GrandLife Interviews: The Drums
GrandLife: In 2009, you and Jacob relocated the band to Brooklyn. What was behind this decision and how do you feel about the music scene in Brooklyn over the last few years?
Jonny Pierce: It’s a pretty simple, not that exciting answer, but I was living in Brooklyn for several years and working odd jobs around New York when I decided that I wanted to start a band. My childhood best friend, Jacob, was living in Florida at the time and I was running parties and really wrapped up in the nightlife sort of downtown scene, particularly in Manhattan. I didn’t like it when I started and it just got worse and worse. I was getting really frustrated because that wasn’t why I moved to New York in the first place. I’m a very spontaneous person, probably too a fault—definitely to a fault—and one day it popped into my head, why don’t I move down to Florida, just say goodbye to New York, maybe I’ll be back, maybe I won’t, which I’m kind of ashamed of even thinking because I can’t imagine leaving New York now, and he’s just like “yea, come on down, let’s make some music.” We’ve always sort of made music together but not really together. He would come and visit for a week or I’d go visit him and we’d doodle around on synthesizers but never do anything substantial. In a way, it’s like ten years in the making.
I quit my job, I said goodbye to everyone, and the very next day I just threw a few things into a car and drove down to Florida and moved in. When I got there it just felt like, well, maybe this is my life now. I’ve never really been one for planning. We started making music immediately. We were only down there for about six months and threw some songs online and venues in New York and little mini-festivals started asking us to play. There was a lot coming out of New York and a lot coming out of London. I started missing New York and I was just like, “let’s just go back”. So I dragged Jacob reluctantly to Brooklyn, because that’s where I lived previously, and he now says he can’t live anywhere else, he’s really in love with New York.
I feel like New York is so amazing. Sometimes it’s too amazing and it’s where a lot of creative people come to work but for me, I found it very distracting. In Florida we didn’t have cars, we were piss poor, we didn’t have any friends. We literally lived in a field in the middle of nowhere in this tiny little apartment complex in Kissimmee, Florida. There was literally nothing to do. We spent our days reading books and I’m not joking, canoeing down the river. I think it was important for us. At the time everyone was talking about this Brooklyn music scene—MGMT and Chairlift and Grizzly Bear were all kind of the big thing happening at the time. Those are all technically pop bands and I love pop music but I didn’t want to sound like any of those bands. I love those bands but I didn’t want to get lumped in. That was another plus to not being in Brooklyn—Jacob and I just said, “What are our favorite songs, what are our favorite bands?” Forgetting about what was cool or what was on the blogs and just really being able to get selfish and closing everything out. So that’s what we did and we kind of found our sound that way and that’s a really long answer for a very simple question.
GL: No, that’s perfect. It seems that you guys rose to fame so quickly and you didn’t really have that incubation period where you could focus on, like you said, what you love and what made you want to start creating music. What are your thoughts on what happens to bands these days whether they are in Brooklyn or Seattle, when they’re getting a lot of press right away and losing that key time frame for really finding their sound?
JP: I think it happens all the time. It certainly happened wayyyy too fast for us. We started the band and within a year we were on the cover of NME, literally they wrote as the “great big hope for music” or something like that. (GL: no pressure) Some ridiculous phrase or label that they put on us. Yeah, I mean no pressure at all (laughing). I think at the time we had played a handful of shows and just had an EP out and I think they were trying to sell some magazines. So yeah, it’s really crazy with the internet how fast things move now. I think it’s really tempting because you know, I’ve given in to certain things that I didn’t think that I’d give into because I live in Brooklyn. When we started the band Jacob and I said we’re never going to do collaborations, we’re never doing remixes, we just wanna be a band that writes songs and puts out albums, really basic stuff that bands should be doing, no more of this “featuring” on a track nonsense. We just wanted to be removed from that and then of course we moved to Brooklyn and I start putting my vocals on a Matthew Dear track. It’s such a slippery slope, you know. So that doesn’t really help hide you either. It all sort of escalates and snowballs, doesn’t it. I don’t know how you really avoid that; it just might be the world we live in now. I guess all you can really do is maybe don’t show anybody anything until you’re absolutely ready. We certainly were not. We had no idea things were going to go the way they did.
GL: I don’t know if an artist would really feel that they were ever truly ready, there’s always work to be done.
JP: You’re never really ready and if you think you are, good luck.
GL: Visiomento was a project that Jacob was really focusing on and something that the band had a big focus on leading up to the release of the latest album. It seemed like your way of trying to grab control of what press was around the band and kind of, “this is how we are choosing to market the album,” as opposed to the reverse where people are doing articles or videos on you guys. How did that all come about and were you guys happy with how the project turned out?
