The Drums made some of the most infectious pop music of the past few years – it really is as simple as that. I am tempted to make it all more complicated, but when I listen to something like “Let’s Go Surfing,” it all melts away and I am wrapped in whistles and claps and the sunshine that greets you when you rise at noon.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a call to frontman Johnny Pierce, in anticipation of their show on Sunday with Surfer Blood at 930. After all, these guys are big stars overseas and the jaded journalist in me wanted to see if this was all a little more calculated than it seems. Then I heard the genuine enthusiasm in his voice, and his eagerness to share how insane it is that they are getting any attention at all over making music inspired by obscure Scottish mopers and hardscrabble girl groups – and just like with the songs – it all melted away and I wanted to embrace him and stay up all night talking with him forever.
Forever starts now:
I love that you are drawing from the sounds of the UK indie scene in the 80s and then you turned around and built buzz in the fashion of that time period by being a sensation in England – which grabbed the attention at home. What is it like being slapped on the papers and headlining tours over there while still building things up from the ground in the States?
Johnny: You know, anything is appreciated – we just ended up writing this handful of pop songs out of boredom, or maybe desperation is the right word. I was at sort of an all-time low in my life and somewhat aimless and Jacob wanted to start a band and we have been friends for over a decade – best friends really – so I called and said; “I don’t know what to do with myself and what next to do with my life.” And he said let’s start this band and that’s all we talked about. So I moved down to Florida from Brooklyn and we started writing music and that was really all we thought we would be doing. We didn’t even really think of it as being a band really. We just wanted to write songs.
So we wrote a handful, and put a couple of them online. Suddenly, it turned into something that we never planned on. So anything more, having already kinda accomplished our goal by writing these songs, which was all we thought would happen.
So had you already given up on…
I had already given up. You know, I had been in a few bands before The Drums and nothing ever really worked out. Some of the stuff is actually really horrible.
How long do you think The Drums will need to be around before people stop name-checking that you were in a band called Goat Explosion?
(Laughs) that already is happening.
(Laughs back at him) just a couple more months eh?
Yeah, you get asked about Goat Explosion. We get asked about our past a lot. You know, a few of us are sort of embarrassed to talk about it but they are still valuable experiences in sort of a life lessons way that all members of the band appreciate and we’ve all learned a lot from.
How different is it for you now, because this isn’t your first go-a-round and you have all kind of been through the music industry grinder? Do you think there is a different appreciation? Do you think you guys get along better?
No, but you get through all the bullshit faster and you don’t just say yes to everything. There is so much that we have to turn down because you have to think that you have something very special and you’ve got to protect with everything you’ve got.
But back to your original question about going around the UK and around Europe: We just got back from Japan and Australia and it was really an overwhelming response. You know, it is weird to be on the cover of a magazine and then coming to America and other than New York and Los Angeles people have never heard of us. That said, the album isn’t even out there yet and so we just turned where there was a desire to see us and in the States it is sorta building up that way. Like it did in the UK but it just took a little bit longer I guess.
We are really grateful. Being respected in America is very important to us. It is our favorite place and very special to us and where we all call it home. It is important to see things happening here but it’s weird too. A friend of mine equated it to being Clark Kent in a comic book where we can be in America and just walk around and be ourselves and then we get ready to tour over in the UK or anywhere else. I don’t want to say like a rockstar…
No, but you’ve got screaming girls and you’re signing magazines…
Yeah and then you come back and you’re just Johnny Perce walking around.
It’s kind of a cool best of both worlds scenario.
It’s kind of relaxing.
Neither one becomes too exhausting – your anonymity or level of stardom.
Everything becomes mundane.
They call it “work” for a reason.
You know it does feel like work most of the time because going to shows is really about a routine – but then you play and it is gratifying and wonderful and really amazing.
Speaking of that, what has been your favorite part of touring all over Europe and especially playing the festivals this summer?
My favorite thing really, at the end of the day, is the fans and being able to talk to the kids that come out to our shows. It is pretty awesome when they are inspired by what we are doing and sometimes they give us their music. Jacob has an online record label called Holiday and we listen to everything anyone gives us. And some of this stuff is really good and the whole process is really rewarding.
