Once in a while a band comes along that’s so perfectly-formed it makes us feel a little uneasy. The Drums are one such band.
The angel-faced Brooklyn duo of Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham – joined by Adam Kessler on guitar and Connor Hanwick on drums – are about to release a mini-album called Summertime that we expect to be nothing less than huge – because, well, it’s really damned good. Visit their myspace and listen to some of the band’s tracks: ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ is unreconstructed 50s-style high-school pop, all breezy vocal harmonies and stripped-back Buddy Holly guitar, while ‘I Felt Stupid’ is a dead ringer for The Cure; ‘Down By The Water’, meanwhile, sounds like a less overwrought Grizzly Bear.
In short, The Drums make straight-for-the-heart pop music and you ought to check out and enjoy before the whole damned global population piles in to join you. We caught up with Jonathan to find out how they got everything so right so quickly…
What’s The Drums story to date – how did you form, how did you get here, etc?
“The Drums story… well, it’s a long one. Jacob and I are lifelong friends: we met when we were just boys at a Christian-themed summer camp over a decade ago. We were both outsiders in our communities of faith, and I think we naturally just found each other. We happened to like the same obscure bands, and share the same confusions about life and god and faith etc. So anyhow, we sorta hit it off as much as two extremely shy 14-year-old boys can hit it off…we exchanged addresses and became pen-pals and immediately dubbed ourselves as ‘best friends’, because believe me, when you are that age and that strange…you take what you can get.
“So then we kept in touch, visited each other once every summer for years, and as we got older we both started our own bands (in and out of many of them)… and we always talked about making music together. I remember one summer, I was really into this band called Add N to (X)…they sorta sounded like Throbbing Gristle meets Kraftwerk meets Can…and it is very unlike me to be into something like that as normally I am such a pop-song-purist, but Jacob was kind enough to entertain the idea of sitting down with a couple old synths and try to make an ‘experimental’ pop song with me.”
“It took about 30 seconds to realize we would never work well together as far as writing songs goes. So we threw that idea away for good. Then I started this band called Goat Explosion, and asked Jacob to come on the road with me, so we set out on a month long tour we booked ourselves. It was great, but it was awful, because at the end of that tour, we had sorta exhausted our love for each other and we organically stopped talking and writing. Five years passed, and Jacob sent me an email out of nowhere, and I got real excited and wrote him back.
“Fast-forward just a little – this is about eight months ago – and I’m packing a suitcase to leave Brooklyn and drive down to Florida where Jacob was living at the time. When I got there, we had already decided to start a band called The Drums. We just didn’t know what it would sound like exactly. Being in Florida was a new experience for me, and I think the very first week I was there we went to the beach in Tampa. If you look at those photos of us online at the beach, those were taken before any songs were ever written and I think we loved the pictures and the name of the band so much that that was all we really needed for inspiration. Images are a big part of The Drums. We are inspired by anything iconic. So yeah, we started building the band’s sound around those images and the name, and here we are… half-part Orange Juice, half-part Jan and Dean.”
How would you describe yourselves to the uninitiated? Though I guess you kind of just have…
“People have said a number of things…’Joy Division on Prozac’ keeps coming up. Does that work? I dunno, when we were writing the songs, we really had this idea in mind: “What if Joy Division threw in the towel and decided to make a dance-party record..?” Being near the beach, we started listening to a lot of Shangri-las and The Zombies and started to fall in love with that 1950s pop stuff. It infused it’s way into our sound and so the end result is Factory Records had it been around 30 years earlier. We are obsessed with perfect pop. Three minutes is all you need to tell someone how you feel. There are a few songs we have done that are around four minutes, but then again…I would never call them perfect…”
Tell us a little about the way you write and record songs together – how does the creative process work?
“Well, for the first EP and album, I worked alone for the majority, Jacob was sorta more of a ‘coach’. I would finish a song, show it to him and it would really come down to something as simple as, ‘I dunno Jon, I’m just not feeling it…’ and that is all he needed to say for me to throw the song away. His opinions mean a lot to me. Jacob did however write and record a few songs with me; ‘Best Friend’ was our first song we wrote together. It will be on the full-length. It took a day to start and finish and the result blew us away and made us wonder why we hadn’t tried writing songs together again sooner.
“As far as recording goes, Our set up was extremely minimal – and not out of choice. We were totally broke so we could not give in to our gear-desires…thank God. We used a guitar, an old keyboard for bass – because we couldn’t afford a bass guitar – drums, and a $35 dollar microphone from RadioShack to mic everything including all my vocals. There were no guitar pedals at all used on any of the songs…we just ran everything, and I mean everything, through a little analog reverb machine that a friend let me borrow, and then ran that straight into our recorder. If you watch us live, you will see how minimal it all is. We plug our guitars straight into our amps. We don’t own a single guitar pedal.”
You mentioned The Wake as a big influence. Can you elaborate?
“The Wake was really the band that got us excited to start The Drums. They have this song, among others, that really blew us away, and still does. It is called ‘Pale Spectre’. They were also on the two coolest labels of all time as far as we are concerned: Factory and Sarah. At the beginning we wanted to sound like The Wake, but we failed miserably. But hey, that’s OK. We found something that works for us.”
Are there any particular themes that run through your new mini-album, Summertime?
“Well, yeah. I think the theme of the EP is, well… Summer and…dare I say hope? A feelgood EP is what we were going for. Something to make us all breathe a little easier. Here in America we are just getting out of a long run with an asshole for a President. The economy is shit, and we thought we could offer this EP as sort of a nice stiff drink that we all need at the end of that eight-year-day. And of course, pop is at the centre of it all.”
Do you feel part of the Brooklyn “scene” – what are the blessings and curses of living in hipsterville USA?
“Well, the good thing about making this record in Florida is that we were not around any scene at all. We didn’t have a car to go downtown, so really we rode our bikes to work, and after work we rode them back home, and just made music… sorta shut off from the rest of the world. We kinda forgot to care about what is cool, and just became quite selfish during the writing process. I have to say, Brooklyn has been very kind and receptive to what we are offering and we’re really thankful for that. But I guess if we had to put it out there, I would say we don’t buy the hipster scene. We live in the thick of it, but we rarely go out…we’re still sorta shut off from the world. We kinda like it that way.”
Are there any particular pitfalls or peaks you’ve experienced as a band en route to here?
“Well the Drums have not been around long enough to really say much here. We started the band eight or nine months ago, and moved back to Brooklyn about three months ago, and played our first show on the week we arrived. It has been a good experience. Things have been moving so fast, that we have not had time to fight or be disappointed. We are grateful and sorta confused at the speed of which the band is moving.”
What’s an average day like for The Drums?
What music are you particularly into right now?
“Well, I think I could say for the whole band that once we find a band we love, we have a hard time letting it go. I’ve been revisiting Orange Juice. Adam seems to love shoegaze…Connor has been diggin on Prefab Sprout and Jacob, well he only ever listens to The Field Mice.”
What’s next for the band?
“Well, it looks as though we are sticking the rest of the summer out here in New York, but we will be heading to London mid September and from there, who knows! We plan on getting to LA soon and maybe do some more writing out there. We are finishing up our full length which should be out early next year. Things have been very exciting for us. Pretty strange world for us shy guys.”
Oh, and why The Drums?
“Why not? Classic.”