We look forward to an early contender for gig of the year
THE WAR ON DRUGS have always been an unassuming band who would pump out their refreshing take on heritage American folk and indie, and then quietly get on with taking it to pockets of infatuated fans. Then, last year, they released Slave Ambient. The critical response was so unanimously positive that it wouldn’t have been surprising if Rupert Murdoch himself had been revealed as their PR manager. More importantly, it seemed to be one of those albums of real depth which genuinely connected with people thanks to its rare qualities, things tangible but impossible to verbalise, things that have always distinguished the great from the good.
Adam Granduciel – TWOD’s driving force, and Kurt Vile’s sparring partner
What’s not impossible to verbalise, though, is front-man Adam Granduciel’s quite obvious genius; he almost mocks you by making incredible noises out of the simplest melodies, building them layer upon layer until it becomes euphoric. And as Phil Gwyn chatted to him before he hits the Kazimier on Thursday, it seemed obvious how he’d got to this point; he’s intensely in love with making music. At one point he suggested that he wanted to spend all day sound-checking, and at another he casually mentioned that, “at the time I wasn’t thinking of what I was actually thinking of, you know?” Well, we don’t know, but somewhere within the mind of a true musical genius, that made sense. Minds like this certainly don’t come around too often. Now’s a good a time as any to get acquainted…
Bido Lito!: From our perspective the reaction to Slave Ambient was hugely positive – did it feel like that for you, too? How do you get that impression?
Adam Granduciel: Yeah, it was kind of mind-blowing to be honest. Obviously for us it’s flattering, and we get to play places around the world which is a crazy thing if you think about it. In terms of us getting that impression, I think, mostly, it’s just the shows. Now we’re at the point where we’re playing for an hour and a half and people aren’t leaving. Which is amazing because since the record came out I feel like we’ve filtered out any sort of “buzz band” guys, people who aren’t aware of what they’re coming to see who were taking their time to decide whether they want to be there. And when you’re reading online you can definitely sense people’s enthusiasm, although I don’t really read what people write about us anymore. I guess it’s easier for me because I don’t have a computer or anything, so when I do go and find a computer, the last thing I’m going to do is Google myself. You don’t need to, you can just feel it when the room fills up each night, you can just feel that respect.
BL!: One of our favourite things about the record is that it has such a consistent tone, so it’s strange that it was recorded over four years: was it hard to maintain that coherence?
AG: It was hard, because in the moment I was on the road quite often either with the War On Drugs or with Kurt Vile. At the time I wasn’t thinking of what I was actually thinking of, you know? I think a lot of it for a year of two was just figuring out technique and just having fun in my home studio, and then for the last two years I had a lot of different songs I was working on, so the songs were kept alive the whole time, and they kept going through changes. The last year was just all about getting everything that I’d recorded, and making it into a record. From the beginning there wasn’t any idea of what it was – I didn’t know what it was going to be, I just knew that I wanted it to be something.
BL!: Did you know it was going to be an album, because it sounds more organic than that?
AG: Pretty much, in fact, I think that’s the best way to say it. Because sometimes a song I’d written on an acoustic guitar turned into a drone on a tape machine, or maybe a song that I’d written on a piano I would re-imagine after hearing something else I’d done. Sometimes things worked with each other or things changed just because of the way that I was feeling that week.
BL!: Slave Ambient seemed to be really restless – so are you happiest when you’re on the road?
AG: I really think that that’s true. Being on the road and then recording, and then being on the road again; I think it’s all about trying to figure out what you’re all about at that moment. You love music, but it’s so taxing, and you’re always trying to figure out where you feel happiest. I really love doing what we do. I woke up in Berlin yesterday, still drunk, and I was just like standing outside in Berlin and I just felt this totally intense urge, I was just so inspired. I wanted to go and find a studio that afternoon and record. I dunno, I just don’t feel that way at home.
BL!: Do you write a lot on the road, then?
AG: I do try to, and I listen to demos that I was working on before I went on tour, and I’ll try to write some lyrics, or just play new stuff in sound-check. Unfortunately we are still at the stage where we don’t get to show up as early as we would want and just sound-check all day. I go to as many guitar shops as I can in different cities and pick a guitar up. Depending on how old the guitar is, there’s usually a song just waiting, you know what I mean? You pick up an old guitar and all of a sudden you just start playing – you don’t play it like you play your own guitars – songs just appear.
BL!: What is it that makes one of your shows seem great to you, or do they all feel the same?
AG: They definitely don’t all feel the same, which I think is good, and I think everyone in the band has their own idea of what a really good show was. A good one, for me, has a lot to do with how I hear the instrument coming off the stage – sometimes rooms are really dry sounding, I like everything flying around the room. That’s one of the reasons why we feel our music sounds more fitting in a big room – if I hear my harmonica or a snare drum slap around the room, it’s a little more inspiring. Each time we reach a new peak, every show we’re trying to get back there, or create something even better. The audience is important, but we’re not one of those bands that are like “EVERYONE ON YOUR FEET!”, a lot of what I hear is that people are just stood there with their eyes closed listening, you know, I’m not stood there with my foot on the monitor, I think we just focus on the music.
BL!: I don’t think the band has been to Liverpool before – what will you be expecting?
AG: Well The War On Drugs haven’t played there but I played at the same club with Kurt Vile like a year ago at Liverpool Sound City. We like that place a lot, the Kazimier, that place is sweet. It’s going to be our first show in the UK after the European part and it feels very different to touring Europe because anyone from America’s favourite music comes from the UK, so we’ll be expecting a late night of drinking some good beers and going around Liverpool and finding some awesome locals, taking it to the town!