We spoke to The Drums’ Jonathan Pierce about his “world of fear”, new album ‘Portamento’, and why they might going electro next time
How did you reconfigure as a band after Adam (Kessler, guitarist) left?
It was a really strange, confusing time for us. Adam had left and we were figuring out what to do in the future. His departure gave us the chance to reconsider everything. We had this bullheaded attitude of, “Fuck everything and anyone who’s against us doing what we want to do”, which I think is important for a young band to have that attitude. I don’t think we have that attitude anymore…
You’re now a five-piece on tour.
So we went to Israel to do this festival with LCD Soundsystem and PIL. Connor and I were by the side of the stage for the LCD Soundsystem show and we were blown away. It felt so real, so alive. They were playing everything live and up until that point we were using backing tracks. We also couldn’t imagine anyone but us four on stage. Then when we went down to three, it opened up our minds to having more people on stage, so we ended up with five. It has really improved the live shows. I’d never say never to using backing tracks in the future but for this album we’re definitely going to play everything live.
People have been surprised at how quickly the second album happened.
In today’s world when big labels are putting out their bands albums and milking them for all they’re worth for three or four years I guess it seems strange. I think we always wanted to be the type of band that put out a lot of records in a short space of time. I don’t think we have a very long shelf life as a band. We felt that from the very beginning. We’ve always said, “We’ll be lucky to put out a second album or a third one”.
We’re all bullheaded and stubborn and felt that way against the world. But after the first album it felt like all that bullheadedness and stubborness became angled at each other. Our “gang mentality” kind of disappeared. Reality hit us pretty hard. We had to re-evaluate everything and we had to think about who were are and how we viewed the world. The album was done so quick was because of the sense of urgency we felt in the world.
How did this work in terms of the recording process?
Well even when we’d have a weekend off, we’d just meet at my house and record another song. We didn’t want to record with a producer because we didn’t want to wait for a producer to open us his studio. We wanted to get our songs down fresh or else I felt like the passion would be lost. We wanted to record things as quickly as possible.
This album seems more personal.
Yea, well it seemed like the right time to write an album that was primed in reality and more personal. One thing is that we decided to be completely honest about our reality. It almost seemed exciting to be that honest. I felt like I would be cheating the album if I wasn’t honest about things we did in the past. I wouldn’t say that (the first album) was dishonest but what I’d say is that we had our defences up, at least from a lyrical viewpoint. We weren’t ready to say the things we say on the new album.
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The opening track on ‘Portamento’, ‘Book Of Revelation’, is quite straightforward lyrically.
Once you make the decision to be honest it almost becomes like an addictive need. I felt like I would be cheating the album if I wasn’t honest versus things we did in the past. I wouldn’t say that (the first album) was dishonest we had our defences up, at least from a lyrical viewpoint. We weren’t ready to say the things we say on the new album. I’m almost 30 and it took me that long to work out how I actually feel about heaven and hell. Finally I’ve come to certain conclusions, and now I feel like I can be honest about those things.
It sounds like you did a lot of growing up between the first album and ‘Portamento’.
I feel older. In the social arena I feel rotten and almost disgarded. I have a hard time making friends and sustaining relationships. I try my hardest to keep relationships going but it’s difficult balancing that because we’re on the road. It seems to be a reccurring theme in my life, which is why I write so many songs about longing and heartbreak. I’d rather write a 100 songs about what I’m feeling rather than just different ones for the sake of variety…
How would you say you changed specifically?
We learnt so much in 2-3 years, we went through so many extreme things as a band. We went into this pretty level-headed but we’ve made sure we didn’t get too excited about big opportunties and stuck to our creative priniciples. We’re just trying to get through everyday without compromising, which can be hard.
With the speed you’re going at, you must be thinking about the next album…
I think there are songs on the first album like ‘Book Of Stories’ and ‘The Future’ and ‘We Tried’ that were like precusors to what ‘Portamento’ is, and I feel like there are songs on this album which foretell what the next album will be like. I think a song like ‘Searching For Heaven’ which is like completly electronic… Jakub just got a Roland Jupiter 8 synth and we really geeked out on it. I’ve just got this Korg PS-3100 from Tokyo, it’s from the 70s it was Korg’s first polyphonic synth and it’s such a joy to play.
I remember when I first saw it in a synthesizer museum in Orlando, in a glass case. I saw it in Tokyo and I finally bought it. It’s changing my life and I feel like it’s making me fall in love with analogue circuitry all over again. We might be going back to completely electronic music. But I don’t want to make a big decree because we might end up breaking my own rules and end up looking like a fool.
I wouldn’t mind starting an italo disco album or a coldwave one. I guess we’ll see. The second album isn’t even out yet but it’s in our blood to keep moving. I’m terrified of life, if I can stay in transit it’s a survival technique for me, I write music that’s why I try to put out albums quickly, there’s a sense of urgency and panic, that comes out in the songs.
Where does that panic come from? A fear of death?
I’ve about it multiple times since I was a kid, I’m not afraid of it, it’s a reality that sucks, no-one has a load of answers. I believe that you can’t prove the existence of god and you can’t disprove it. No one knows what will happen. As depressing as life on earth is, you are going to die. It’s such a simple fear to have. I want to keep myself occupied, so I don’t want to dissolve into my world of fear.