies. And sadder subject matter as well. Not only is our music simple but our subject matter is very simple, very elementary. Sort of the fundamental feelings that people have in life. I’m just really drawn to that.
So it’s essentially a more direct approach.
JP: Absolutely. On all fronts, on all levels. It’s a really conceptual thing, whether it’s a photo shoot we’re doing, or some artwork we’re doing for a vinyl release. We direct our own videos. We like to be as direct and to the point as possible.
I think when you start experimenting, even a little bit, whatever you’re putting out—your song, your video, your artwork—can really easily be watered down. I’m not bashing on bands that are experimental because I can enjoy them. It’s just, for The Drums, it’s not really our thing. I think that’s kind of why we moved to Brooklyn. We felt like outsiders. We didn’t feel accepted per se. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart became our friends quickly. Bands like Night School and The Hairs. We kind of started our own little club in Brooklyn. We really didn’t get asked to play with the cool bands or the hip bands — the bands that everyone was talking about. It’s funny being called a buzz band while all the other buzz bands hate us. At least we kind of assumed they hated us.
How will this upcoming self-titled record be different from the EP “Summertime”?
JP: The EP was very a very conceptual album and certainly had a novelty about it. We kind of went into it with the idea: Lets make an EP called “Summertime” and lets fill it with sort of summery songs. And the reason we were so facinated with summer was because when I moved down to start recording with Jacob it was December of 2008 — sort of the dead of winter in New York City. And I left the snow in New York City and got to Florida and suddenly it felt like the middle of summertime. For the full length, we got that out of our system. We certainly wanted it to be a much more serious side to The Drums and wanted it to be introspective, and personal. And wanted to touch on things we would never have put on the “Summertime” EP because it just wouldn’t belong there. It’s less idea driven and the album is much more personal, real-life experiences.
The Drums -”Down By The Water”