The Drums have lost a member, nearly split and made a new album since their last Southsea show. Ahead of another Pyramids gig and a slot at Bestival, frontman Jonny Pierce tells JODIE JEYNES about the journey.
The Drums have not had an easy time of late.
As fans of the New York band will know, they lost their guitarist last autumn and very nearly split completely this summer.
However, few people know that things were going wrong as far back as February last year, when the band played an NME Awards show at Southsea’s Pyramids Centre.
And, until now, no one knew that visit to Portsmouth was a breaking point for frontman Jonny Pierce.
The singer tells me from his Manhattan home: ‘It was a really cloudy, windy day and I took a long walk by myself along the seafront. It sounds really dumb, but I remember having an emotional breakdown. I just lost it all by myself. I didn’t remember that until right now.’
As with most bands, the problems for The Drums came with the constant touring and media attention.
‘I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting into when we started The Drums. We genuinely believed that we’d be playing a few gigs around New York and keeping our day jobs, but things went in a very different direction,’ continues Jonny.
Emerging from Brooklyn just last year, The Drums caught the ear of the indie world with their Summertime! EP, which was followed by their self-titled debut album.
This collection of indie beach pop rock ‘n’ roll went on to sell 200,000 albums worldwide and took the band to Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Australia, Hong Kong, Brazil, Europe, before a six-week US tour and then a stint in the UK including two sold-out nights at London’s Forum.
Jonny continues: ‘With that comes a lot of really great encouraging things and also a lot of negative by-products.
‘I never want to complain about the opportunities we’ve been given. I know it’s a rare thing and I’m really grateful, but I’m only human and it does take its toll.
‘We’ve been under this microscope since the few months of being a band. We were instantly hyped beyond belief. Our heads were spinning trying to hold it together. ‘They were writing about our every move. It felt like we were in a pressure cooker.
‘Jacob [synth player] and I have been best friends since we were children and I thought I knew everything about him, but when you’re shoved in bus together for such a long time, you realise there’s so much you don’t know. You learn a lot of great things and some not so great.’
Adds Jonny: ‘A band is like a car, if you run it too hard, it will fall apart.’
And, sure enough, The Drums did fall apart.
Guitarist Adam Kessler left the band in September.
Jonny remembers: ‘When Adam left we were all just p****d off at him for leaving, but it’s united the three of us because we pulled together. Now we feel very close. We love each other like brothers.’
Jonny admits that he occasionally thinks Adam had the right idea, leaving it all behind. ‘Sometimes we say “maybe Adam was the smart one”. He’s probably much more relaxed than we are now.
‘I don’t know. I’ve not spoken to him since the day he left the band,’ he adds, resolutely.
Rather than just recruiting a new guitarist after the departure of their old one, The Drums rethought their entire structure.
Drummer Connor Hanwick switched to guitar and guitarist Jacob picked up his more natural instrument of synthesizers.
Says Jonny: ‘Jacob moved to synth. But that was his first love. The first time he ever touched a guitar was when we formed The Drums.’
For the live shows, they have recruited a new drummer and a new guitarist who also plays bass.
‘It’s made playing a live show so exciting,’ says Jonny.
‘We’ve done away with backing tracks. Now everything is completely live and I prefer it.
‘Getting the point across is the most important thing to me, backing track or not. But playing entirely live makes the whole show much more flexible.
‘You can play with the nuances of the song,’ beams Jonny. But he says these two new musicians are not members of The Drums: ‘I don’t foresee us ever adding actual members to the band.’
Despite a restructuring and a rejuvenated bond, the trio were not in the clear just yet.
In June this year they nearly split-up completely.
‘There came a point recently when we weren’t sure whether we could continue,’ reveals Jonny. ‘This was just as we wrote the last song for the new album.
‘Then it came together in an amazing way and the excitement brought us together again.’
The new album, Portamento, is out on September 12. The band began working on it straight after Adam’s departure a year ago.
‘The internal friction over the last year has really helped the sound of this record and added to the mood,’ says Jonny.
‘Portamento is really a much more live sounding album to me.
‘We wanted to put out an album that was rooted in reality. It felt like we couldn’t write another album like the first album.
‘It felt like time to do something less cinematic, less dramatic a little more blunt and honest and speak about our life.
‘It was a long process for me to feel that up front. I still don’t really feel comfortable being that up front. But we wanted to reflect our lives in the here and now.
‘Before, we put on costumes, we had our guard up and didn’t let the songs be what they wanted to be.
‘For this album it felt time to do that.
‘We had so many pressing issues so many things to talk about other than hopeful romantic movie-like themes, like on the first album
‘I’m glad we did that on the first album, but now it’s time to speak the truth.
‘I knew this album would be honest but I didn’t realise how dark it would turn out,’ continues Jonny.
‘It starts on a dark note ends on a much darker note. It’s a downwards spiral,’ he laughs.
‘I didn’t realise what we were doing until it was done.
‘There are songs I barely remember recording because we did them in half a day,’ explains Jonny, who laid down the tracks spontaneously in his kitchen, excitedly.
‘The songs were forcing themselves out.
‘That’s the most exciting thing about making music. When there’s not even time to write the lyrics down because the song’s sucking the words out of your mouth.
‘So, Portamento has an urgency that maybe the last album didn’t have. It’s reflective of what we’ve been going through.
‘We’ve found ourselves as a band, finally, but it took us a lot to get there.’
WHERE AND WHEN
The Drums release their new single, Money, on Monday and their new album, Portamento, a week later.
They appear at Bestival next weekend and return to the Pyramids in Southsea on December 6 as part of their UK tour.
DID YOU KNOW?
The new album, Portamento, is named after an Italian word for a vocal slide between two pitches. It’s also a feature on analog synthesizers dictating the travel time from one note to another and Jonny says it’s relevant for the band’s transition and change in sound.
...his favourite venues for gigs
‘I prefer small intimate places. My apartment is really small. I had a really small bedroom when I was growing up. And, when the band started, we would play in a really small basement. There’s something exciting about being crammed in somewhere small with like-minded people.’
‘We’re really excited to be playing at such an amazing festival and in such an amazing location. I’d never even heard of the Isle Of Wight until The Strokes (pictured) played there.’
...what he’ll do when he visits Southsea this time
‘Jacob has some friends who live in Portsmouth, so we’ll probably be visiting them.’
... Morrissey being a fan
‘We consider any fan that likes our music to be giving us a compliment, regardless of their musical past. The Smiths were one of my first favourite bands when I was a kid, so it is really cool to know that.’
...whether it’s true Adam left to be a carpenter
‘I don’t know. I know that before we knew him he was in woodwork school.’