The Drums


When drummer Connor Hanwick unexpectedly left The Drums mid-tour, founding members Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham were faced with an uncertain future. Here the duo explain how they weathered the storm and went on to write their “dream record”, Encyclopedia.

Alongside a change of label and management, you’re now minus a band member. Can you tell us about the circumstances of Connor Hardwick’s departure please?

Jonny Pierce: Sure. The whole thing is a bit confusing to us still. We were on tour in Australia with another band that [Connor] was friends with, and actually dating the keyboard player of. Mid-tour he started playing in their band, and just wrote us an email saying, “I’m going to be playing with this band now.”

What was his reasoning?

JP: He never really gave us a real reason, so that’s what put us in this weird space of feeling confused and frustrated and a bit alone, angry and bitter. We had to have a fill-in guitar player, but it was a lot of work and very frustrating, and when we came off tour we felt exhausted. We were the two left standing but we felt like we weren’t really standing.

We had released two albums and an EP all while on the road, never taking a break. Portamento was written in hotel rooms and living rooms; anywhere where we had a couple hours to record music. So when we came off tour, Jacob and I just had an unspoken agreement to go our separate ways, and start working on our own music. We did that for about year.

What brought you back together?

JP: We had a phone call and decided that, well, maybe we could do this. We started to look at Jacob and I being alone as a strength rather than a weakness. Jacob and I formed this band: we wrote the Summertime! EP and the whole first album together, before we asked anyone else to come in. So we started thinking that, actually, this is what it has sort-of been the whole time, but we have just had some supporting players for some of it.

So there was never any temptation to just recruit more members?

Jacob Graham: No, because we’ve always handled the bulk of the writing and recording anyway. It was almost like that period – where we tried to bring people into that process – was just awkward. We are the sort of people who work better alone; we are not the most collaborative of people and we don’t really like band culture. We could never get in a room with a bunch of musicians and just jam and see what happens; that is our idea of the seventh circle of hell. Jonny and I feel like we are on the exact same wavelength and sometimes it’s even hard for us to collaborate. So the idea of bringing anyone else in just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

JP: I feel like we’re always like, “Come on in....”

“...But don’t touch that!”

JG: Exactly! It’s like a grandmother bringing a bunch of children into her precious living room, full of delicate antiques.

JP: What a sexy analogy.

JG: Does that make us seem bad to the bone?!

JP: Maybe deep down we’ve always known that it would end up Jacob and I, and maybe that is why people haven’t stuck around; maybe they have sensed that in a weird way? And maybe we are difficult to be with and to be around? But I don’t view that as a negative thing. I mean, I think if you’re an artist making potent art, it’s just sometimes better to do exactly what you want. Whether you’re a painter or a musician or a photographer, I think it’s an artist’s responsibility to have that tunnel vision.

I think we’ve learnt to just be ok with the two of us and use it as a creative strength. Encyclopedia wouldn’t have happened had it not been just Jacob and I: it truly gave us a real opportunity to do exactly what we wanted and it became this really amazing experience. We decided to make our dream record, and check off all the music fetishes that we have been storing up since we were 12 and 13, when we met each other.

What kind of “fetishes”?

JP: Jacob and I really wanted to reach the highest heights. Like, there is a song called ‘Wild Geese’ that is just so magical and lush and spectacular. And something like that wouldn’t have been allowed on Portamento, simply because the other guys would have said it was a little too ridiculous. But we’d rather come across as ridiculous than easy-breezy; someone to love or to hate rather than a band that make “nice” music.

JG: I really like music that sounds like magic; like it has just come from nowhere. I like the juxtaposition of a really physical-sounding guitar with these shimmery, sparkly sounds in the background that maybe you don’t even notice at first. I was trying to infuse the album with all these musical winks and nods.

JP: Another thing that is new, and something we always wanted to explore, was letting the record have these big peaks and then these valleys. A song like ‘I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him’ is just a sweet lull in the record, and we are just letting it be that; leaning on the power of subtlety. And we wanted this record to be a bit orchestral, without having an orchestra, and to implement analogue synthesisers interestingly.

In an interview with Spin and you said that you “wanted to be very honest, even if it meant making some people uncomfortable.” Do you anticipate Encyclopedia making certain people uncomfortable?

JP: Yeah I do. There is still a lot of religion in the world and there is this atheist anthem in there called ‘Face Of God’. I use the word “God” as a symbolic word for authority or oppression, and I think when you bring up that idea it can quieten a room quickly.#

And then there’s ‘I Can’t Pretend’, which is essentially saying nothing really matters and that we are all going to die and there’s no point. And it came from a really real place, like, “I can’t pretend any more, I can’t put on the happy face just for the hell of it.” Even if people that agree with that, and think the same way, most people don’t want to talk about it. So where previously we had songs that may have sounded a bit hopeless, now there are songs that deal with true hopelessness, and then also us digging a little deeper and finding some abstract hope within true hopelessness.

Where did that lyrical honesty come from?

JP: We had just been through so much, we needed to express our anger and bitterness. I think we have always played with the underbelly of life, but I think, overall, people would buy a Drums record and put it on when they’re on holiday or with their friends. And I hope they do that with this record, but I think if they stop for a second – and put down their margarita – they might hear some lyrics that could actually move them, or at least make them think.

Can you tell us more about the inspirations behind ‘Let Me’?

JP: ‘Let Me’ was inspired by the abuse happening to the gay kids in Russia, where they were getting lured into these fake dates and them being humiliated on video. It’s a song directly written for them, just as a note of encouragement. And what is so wonderful is that we just played our first show for Encyclopedia in Moscow, and we opened with that song.

Wow. How did that go down?

JP: I’ll be honest, we were a bit nervous – and we made sure we had security with us because you never know – but everyone was so lovely. I use the word very sparingly, but we walked off the stage feeling inspired. And I don’t think we’ve felt that way since we first started playing shows, five years ago.

Encyclopedia is an album with a number of messages, and it’s weird that I am saying that because I used to be pretty outspoken about bands who were too political, or who always had remarks about everything. I used to say, “Come on, just stick to the music: there’s so much sh*t in the world.” But the fact there’s so much sh*t in the world is exactly why you should say something!

Why do you think you’ve become more outspoken?

JP: It had a lot to do with growing up a bit. Five years may not seem like a long time to be doing this, but when you’re travelling the world, seeing all these countries and meeting all these different people, it’s a way to grow up fast if you let it. You see a lot of bands become more and more childish, bratty and aloof as they go on, but we try to keep our value system in check.

Also, you’ve got to treat every record as if it may be your last. I mean, what’s the point in putting out a record if you don’t think it’s your best work? You know that you’re putting mediocre sh*t into the world. We will all one day die and anything you create will just be out there alone, somewhere in the universe for people to discover. You’ve got to be really careful and, if you are, you can hopefully make some sort of positive mark.

Are there more nerves releasing an album that you feel passionately is your best work?

JP: I think it’s more exciting because it feels like a renaissance!

JG: The only thing I learned over the past five years of doing this is that I have no idea of what everyone is going to like. I honestly can’t predict if something is going to be financially successful or not so I don’t even bother: all I try to do is the best I can, and focus on things that excite me, and hope that I’m not the only one that feels that way. And even if something is not immediately successful, things can take on a life of their own and it could be eventually if it’s important enough.

September 2014