Published Aug 21, 2010"Right now I am on a plane from Tokyo to London and I have no idea what day it is," says Jonathan Pierce, singer, songwriter and co-founder of the Drums. He and his band-mates have been forced to deal with a ridiculous level of demand as of late ― the kind of demand that fuels meltdowns, self-doubt and splits. But Pierce sounds as though he's been waiting his whole life for this moment.
Pierce and the other Drums co-founder Jacob Graham have been friends since meeting as 14-year-olds at a Christian summer camp. Bonding over their mutual love for music and confusion of faith, the two would eventually tour together in the band Goat Explosion. Pierce then fronted the band Elkland, who released a forgotten 2005 debut on Columbia, and Graham was one-half of Horse Shoes, who put out a mini-album on Shelflife Records. Both bands imploded and the two found each other once again, opting to drop the synths of their previous acts in favour of the jangly guitars they grew up obsessing over.
When the two began what would become the Drums, Pierce says the plan was to be spontaneous and keep expectations to a minimum. "Jacob and I started writing the songs as sort of a 'project,'" he explains, "and then after we had a few songs that we believed in, we quickly decided to take it a bit more seriously and turn it into a four-piece."
Formed in Florida and now based in Brooklyn, if you didn't know better you'd assume the Drums were the latest next big thing to cross the pond. The foursome signed to popular English indie label Moshi Moshi, which released their debut EP, Summertime! in 2009 and their self-titled debut in June, and spent the better part of the last year touring Europe. They also graced the cover of the NME twice this year; one story even painted the band as hardcore Anglophiles who had made it their new home.
Pierce is quick to dismiss the UK-obsessed angle, but says everything you hear about the British press revving up the hype machine is true. "We are enjoying the excitement surrounding the band, but we don't have much time to think about it," he says. "We are sort of in our own world: touring, recording songs all the time, making our own artwork and directing our own music videos.
"Having two NME covers before the album has come out was really strange for us," he adds. "When we started this band our goal was just to make a handful of songs that we really loved. We never thought anyone would care about what we were doing. It's been a really wild and unexpected journey."
Of course, that journey so far has almost completely excluded their home continent. Buzz has been swirling since the band first hit the blogs last summer, but now that there's a domestic release of their debut album and a North American tour in the fall, the Drums are readying themselves for a similar response on their native soil.
The Drums' self-titled album is a rare find in today's market of dispensable buzz bands. Like last year's Summertime! EP, the album's 12 songs are all undeniable earworms built from surfed up bass lines, bloody-fingered strumming, ethereally retro synths and plucky rhythms, all of which sponsor Pierce's burning croon and whistled hooks. Few pop albums in the last year deserve the status of a modern day classic, but The Drums is worthy.
Ask Pierce about his influences, and he'll give you an exhaustive list of bands like the Ronettes, the Wake, the Smiths, the Tough Alliance and the Ramones, and so on. "One thing all those bands had in common was a knack for great melodies," he explains. "They all know how to write a great pop song. It's my biggest obsession."
As the chief songwriter, this obsession means each song is as important as the next. "These days you hear a lot of music but not too many good songs. The 'song' is where our focus is as a band," he stresses.
Hiring a producer to make the songs "good," wasn't really an option for the band. Having written and produced their EP, Pierce stepped in once again to produce the album's recording. Despite the growing interest in the Drums at the time, they still opted to do it with whatever means were available. Pierce says this approach helped give the album its sound.
"I think we have very classic pop melodies, but as far as the production, I just did the best I could with what I had," he explains. "When you have no money and no friends around you who play instruments, you have to use what you have, so the production naturally was less than perfect, but I am grateful for that now. It is how we developed our sound ― a beautiful accident. I would not change a thing now, even when recording the second album."
At the rate the Drums have been working, that second album isn't far off, but Pierce is still quite proud of this first one. While one UK publication tried to paint the band as indie purists, Pierce's aspirations, like any artist in search of career stability, are to make fans out of as many people as possible.
"I just tried to make an album of great songs to the best of my ability and the indie crowd embraced it," he says. "Pop is short for popular. While we are not striving to be massive, we will also not turn down great opportunities to get our songs to a bigger audience for fear of not being 'indie' anymore. We want great music to be heard on the radio. How cool would it be to turn on a mainstream radio station and hear the Pains of Being Pure At Heart or Camera Obscura being played? It would be cool to be part of that change."