We had the extreme luck to meet with Jonny Pierce from The Drums some weeks ago. The Drums’ new album Abysmal Thoughts is out today on ANTI- Records and marks a completely new step in the Brooklyn band’s history. While listening to it (stream it here on Deezer – Spotify), what better reading than an intimate and revealing interview of The Drums’ leader?
« The Drums have always been me in my bedroom »
Hey Jonny. To start easy, where does the name of the band comes from? Are the choice and its meaning still relevant today?
It is going to be a really boring answer. I just liked The Drums. I love pop music, classic pop songs, and also names such as The Smiths… There is something timeless and classic about it, like The Drums could have been a band in the 50s, or in like… 2050. And it is like you cannot really associate it with an era… I like timeless stuff. I think you can listen to any of my records at any point and you won’t be like « That’s 2009 ». It feels more like it could be now or 10 years ago. So I kinda like not being associated with eras… So The Drums works for me.
Let’s Go Surfin by The Drums (The Drums, 2010)
How is this album different from the other ones?
Well, the context was different. Something I have always kept to myself, that I have not shared with the press, is that 95% of all of the music that The Drums have ever put out is really me, in my bedroom, recording and writing by myself. I have always hesitated to share this information because at the time I had other bandmates, and I wanted them to feel included. They played these songs live, but if you listen to the albums, there is a 95% chance that what you are listening is me in my bedroom. So in that sense, nothing has really changed. Because I made the album on my own.
« I am truly on my own »
There is a difference, because I am truly on my own now. So there is a new freedom I did not have before. So even if Jacob or Connor were not in the room when I was recording, just knowing that they were going to be a part of it somewhere, it affected the way I felt I could and could not do in the studio. I was like « Jacob would hate it« , so I was trying to do things that everyone could like. There was that invisible influence. Now I just could do whatever I want. The album cover, which is my boyfriend smelling my dirty snicker and touching his dick, is something that would have never happened if Jacob was in the band. We would have rather died than have this album cover. It kind of feels like a second debut album in a way. It is The Drums fourth album. It is different. But it is the same. In different.
Mirror by The Drums (Abysmal Thoughts, 2017) – opening track
« The Stones could have stopped 20 years ago and everybody would still s*ck their balls »
There was a question about the Beatles…
Oh I hate the Beatles.
Oh okay. We usually ask every band what Beatles record they prefer, but it is more going to be: why do you hate this band…
Okay okay. First of all, I don’t hate The Beatles. Let me take that back.
You have heard too much of it?
Well no… Okay, yes. We have all heard too much of it. Here is my issue with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones… Everybody fall for them, like Rihanna or anyone that is really famous. There are bands that claim to love music. But bands such as… Well The Beatles can’t do that anymore but bands like The Stones, they play since what, the 50s? They have been around forever, they have more money than God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit altogether and they have headlined every festival. And instead of picking a band, an artist – I’m not talking about The Drums -, but like a great new band, or a great new artist, or a DJ who’s just getting involved in all of this, they still pick them… Why choosing The Rolling Stones to headline these festivals? They don’t need any more money, they don’t need to prove that they are amazing… They could have stopped 20 years ago and everybody would still s*ck their balls. Why not act like « Hey you know what? Why not get Grimes to headline?« . She is on her second album, she works very hard, she is pretty talented…
« Our icons are like 7000 years old now! »
Why the hell are we still stuck on Coldplay, Muse… Just to get more fans? So I am not mad at The Beatles for being The Beatles. I am mad at majority of the producers that love money so much that they don’t take a chance on smaller bands. Let’s invest in new artists! They could be icons one day! Our icons are like 7000 years old now… There are these icons, and everyone else are just artists. I mean, come on, when do we turn the page? When does that actually happen?
I am annoyed with this old men worship. We got it ! The Beatles are cool, they did revolutionary stuff, I am the first to say it. They influenced us, they deserve all the acclimates in the world. But I feel like they have got enough press. What more is there to say about The Beatles? I mean they were great, but… I’d prefer to talk about small artists that just begin and work hard. Not old man music. Let the kids have a chance.
Is there any band you can advice us?
Snail Mail is amazing, everybody wants to sign her, and she is very talented and very pretty. She just released her first EP. I mostly listen to 90s house music but there is no other artist I am really freaking out for.
« This album is me just giving in to my love of pure pop »
So when I listened to your album, it sounded like some Brian Wilson mixed up with Joy Division, or New Order… stuff like that. What do you think about that?
