Jacob Graham of the Drums Talks Leaving Florida, Americana, and Not Really Liking the Beach; Playing Grand Central with Surfer Blood on Saturday
They infuse their surfery tunes -- a product of singer Jonathan Pierce moving from cold Brooklyn winters to sunny Orlando -- with 1970s British post-punk and Americana to make nostalgia-infused songs that read like a '50s bubblegum prom dance postcard shuffled into a pack of pretty-in-punk party photos. Their debut self-titled full-length was released this week, and you can catch a glimpse of this infusion with their song "When I Come Home," which you can download after the jump.
The Drums joins Surfer Blood and The Young Friends tomorrow at Grand Central. New Times caught up with Jacob Graham, guitarist and co-founder of The Drums, to talk leaving the Sunshine State, changing it up from synths to instruments, and listing Obama winning the election as one of the reasons they decided to start the band when they did.
Download: The Drums "When I Come Home"
New Times: I heard that you lived in Florida?
Jacob Graham: Yeah. I actually grew up in Ohio, but I lived in Florida for I guess about eight years or so.
Oh, wow. What part of Florida?
Central, around Orlando.
What made you move the band up to New York?
Umm... Well, actually, kind of the band. 'Cause Jonny the singer and I kind of started the band together, and he was living in Brooklyn at the time while I was living in Florida. And we'd been best friends since we were kids and stuff, so we'd always talked about starting a band. We'd decided we weren't getting any younger, so we should just do it. We thought the best thing to do was just move down to Florida because there's just so much music going on in Brooklyn. We really just wanted to get away from everything and just kind of create our own sound and get in our own head space, you know? So he moved down with me and we started recording. We recorded our first EP down there and half of our full-length.
So then how did you get inspiration for these beachy songs if you lived in Central Florida? 'Cause there aren't a lot of beaches up there.
Well there's not. But I think when Jon came down from New York to start recording, it was about October. So it was just starting to get really cold in New York. And even though we weren't like right by the beach in Florida, it was still kind of like really hot and he just felt like all of a sudden he was in summer. We would go to a couple of times and hang out and stuff. But I think it was just that, suddenly being there. He lived in New York for a long time. So every winter just like being so cold and then you get to Florida and winter barely exists there [laughs].
Yeah, of course. What made you reunite with Jonny in the first place? You guys were together in Goat Explosion, but then split up and started different bands.
Yeah, yeah. Well I dunno. It wasn't like when Goat Explosion broke up it wasn't like a big messy break up or anything. It was just kind of like we tried something and we were just kind of done with it, you know? So it was just kind of one of those things. Everyone in The Drums has been in bands since they were 12 years old. So it's like you're just kind of constantly starting new bands every few years when you just kind of get tired of what you're doing. But we've always been such good friends and always kind of connected musically and had a lot of the same inspirations and stuff. So I think when we both decided we wanted to kind of take it really seriously and do something that would be really special to us, we just kind of knew that it would be with each other.
And The Drums seems to be a bit of a departure from Goat Explosion. Why the change in sound and name and pretty much genre?
Well, you know, it is and it isn't because the core of both of those bands is pop music, and we both love to make pop songs. And with both Goat Explosion and The Drums, it's like we'd be equally influenced by like electronic bands like Kraftwerk and OMD [Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark] and stuff like that as we were with the Smiths and Orange Juice. But it's just sort of like when we started The Drums, we'd both been playing synthesizers our whole lives. That's all we'd ever done. And then it's just like since we were kids, we were just really obsessed with synthesizers from the mid-70's. And once you get to your mid-20s and you've been doing it that long ... and we were such kind of like purists about it. Like they had to be old analog synthesizers, and we wouldn't use midi. We just kind of had like all of these odd rules for ourselves. And maybe it was restricting, but we always liked limitations. Even what we're doing now with The Drums kind of has limitations too, in the same way. It's just kind of a different set of rules we like to put ourselves under. But yeah, so we were kind of sick of synthesizers. We actually started writing the first Drums song with synthesizers, and just thought like, "This is starting to sound stale. Let's kick things up." Almost like a shock to your own system, you know? Neither of us had ever touched a guitar in our lives, and we were living in a tiny apartment with my little brother, and and he had a guitar sitting in the corner. So we picked it up and started like trying to pick out some songs. And I think our lack of experience kind of gave us our sound a little bit. To this day I don't know how to play any chords, so each song is just like leads on top of leads.
