Interview - The Drums
The Drums recently announced their return with fourth album, Abysmal Thoughts, released 16 June via Anti. First single Blood Under My Belt, is a quintessential Drums song: a heartbreaker disguised as a sunny track, showcasing frontman Jonny Pierce’s pop sensibility.
We chat to Jonny about the new album, taking sole control of the project and his writing process.
Q. Your fourth album Abysmal Thoughts is released in June. What can we expect?
Well, yes, this is the 4th album, but in many ways it feels like a debut. I was given the gift of making this album on my own. Jacob left the band after the last album and while it felt a little scary for while - doing everything completely on my own - it also was very freeing! Im grateful for the contributions made by past members, but I never once didn’t believe that I would make a good record on my own.
The Summertime EP, The Drums, and Portamento were mainly my songwriting and my recordings - and I wrote and recorded everything on Abysmal Thoughts, so the biggest difference with this album is that I was able to really be honest about my personal life and experiences. The lyrics are much more vulnerable and I find myself saying things on these songs that I may not have said if the other guys were still around. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission to do anything. If I want a picture of my boyfriend on the cover - smelling my gym shoes - I can do that. If I want to talk about getting fucked up - I can do that. I feel as though in the earlier recordings I was doing a lot of writing that was half-escapeism and half-reality. Now it’s all very real. There’s nothing whimsical. It will still make you dance though…so don’t worry.
Q. You’ve now taken sole control of The Drums, is this something you’ve wanted to do for a while or has it happened organically over the years? Did you consider going under your own name?
I never thought about changing the name - and I think that’s because The Drums has really always been my vision from the beginning and I think people think of me when they think of The Drums. It felt natural to just keep the name, because my process has essentially stayed the same. The Drums has always been a band with a revolving door. Members come in and out and sometimes back in and out, and the one thing that has always been there - is me. This has all happened quite naturally. I’ve never asked any member to stay when they felt it was time for them to leave. If I begged them to stay - and they stayed - we would both just end of being miserable.
If there is one thing I have learned through all of this is that when you’re on the road, if someone doesn’t want to be there, everyone feels it and then no one wants to be there. I just got back from doing a show in China and it was the sweetest and calmest and most relaxing experience because everyone wanted to be there and to be doing their best. When your life is essentially being on the road - it does make a huge difference to have happy people around you.
Q. The first single from the album ‘Blood Under my Belt’ is reminiscent of your early material. Was it a conscious decision to reconnect with your early sound?
It was honestly one of the last songs that I wrote for the album. I think it was second to last. I didn’t try at all to sound like my old albums, but sometimes it just happens - and I’m always happy when it does. I like bands that stick to what they are good at. I think theres so many artists these days that feel this stupid pressure to show lots of variety - when really, they are good at one thing - so when they try to show that they can do everything, they start really watering down their portfolio and I always find that to be such shame. Better to refine your work over the years than to totally change what it is that you do.
Q. Could you tell us about your writing process? What do you generally write on and is it lyrics or melodies first for you? What do you find easier?
Sometimes I start with lyrics but usually I start with the drums and a baseline. I don’t ever have lyrics prepared. I just sorta let the music - and my current emotional state - give birth the the lyrics. I often don’t even write the lyrics down at all, I just sing them into a microphone and record them on the spot.
Q. Is there anything cool you’ve been listening to recently we should check out?
Yes. Oh yes. I’ve been really into African-style percussive dance music. There is a group called Xanga and the track I love from them is called “This Is The Way It Starts”…The whole album is amazing though.
Q. What are your favourite films and TV shows?
I like anything that ends in sadness and tragedy. Dancer In The Dark, The Piano Teacher, Breaking The Waves, Mulholland Drive, Meloncholia. For TV shows, I mostly watch documentary series. Growing up in a house where the Bible was our history book, I crave real knowledge and learning.
Q. One of your early hits was Best Friend. Who is your best friend? And what should we know about them?
My best friend is my boyfriend and life-partner, Keon. He came into my life when I really needed a friend and we ended up ultimately being lovers. He is a weirdo like me, and so we vibe together in a way I have never experienced with anyone before. Thank the non-existent Lord for weirdos! Let’s hope he doesn’t die!