Well, I think it is accurate for… like 4 albums ago, maybe… This new one quite not as much. Influences on the new album are quite hard to pin down for me. My last album was quite experimental. I mean if you compare it with the 2 before that, this album is me really just giving in to my love of pure pop. It’s all about the song, and it’s less about the instrumentation.
And this album is much more me lyrically making myself much more vulnerable than I have ever had before. Just saying what is on my mind and what was on my heart. So the 3 albums before this, I was expressing myself but I was doing this in circle way. This album is the raw form. Musically, I think but my main influence – it is going to sound weird – was myself [laughs].
Heart Basel by The Drums (Abysmal Thoughts, 2017)
« It is too easy to be influenced »
You start with your core influences from years ago, and then it evolves from there. People ask me all the time « so what are you listening to now when you make records? ». The only thing I would listen to is my own records. So that I am staying in the world that I have created. When I am recording I shut the world out and I don’t listen to what other bands are doing. It’s too easy to be influenced. So I am really trying to stay focused on what I have done in the past, and how I can take that and build on it or dig into it. It is like this sort of ever-evolving, ever-churning process but it doesn’t normally involve much outside influence.
What was the context of making Abysmal Thoughts? And where did you record it?
I started this album in Los Angeles when I was going through a very difficult time. A break up with somebody that I loved dearly and I thought I would spend the rest of my life with.
Most of the dark heavier stuff in the album was there in Los Angeles, and then I moved back to New York City. I did not think L.A was my home and did not feel settled there. There was too much sun, it was depressing. Even now when I see the sun it reminds me of my time in L.A and I kind of get triggered in a wrong way. I hope it doesn’t last forever because I have enjoyed the sun in the past.
When I moved to New York I started feeling I was home again and my feet started to feel the ground again. I was able to finish the album in New York and, because I was feeling a little bit better, I was able to write songs more reflective on the past, and showing I have evolved as a person. But in the end, the final song especially, it is very telling how my life is. So far, people are responding in a really great way and I think it is just a testament to making myself transparent and not holding back. Even if what I have to say is pretty heavy, I think people are gonna react in a better way because it is coming across genuinely true.
Blood Under My Belt by The Drums (Abysmal Thoughts, 2017)
« I am always standing in the middle of bliss and depression »
If you are between two states of mind – let’s say depressed and happy – is it easier to be creative?
I can describe my life exactly that way: there is a blissful state and this super dark depression, and I’m always standing in the middle. So I have lived in a sort of melancholy and I am okay with that. Sometimes in my life I feel a lot of joy and many times the opposite of that. I think if I did not exist somewhere in the middle I would not be able to write the music I do. There is something happy, dancing sound, music people wanna dance to, but the lyrics kin of drag the whole thing down. It is the glue that holds it together. When I am in a happy time of my life, it is hard to write a good song.
How do you know when you are done writing a song?
You don’t ever really know, you just have to guess. It is like a painting. You could always add another flower, but you just step away. I heard once that good artists know when to stop. It is about trusting your instinct. And for me, it is about letting go. I think it is about letting into the world and not be so precious about your art, letting it happen.
« Art is not supposed to be self-torture »
Lot of people I know really want to make music. They get guitars, microphones, they set up the whole thing. And when you ask them what is going on they are like « oh just making music » and you are like « oh cool I want to hear something when you are finished » and they’re like « I don’t really have something finished yet ». Just stop over thinking each of it. Just take a deep breathe, think about what you want to create, and put it together. There should be something easy to art and not always self-torture. When you are just supposed to be making art, it just happens. You just do it, stop biting your nails. It was a nice question cause I have never had to answer something like that.
How do you feel on stage and backstage?
It is a different animal for me now because it is the first time I am kind of solo. I have a band but they are not members of The Drums. So it is just me and the band behind. It is a little bit different of a pressure. So if something goes wrong I don’t share with an other person. But for the first show I have made recently, I started to feel my hands. I never felt it that way, since I was very calm before. I have always felt more me on stage than off stage, I feel more peace on stage. My show in Paris will be in September .
Where is it going to be?
I don’t know [laughs]. I knew it was too much to ask [The Drums next Paris show will be at the Gaité Lyrique on September 20 – get tickets]
It is going to be every Beatles covers. Don’t you worry, the whole White album!
Full performance de The Drums sur KESP (septembre 2017)
Masterful interview led by Indejazzy and Indeflation