They’ve Got the Beat: Catching Up with The Drums
Published April 5, 2011
THE DRUMS PLUS ONE (L-R): CONNOR HANWICK, JONATHAN PIERCE, ADAM KESSLER, JACOB GRAHAM. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAND
Is there a catchier band than The Drums? The Williamsburg, Brooklyn band has quickly attracted a fanatical following, thanks to their ridiculously enjoyable ’80s-meets-’60s pop-ish rock songs. Despite a tumultuous year that included non-stop touring and the departure of the band’s lead guitarist, The Drums have already become semi-iconic—thanks in part to the support of superfan Hedi Slimane.
With momentum like this, maybe 20 years from now college-town bars will replace their Morrissey nights with The Drums nights. Fortunately, the band has spent a recent break from touring in their home studio, writing a batch of new songs that will doubtless sound as timeless as ever. We spoke with Jonny Pierce, lead singer of The Drums, while they were in the midst of a sold-out mini-tour of New York City, with a few international trips thrown in for good measure.
KEN MILLER: You just played São Paolo for the first time and will also be traveling to Australia, Chile, and the UK soon. Is there a place you get most excited to visit when touring?
JONNY PIERCE: I think our favorite place to play is New York City. It’s hard to pick a favorite, because everyone has been so nice.
MILLER: How has adding two new band members changed your sound?
PIERCE: Well, they are actually just friends of ours who are playing with us now. Technically, Jacob [Graham], Connor [Hanwick], and I are still the only band members. We brought on new players because we wanted our show to become totally live, rather than relying on backing tracks like we used to. I’d say the result is that the shows have become more exciting and alive. It was nice to get these last three months off, so we can get things exactly how we want them.MILLER: I saw you a couple of weeks ago, and it seemed like you have some new songs. Can you tell me about them?
PIERCE: Yeah, the other good part of being off tour is having some time to write. We holed up in the kitchen of my apartment and began writing and recording. I think we have the next album pretty much recorded, other than a few things here and there. The new songs that we have are a little darker-sounding… I think the subject matter is a little more personal and not so idea-driven. As far as the sounds, we have incorporated some old Roland and Korg synthesizers on the album. We’ve even built our own analog modular system for this one. But overall, it’s a record of simple, sad pop songs.
MILLER: Do you think of the Drums as a pop group or a rock band?
PIERCE: I think in a live setting, we have that spirit of rock and roll. I don’t think that can be helped. We are fortunate enough to have a very energetic fan base, so we really feed off that live. But as far as how our album sounds and how we are in photographs and how we would like to go down, I think we would want people to call us pop.
MILLER: Do you deliberately try to write catchy songs, or does it just happen? Do you do a lot of editing and simplifying to make the songs catchy?
PIERCE: Yes, we deliberately try to write catchy songs. For me, every song leans towards a great chorus that makes you feel something. I am a little playful with the verses, but get pretty serious about the chorus. You know, this band started out of a love for girl groups of the 1960s—specifically, the Shangri-Las. The songs these girls sang were put together to be perfect pop songs. I am really fascinated with that. Everything was stripped down to the bare essentials. Some of those songs were less than two minutes long. Our songs are not quite as short and probably not quite as simple, but we do take on those influences.
MILLER: Do you practice your onstage dance moves?
PIERCE: No, there is no dance practice. Not even in rehearsal. I think what it comes down to is having a few beers before we get on stage. Also knowing that, yes we are pop. This is not just rock and roll, but we are a pop act and so we like to put on a show. Fortunately, the music we make is pretty danceable, so it makes it all the easier to get loose.
MILLER: You guys have pretty consistently made great videos. Can you tell me about videos you have planned?
PIERCE: Cool, I’m glad you like them. I mean, they were usually a pain in the ass to make, because we insisted on coming up with all the concepts and directed them all ourselves, except for “I Felt Stupid.” We were so specific about what we wanted to do that we had to do it all ourselves. So it meant lots more work. I wonder if we can pull that off again?