Interview: Jonathan Pierce and Connor Hanwick of the Drums

By on Monday, 20th September 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Before the Drums’s first show ever in Washington, I had a nice chat with Jonathan Pierce and Connor Hanwick of the band at a little Latin café across the way from the 9:30 Club right before their show. They let me into their world of imagery and escapism and their ideas for their next album. Read my interview below.

Many thanks to Jonathan and Connor for their time and Aimee for helping set this up.

Mary Chang, Editor of There Goes the Fear, in my hometown of Washington DC with one-half of Brooklyn band the Drums. Hello and welcome to Washington guys.
Both: Thank you.
Let’s start by each of you introducing yourselves and what instruments you play in the Drums.
Connor: I’m Connor and I play the drums. In the Drums. [laughs]
Jonathan: I’m Jonny, and I sing.

So I read you, Jonathan, met Jacob (Graham), who plays guitar in the Drums, at summer camp and have been really good friends and were playing in this other band before you formed the Drums. Can you tell me more about what that band was like?
Jonathan: Yeah, actually Jacob and I have been friends for years and years. We’ve been all sorts of bands (together), whether we’ve been on our own or with each other. We’ve had a few different projects that we tried to make work over the years. But the Drums are the first band that we poured our whole lives into, giving up everything else to really make it happen.
How were the Drums formed? How did you develop the kind of sound you wanted to have, to what the Drums are today?
Jonathan: It’s just a project of lot of different points of inspiration, one big thing for us is imagery. Imagery is a big thing for us. For us, the music came last and everything else came before it. So even though we are inspired by bands of course, but even more so by the feeling you get looking at a good photograph or watch a great film. I think our greatest inspiration is that sense of escape, anything that sorts of takes you out of where you are at the moment, a good pop song does that, it takes you a different place. It’s instantaneous.
You mentioned photography and film…do you have favourite photographers or filmmakers? Or maybe specific films?
Jonathan: Yeah, we do. I’m a big fan of John Cassavetes and Gus Van Sant, I’d say those are my two favourites (filmmakers).
Connor: [nods] Nicholas Ray. Sam Fuller.
Jonathan: And as far as photographers, for me there are a couple photographers that I think are great. But I find the photographs that are most inspirational are those that you find just lying around at some unknown place that you find in an old shoebox somewhere.
Connor: When it comes to a photographer, it comes down to a stylistic thing, or a premeditated thing, or precalculated. Photos you find in National Geographic, or Life Magazine or at a yard sale, you know, they’ve already got a story built into it. When you see them, you don’t subconsciously link them to an artist or a person. Just a great photograph that has a story implemented in it.
Jonathan: Something random like that, but like photos you’d find in a photo album and not a coffee table book.

Going back to your band’s sound, would you say there are certain bands, past or present, that you look to for inspiration beyond visual imagery? Or were you more focused on getting there via the feeling of escape?
Jonathan: It was always based more on this idea of being transported. Our number one rule when we started this band was to be completely selfish when we’re being creative, and really block out the rest of the world and forget about any other bands and really just do what makes us tick.
I think that’s great, because then you can be original and you don’t feel locked in to trying to mold yourself after someone else’s sound.
Jonathan: Even once people hear what you do and call you unoriginal, at least if it’s something that you love, I think that’s much more important than anything else.
A couple months ago you released your debut album in the UK on Moshi Moshi Records. How long did it take for you guys to write and record the songs for ‘The Drums’?
Jonathan: The album took…we recorded most of it when we were living in Florida. We recorded the EP (‘Summertime’) and the album pretty much at the same time. Then we moved to New York and then had four or five songs that we felt we could record, and we felt we could call that the album. Yeah, the majority (of the writing) was in Florida. And you can sort of pinpoint right in the middle, at ‘Down by the Water’, the fifth song, is sort of an interlude into the next phase of the Drums, really. You could almost call the album 2 EPs because to us, it’s very distinct, the first half and the second half in their mood, and also some lyrical content. It gets much more serious at the end. I think that’s the direction we’ll continue to go in.
Now would you say the first half, or the first EP if you will, that recorded in Florida, is that a reflection of being in Florida? And being in a sunny atmosphere? Versus New York City, which can be dark, more hectic.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think our whole band are very sensitive to our surroundings. So whether we wanted to or not, recording in Florida…if you recorded your album in Russia, it’d certainly sound different than if you recorded it in Germany. Or maybe they’d kind of sound the same! [Jonathan smiles, all laugh] Those are two bad examples! But uh, yeah, certainly for us, we’re really sensitive surroundings.
Connor: I think it was more than just where we were in location. Because the album came out, essentially, chronological in the way it was written. I think over the course of a year and a half and over 2 years, you change as you go as people, especially in the situation we were in at the time. I think the location changes were…I don’t know if it was the primary element in that change, but it came at the same time we were all going through a lot and when we were developing as people and as a band, really. I didn’t even know Jacob when the band started. I knew Jon, and Jacob knew Jon, and that was it.

