Grown and maintained as a direct reflection of Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham, The Drums are just the same as any other typical indie act right? — Wrong. But don't they only put out kitschy, cliché songs that are all glitz and glam with no real substance? — Wrong again. While The Drums may not be for everyone, they are anything but ordinary. From their unorthodox upbringings to the fact that they have become role-models of sorts within the gay community.
Diving into their darker side on their newest album Encyclopedia, The Drums imprint their music with the emotions found throughout their lives, emotions stemmed from experiences that vastly differ from the general public. Because of this, they have been able to carve out their niche within the expansive indie landscape. Through their seven year run, the context of their music has remained fairly level, especially given that The Drums have gone through a few iterations over the years. However, during that entire time the core founding members (Jonny & Jacob), who started out as childhood friends meeting at bible camp, have remained intact.
Performing just as the sun was going down, cooling off a hot day, The Drums put on a nearly flawless live show at FYF Fest. With a set comprised of music that spanned all three of their full length albums, they worked through all of their popularized songs for a crowd that became more and more energetic as the sun faded and the festival setting lit up. Capitalizing on the energetic crowd, who were crowd surfing and even started a mosh pit in some of the heavier moments, The Drums capped their show in style; almost as much style as could be found on Jonny's festive jacket. After the show we were able to meet up with Jonny and Jacob for an insightful interview, spanning everything from their limitations to what we can expect in the future.
Debi Del Grande for FYF Fest
EARMILK: With so many expectations put on The Drums early on, how far have you two come in terms of meeting or exceeding your own goals and expectations that you set for yourselves upon forming the band?
Jonny: I don’t think that we ever had any goals. I don’t think that we ever knew what to expect. We had never played guitars before. We borrowed his [Jacob’s] brother’s guitar and we wrote the song “Best Friend” which is on the first record. People just instantly started contacting us and wanting to hear more. It always felt like this thing where we are kind of blindly being dragged through whatever. What we’re not blind about is what we want to create. So, it’s kind of come what may, but we’re really obsessed with that perfect pop song. As the years go by we’ve realized that that’s not enough. Your songs have to really have a lot of heart and for us, be very personal in order to make it worth doing. For some people it is a little too close to home or too personal – too detailed – and then there’s other people, like in the crowd tonight, who show up and are really hardcore about it and relate to it. We’re just on this ride and one day we wake up and think maybe this is the last show we’ll play — does anyone even care. And then there is a show like tonight where you think, “okay, I think people still give a shit.” People showing up to our shows, or not – people buying our records, or not – it’s not going to change what we want to do. That’s just writing beautiful songs that are heartfelt. It sounds kind of silly, but if there ever was a goal, that’s the goal.
EM: In speaking to your show tonight, it seemed that at the beginning people weren’t maybe as into it maybe because you are at a festival and they might only know some of your earlier stuff, but as you progressed, as did the crowd. By the mid-way point they really seemed into it.
Jonny: I don’t know. I felt like people were into it from the very beginning [laughs] and, I am very sensitive to that stuff. I felt immediately relaxed and that it was a really potent set. I felt like they were just there and ready.
Jacob: We were kind of playing right as the sun was going down and I feel like people get less inhibited the darker it gets.
Jonny: Yeah, not everyone’s looking at you.
EM: Interviewers typically dive into your upbringings because they are somewhat unconventional, so let’s keep this one short. What would be the one word that both of you would use to describe your youth and upbringing?
Jonny: Bullshit. If you want to learn more, Google me.
EM: We all have at least one thing that drives us. What do you two use as motivation in performing, writing new music, or even just running through the motions of your everyday life?
Jacob: Well, for me I guess I like the idea of having sort of a magical existence and not a mundane life. I think every decision I make is towards that magical existence.
Jonny: I’m the opposite. I grew up on the bible so I just want concrete, scientific reality and factual information. I am not trying to escape in any way. Well, I do drugs sometimes so I guess that’s escaping a little bit.
EM: While you have stated in the past that upon forming The Drums you were still learning to play your instruments, over the years how have you overcome limitations that arise based on maybe not being as experienced as you would desire to be?
Jonny: I think our limitations are our greatest strength. Jacob and I are in a full-blown guitar band. There’s synthesizer all over, but the bulk of it is guitar. We’ve never learned how to play guitar. In the years that we’ve been in this band we’ve never advanced like, “Oh, now we get it”, you know? The only time either of us touch a guitar is when we are in the studio. Then two more years go by and we have to make a new record so we pick up a guitar again and we didn’t learn a thing. But, we really revel in that.
I think that musicianship can be a bit boring. Like, “that guy can rip on the guitar.” Yeah, but he’s an asshole. And, who cares, is he saying anything? We’ve just turned into this band that has a real message and who want everything to be meaningful. So, I think guitar solos and all that kind of stuff is laced with ego and someone jerking off to their abilities. It’s really boring to us. We’ve always just thought things that are pretty and meaningful are so much more important and will last a bit longer than a gnarly moment in a song.