JP: Yeah, we were. We’ve just always been a very visual band. Certainly at the beginning and even now our songs were very inspired by visual things and aesthetic. I think music and visuals—whether it’s the style of clothes that you’re wearing everyday or it’s a film, a video, or even artwork—all is hand in hand as far as we’re concerned. I know right now it’s kind of taboo to place so much importance on the visual side of things, at least in the music world. It seems like it’s really all about the music these days and to place any sort of importance on looks, I mean there’s exceptions but … . I definitely think we got a lot of flack for having a certain haircut and dressing a certain way and not growing our hair long. We looked like we gave a fuck and that’s not very cool right now. To us, we were just taking our band very seriously and again, being very selfish doing exactly what we wanted to do. I think it’s important to sort of carve that out and Visiomento was sort of a way for us to stay visual and to have some sort of visual output. It was certainly a lot easier and more carefree than it was when we used to direct all our own music videos. The first album we did all our own music videos. We came up with the concepts and directed them and we just hired some people to help us to do what we had in our heads. It’s such an undertaking especially for a band like us who’s been on the road solid for four years. Just the idea of doing another video and spending all that time seemed impossible. We had some of our friends and some people that we really trust do our videos for Portamento but we still had that side of us, part of our characters to make things that are not just audio but that are visual. With Visiomento some of the episodes are very silly and some of them are much more serious and it was just kind of a spontaneous thing. Most of those things were recorded on a whim, like we could be on tour and think of some silly idea…like this stairwell is perfect for the idea we had so it was kinda fun and something to sort of break it up and invite people into the world of Portamento through Visiomento, I don’t know it’s probably all ridiculous.
GL: It gave you a good opportunity to interview The Wake and other bands that you guys were really into while you were on tour. It’s like, “Cool we’re here, we can look them up and get them on this project.”
JP: It’s all about offering this sort of complete world. I think that our first album was very easy to digest, too easy to digest for some, and Portamento might have been slightly more difficult. I think Visiomento was maybe the training wheels to the other album.
GL: Ok cool, I like that.
JP: Oh good, I like that too.
GL: You guys have this whimsical, kind of playfulness that comes across in certain interviews as well as in your songs, which have these kind of bouncy upbeat sounds, which you’re known for. Conversely, the lyrics and the song writing tends to have this really dark undertone. How do those two elements come together when you are doing the songwriting process?
JP: I think really happy music is a bit difficult to relate to for anyone that’s over the age of 12. I wouldn’t say that our music sounds happy—happy is not quite the word, but maybe upbeat and maybe blissful at times. But yeah, those moments like making a balloon animal are sort of us keeping our heads above water and not to sound dramatic, but I think we’re both miserable people at the end of the day—I think everyone is—and so we’re all just trying to sleep at night. Maybe it takes a balloon animal to do that. It was his brilliant idea (laughing).
GL: Everybody’s gotta have their own version of the balloon animal in some way.
JP: I think so.
GL: I saw you were producing the Oakland band, Connie Fucking Francis, how’s that looking?
JP: Oh lovely! Yeah, we are just talking about it and trying to figure out a time when we can actually do it, we’ve been talking about it for a good six months now. We are all just kind of waiting for me to get off tour so we can nail this. I just really love, love, love, love, love, that band. They may not even be going by that name anymore I’m not really sure what exactly it will be but yeah, those guys are the coolest so I’m real excited about that. I’m glad you’re excited about that, that’s cool.
GL: Where did you see them live? Were you on the West Coast or in New York?
JP: I was in New York. I don’t even think it was Connie Fucking Francis. I think it was just a one-off thing where Lain was covering a bunch of Courtney Love and Hole songs in an art gallery and I just was so smitten. I absolutely freaked out. I met them that night and we ended up hanging out and we’ve hung out a few times since when I’ve been home in New York. I just think the spirit behind that band is so animalistic, but in this really amazing way. I think bands like that are important and the whole thing seems so fresh to me. Nothing seems fresh anymore and that was something. I couldn’t get it out of my head and couldn’t stop thinking about them. I’m glad you brought that up because I’m all excited again!
GL: I like the whole Courtney Love bit. For some reason she’s kind of rotating back into the collective unconsciousness of our world, I don’t know, she just keeps coming back.
JP: She’s a force, isn’t she? She walked up to me in a restaurant about six months ago and she goes, “You’re The Drums, right? Let me tell you something. You can have the biggest smash hit in the world you’ll still never fucking buy a house.” Then she literally just said goodbye and walked away.
GL: Financial advice from Courtney Love, classic.
JP: Yea, she’s cursing my life, cool.
GL: “Please don’t tell me anything else about my future. ”
JP: Seriously. I mean to be fair, she came back after she ate dinner and we actually had a nice conversation (lowers voice)… she is completely insane (laughing). It’s weird, she’s all those things you think she is. There is no disappointment whatsoever. It is 100% authentic.
GL: So what’s coming up for you after you get off tour? Are there any other things in the pipeline that you want to jump on when you finally get off the road?
JP: Well to be honest, I don’t think I want to jump on anything, I just want to like, hang out and relax, I mean this is the end of four years of absolute non-stop touring, with really no break, no substantial breaks whatsoever. So we are ready to not jump on anything, we’re ready to lay down on things.