You guys are really, really big in Britain. I heard about you on Steve Lamacq’s 6music show. So you were #5 on the BBC Sound of 2010 poll at the start of the year and you were voted one of the top 10 bands on by our readers for 10 bands to watch in 2010. Did your success overseas surprise you?
Jonathan: Any sort of success surprised us, really! I mean, just playing the 9:30 Club here. Last night we played in a really small venue and even that (the number of people who came to see us) surprised us. It’s all still very new and we’re just really grateful. You know, we started this band as a completely selfish endeavour and it wasn’t really meant to be heard by anyone. And we’re just a few lucky guys, at the end of the day!
Back in the wintertime you played on the NME Shockwaves tour with the Maccabees, Bombay Bicycle Club and the Big Pink and then in May you played an gig for MTV in Camden with Delphic. What was it like playing in Britain, being Americans?
Connor: It’s a different crowd in the UK. Sort of varies in their crowds, because it covers a big area. This (the Washington show) is really our eighth show outside of New York City, where we’ve played many, many shows. But this is the eighth show outside of there and the UK and the rest of the world. So I’m not even sure we’re seasoned enough in America to be able to make any comparisons.
Jonathan: We’re really glad to be here. We’ve spent the last year and a half touring everyone except America, pretty much nonstop. So it seems strange to have been somewhere else and had all that attention and coming home to America, it’s just as exciting to be here in America, or even more so!

So where have you been so far that you would say has been the most memorable? You guys were on the summer festival circuit…was there a particular country or city that sticks out to you as being particularly memorable?
Jonathan: It’s funny, a lot of this stuff ends up blurring together. We always enjoy playing Germany. Hamburg. Germany. Both times we’ve played there. There’s something really cool about that place. [looks over at Connor] What else, Con?
Connor: Tokyo.
Jonathan: Paris is always great, really cool.
Connor: Glasgow. But it’s funny because now we’re back in America and doing this tour, and this feels…I’ve been to Providence before (where the tour was the night before), I’ve been to DC before, and these soundchecks feel a whole lot better than the (ones for the) shows we’ve done recently. It feels refreshing to me, it feel s like we’re in a place where we can have some renewal. And it’s also psychological too, I think we’re looking forward to the future and future albums…what’s today’s date?
The 12th (of September).
Connor: It (‘The Drums’) comes out in 2 days here but it’s been out in the rest of the world since June. So we’re incredibly happy and proud of that album and we’re so excited to be talking about ideas for the next album. So playing America, this tour so far has been pretty incredible.
And it’s a pretty long tour too, like a month? Is that right?
I think it’s 5 weeks.
And you’re going all over the country, right? West Coast too?
Both: Yeah.
Jonathan: We’re stopping in Canada too.

So you’re co-headlining this tour with Surfer Blood. Did you know them beforehand? Or did your PR people just put you two together?
Connor: No no, those kids…Jacob lived in Florida for many years when he was really young and he played in bands with those kids (in Surfer Blood) and they had other bands, and they used to play in the same town a lot. So this band they’re now in, they called up Jacob and was showing him their stuff. We played a show in New York with them months and months ago, and we saw each other a lot at festivals, so they were one of the few bands we actually know.
Yeah, so not a ‘fly-by-night’ kind of meeting with a band you’ve never met before.
Connor: Yeah, at festivals they put you in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, you’re face to face with people you don’t know. It’s this weird dynamic where you feel like we’re supposed to be friends because we’re both in bands, but outside that context, you don’ t have anything to do with the other person.
Jonathan: That said, everyone’s been nice that we’ve met.

Are you guys ready to go with ideas for another album or another EP? Or are you going to work on that after you’re off tour?
Jonathan: We’re going to work on that pretty instantly. We’re kicking around ideas. Nothing recorded (yet) but definitely, just putting something out that you’ve been holding back for a year, or 6 months. And that doesn’t seem like a long time. But for us, we wanted to put that album out. And once that was out, I think that day we started talking about, “where do we want to take this? What’s the next thing to do?” Yeah, we’re excited about making a new album. And I don’t think it’s going to be much different from the first album. We’re excited about the idea of continuity throughout the band’s lifetime and sticking to what’s good for you. Whether it’s following a trend or not, that’s not really important to us. Retain that sort of stubbornness. A lot of bands are under immense pressure to prove to the world that they’re relevant by changing everything they do to be a new incarnation. And there’s nothing less exciting to us.
Connor: We’re looking to proceed and persevere in the same direction and put out another album that’s…it’s tricky, you wanna put out an album that’s better, but doing the same thing. But that means the ideas have to be better. We’re not going to pick up mandolins and banjos and go off in a new direction.
I can tell you spend a lot of time in Britain…the folk scene there…
Connor: Yeah. [laughs]
Yeah, the banjo thing is really hot over there right now.
I’ve seen bands that walk around looking like it’s 1905 and that’s not our thing.

Thanks so much for your time.
Both: Thank you.
Have a wonderful show tonight, and best wishes for the rest of the tour.
Jonathan: Thank you very much. And we will see you next time we’re in Washington.

The Drums will return to the UK for a tour in November and December.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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