Jacob: I think where we sort of have progressed though is sonically. When we started we would just plug the guitar in throw a dash of reverb on and hit record. And these days we are a little more sensitive to dialing in the sounds and honing them. Having a slightly broader spectrum, but still within reason.
EM: The Drums began with the two of you and it has since looped back around. Having been a duo throughout the entire release of Encyclopedia, including a year of touring in support of the album, would you say the process has gotten easier? – Harder? – Or, has it stayed about the same?
Jonny: Easier I would say.
Jacob: Easier and not terribly different. Because we always kind of were the ones writing, recording and that kind of thing — kind of the creative iron fists.
Jonny: The type of songs we want to make are… We didn’t wake up one day and say, 'let’s get experimental.' We have always had that passion to write a beautiful, concise and meaningful song. Nothing more, nothing less. That will always be what we want to do. There is never going to be a weird experimental record coming from The Drums. It’s just going to be our songs. It’s just that we have these obsessions with songs. “Landslide” or “I Will Always Love You” are just songs that really hit home. So, we feel like there are so many people doing textural music that we should just write songs because nobody is writing songs.
Jacob: It’s also like trying to write a song like “Landslide” is like chasing a rainbow or a white stag. It moves, so once you think you’ve got it it’s moved and it never ends until you’ve passed away.
Jonny: Well, I don’t agree with him. I feel like we could achieve like the perfect song.
Jacob: But you will never be contempt, you’d want to write another song.
Jonny: Okay, yeah. You wake up the next day and think ‘I can do better than that’.
EM: It has been a year since the release of ‘Encyclopedia’, where are you guys at in the stages of your follow-up (fourth album)?
Jonny: We are like three or four songs in. We are really excited about the songs. They are all a bit more… I don’t know. They are all just very detailed. Moreso than stuff we have done in the past. Maybe like a continuation of Encyclopedia in a way, but also real early influences from like the Summertime EP coming back at random moments. When we make a record we try to shut everything else out and we only listen to our music and stuff we’ve released. We really stay in that world of The Drums. It’s so easy to overhear some music, like right now, and think ‘that’s what’s going on. Maybe we should spice things up.' But then you lose the identity that you’ve worked so hard to create. We just kind of listen to ourselves and just from walking down the street you can find influence and you pull things from your life in a really organic way. Versus saying 'there are a bunch of bands I just discovered, I love them' and then all of a sudden that band is kind of on your record in a weird way. So, we try to really stay away from that.
EM: While you are very open with your own beliefs and reference them within the lyrics and emotions explored in your music, what do you think of others who push their strong, controversial beliefs on others in one form or another? — (Think Donald Trump, or Jahova's Witnesses)
Jonny: They can all burn in hell if there was one.
Jacob: I don’t think anyone should try to push their beliefs on anyone else. I think everyone should do whatever is best for them and gets them through the day.
Jonny: As long as what they think is best for them isn’t harmful to them.
EM: Like Charles Mason?
Jonny: Jonny: Like christians [laughs]. Let’s get real.
EM: Of all the bands and artists that you have seen live over the years, has there been a scenario where a band or artist have not lived up to your preconceived expectation?
Jonny: Sure, like all of them. Literally all of them. That’s why we don’t like going to shows, we don’t like live music so much. I think a record is so personal. It’s so nice to get away in your own bedroom and put on headphones and really have that moment for yourself. Rarely — [turns to Jacob] I mean, have you been anywhere where… [turns back] I think Peaches in Austria was kind of a thing for me.
Jacob: Well, I don’t know. I feel like we’ve had a few happy moments. Seeing Bjork and Whales or something is a little bit like woah, that’s wonderful.
Jonny: I’ve seen Bjork like five times, she’s my favorite artist in the world and every time I was like ‘that was cool’, I just wanted a little more.
EM: What have you been listening to lately?
Jonny: Nothing. Soundtracks and things like that.
Jacob: I’m into these folk bands from the 60’s and I love a really badly recorded flute sound. It seems like back then, whenever they would go to record the flute — maybe they didn’t have the technology to do it very well or something — it’s always peaking. It’s like this flute with distortion on it comes in out of nowhere and is always mixed so loud and it is just so wonderful. We’ve really lost that in modern times. We might kind of have that sort of sound on the new record. Things peaking that wouldn’t normally be peaking and maybe the things that wouldn’t normally be distorted are…
EM: Are there any other acts that you are/were interested in catching live today or tomorrow at FYF?
Jonny: I guess I would have seen Frank Ocean, but that can’t happen. I don’t know who’s playing really.
Jacob: I would have liked to have seen Alvvays. I don’t even know who’s playing. [manager hands them a schedule and they both look over it blankly] It’s a great lineup… I am glad to be apart of it [laughs].