The Drums set for UK tour - interview
Brooklyn outfit offer indie-pop escapism in a cynical musical landscape
Mixing wholesome Happy Days harmonies with dark-hearted lyrics about sad summers and lost loves, The Drums offers indie-pop escapism in a cynical musical landscape, says Nadine McBay
‘Pop music is important,’ says The Drums’ frontman Jonathan Pierce. ‘Escape is vital and that is what we try to offer.’ In times relentlessly described as ‘hard’, seemingly blithe songs such as whistle-along ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ and the lemon-zinging freshness of ‘I Need Fun In My Life’ are almost defiant calls to arms.
‘It’s talking about fun in the same way one could talk about drugs,’ says Pierce, his flyaway blond mop recalling 1980s teen movie villain Billy Karate Kid Zabka. ‘When you realise nothing’s really ever going to “save” you, you may as well take part in whatever gets you through the night.’
That attitude was in evidence at T in the Park this July. Even as Jay-Z took to the Main Stage, the Futures Tent swelled to capacity for the Brooklyn-based outfit’s mix of late 50s/early 60s American pop and UK post-punk’s introspection. Contrasting his band’s simple, chiming melodies with lyrics about lost love, sad summers and too soon dead friends, Pierce worked a James Dean-at-Borstal look in red jacket and blue jeans, zigzagging across the stage in a bizarre display of flouncing disinhibition. The results were compulsive, the response rapturous. Naturally, a band this apparently perfect, this confident, who had gone from playing to 200 punters at NYC’s Mercury Lounge to being championed as the new saviours of pop by the NME and the notoriously picky Pitchfork, would raise suspicions. But rather than a cynical svengali’s pet project, The Drums are the product of self-imposed limitations, vision and most crucially, years of experience.
Pierce and reverb-loving guitarist Jacob Graham met as children at summer camp, bonding over The Smiths and Kraftwerk. They spent years in various different, mostly electronic bands, notably Pierce’s Elkland, a synth-pop outfit who supported Erasure in 2005, before reconnecting in 2008, trading the keyboards for guitars and setting to work on debut EP, ‘Summertime!’
‘Being in lots of different bands from being very young gives you a lot of experience,’ says Graham. ‘But more important than learning what to do, it’s learning what not to do that is the key.’ In a diffuse musical terrain where genuine stars are as endangered as record sales, The Drums match substance with accessibility. It’s a tension much in evidence in new single ‘I Felt Stupid’, a lovesick Breakfast Club-meets-The Cure confection backed by Shangri-Las style ballad ‘Me And The Moon’. ‘We strive for simplicity in everything we do and so it’s easy for people to catch on to our songs after hearing them once,’ Graham continues. ‘That connection is thrilling.’
Pierce assures me that, like ‘Summertime!’ and the darker hearted debut album that followed it, album number two will be recorded and produced independently, hinting that new material will be played on this UK tour. Their schedule currently gives the band a day off between their sold out Glasgow gig and their next show, giving the three-piece (guitarist Adam Kessler departed in September) time to explore the city that spawned many of their most beloved bands. ‘The Wake, Orange Juice, The Pastels and Altered Images are all favourites of ours,’ affirms Pierce.
As for the heavy tour schedule the band has had all year, Pierce shrugs it off. ‘You find ways to make it work, because you believe in it and you want to keep doing it. I never found much comfort in home, home has always felt depressing and full of death. The road is our home at this point.’
O2 Academy, Glasgow, Mon 29 Nov.