And then you have moments where someone like Morrissey comes out to your show or Edwyn Collins is at your show and that is really cool, but at the end of the day we are really interested in introducing our music to some kids that are maybe growing up surrounded by some awful stuff going on in pop music today and we are just trying to do our part in changing that.
Well that hints at an amazing byproduct of your music where you guys have dragged out references to a number of personal favorites of mine, that haven’t necessarily been out there before, and it warms my cold cold heart to see a band like The Wake in print and realize some kid in Kansas is discovering them right now – thanks to you guys.
Yeah, it has been an extremely cool experience. When we started the band we were really surrounded by our love of bands on Factory Records like Durutti Column and then further along to stuff like Ballboy and we never heard people talking about these bands and then we found The Wake and then Orange Juice or Orange Juice and then The Wake and we wondered why isn’t anyone talking about these bands? They were so inspiring to us when we were writing the album that we made a commitment to talk about them as much as is possible.
One by one these bands have been contacting us, so we’ll go to Scotland and hang out with Cesar from The Wake, which is a real dream come true. Inspiring. Wonderful. It’s just such a cool thing to be comfortable there and now we are seeing this return of the C-86 scene and sound and it makes us feel pretty good about being in the generation we are in. We are really glad to be the bearers of those great bands.
You are getting great notices from your collaboration with Edwyn Collins. How did that come about?
It’s really amazing, we were in London on tour and he came to one of the shows to actually play a song with another band we were on tour with over there. And we were all watching backstage and he walked off the stage and said hello to us and said he was a big fan and would like to work on a song with us. We all thought he was just being nice.
We were so happy just to have met him. He is such a hero of ours, really a symbol of an indie god essentially, and just a cool person that writes incredible songs. The next day we got an e-mail from his wife asking when we wanted to come in and record and we just couldn’t believe it.
So we went in and it was just incredible. He has all the original equipment that he recorded those Orange Juice records with and I got to hold the original “Rip It Up” reel-to-reel master and “Falling And Laughing” and it is really a surreal moment. I was just kind of snooping around in the back. I’m not sure if he even knows this (laughs.)
I won’t tell Edwyn or Grace.
(Laughs) It is crazy. I just couldn’t believe it was happening. I can’t believe this is happening with these songs that made me want to make music myself. And it was the first time really that all four of us – it takes a lot for the entire band to get excited about the same thing based on our strong individual tastes – but there was one moment when we were leaving the studio where we all just look at each other in total disbelief. We didn’t really say much and everyone was really quiet on the drive back – we just couldn’t believe it.
Had to pinch each other – It’s maybe not as cool as The Wake or Orange Juice to trot out but there is an unabashed pop sensibility in your melodies that borders on being doo wop and girl group inspired – what are your favorite golden oldies artists?
The golden oldie that was very instrumental in us starting that band was by The Shangri-La’s called “Give Him A Great Big Kiss.” That and the song “Pale Spectre” by The Wake are the two songs that inspired the first song we wrote, which was “Best Friend” with the combination of those elements. But my favorite… my favorite has to be a little song by The Shangri-La’s called “Out In The Street” and it’s another great example of the perfect song, which there were so many of in that era which is why we are drawn to it I think and sort of reference in our song titles. The perfect pop chord changes and perfect pop melodies and everything is really direct and a lot of those songs really touch me and we take a lot of inspiration from those groups.
I think you guys have done a great job of staying true to that to the things that make those Wake songs and Shangri-La’s songs fantastic – having that brilliant simplicity. Not being afraid to play a three-note guitar solo on one string – if it’s the right three notes.
Well sometimes it is more about what you are trying to do than what you actually do. When you really put everything you have into something because you really believe in it. Sometimes you don’t know how to do it – you figure out a way – because you have to do it. I think that’s the beauty.
Just by trying you get that sound.
I would always rather see someone trying to play the songs they believe in, even if they don’t know how to play the guitar that well, rather than someone who went to Juilliard and effortlessly breeze through a song.
Who gives a shit about that?
sunday @ 930 club. be there.