So then what rules is it that you follow now? Since you mentioned that you follow different rules for The Drums.
Yeah. Well we kind of follow the rules of just the original ones that were invented for pop music when it just sort of came out of nowhere in the 50's. It's just kind of like a very rigid, verse chorus, verse, chorus ... that kind of structure, so there's that and the idea that we just do everything ourselves, you know? We've never worked with anyone else, and now that we're at the point that we're at, we've had a lot of people ask to work with us, and some people that we really respect and kind of wanna work with. But we know to really capture the sound that we're going for and the feeling, we kind of just have to do it all ourselves. Because what I think what we're doing is a very personal thing, and the songs that we're doing are trying to capture the spirit of The Drums in the songs. So everything is recorded in our bedrooms. Everything that you hear that we've ever released has been recorded in our bedroom. So it's just like to us, that's such a liberating experience. Because you're in your bedroom by yourself, and you don't feel any sort of pressure other than to please yourself. To go into a recording studio with a producer you barely know just feels so sterile and cold. It would be hard to capture anything special in that environment. I think we're just sort of technologically advanced nowadays that bands can do that kind of thing.
Is that what made you sort of get disillusioned by music in your other band, and why you guys decided to stop?
Well I've never worked with other people musically. Jon had another band that got into this major label record deal, and they ended up making a record with like I dunno ... I think there were like three producers for that. And I heard the demos for that band, and they sounded incredible with a spark about them. And then you hear the record, and it kind of like lost that, and what was replaced with was big studio sheen, you know? So I think for Jon that was a big deal, and I clearly see and hear the difference, so I completely agree with that philosophy.
You mention in your bio that The Drums were "born in late 2008 amidst an exciting and hopeful political climate." Did the election influence you guys at all to start the band?
Umm I think in a way. We're definitely not political people at all, and we usually don't have a clue as to what's going on.
Yeah, your songs aren't political at all, that's why I was wondering why that would be mentioned unless it was a factor.
[Laughs]. No, we didn't, but I think it's kind of like a lot of great music came out of The Great Depression. Because it's just like when things are being shaken up, it just makes you feel ... I don't know what it makes you do, but a lot of great entertainment comes out of bad economies and things like that, because people need something, you know? So I dunno. We're not very political, but it was right when Obama was coming into office and it was kind of like the first time we ever felt that patriotism and freedom that you kind of always ... that you're taught as a kid growing up in America. So it was just kind of that. There was that weird excitement and electricity in the air at that time.
So sort of like a shock to push you guys back into music.
Yeah. And I think it slightly influenced how we like to infuse a little bit of Americana imagery in our songs, like that sort of 1950's naïveté. I think part of that was kind of because a couple of years ago we thought, 'It's kind of cool to be an American now. Like the rest of the world doesn't think we're a bunch of idiots.' [Laughs]. So you know I think just to the effect of that. We're a very image driven band. We like to think of each song like a photograph. Like a scene from a little movie that was never made or something. So we always kind of have this really clear idea in our heads when we right songs of where it would take place kind of and what the characters are, and things like that. It's always that sort of 1950's Americana vibe that we try to infuse in it, which I think confuses a lot of people. 'Cause growing up we were very inspired by a lot of British bands [laughs]. So I think in America they don't pick up on that when we play, and in Britain they're kind of confused when we play.
So if that's the case that you view the characters described in the song in actual places, then what beaches do you see them in, when it comes to songs like "Down by the Water"? Is there a beach in particular?
No, I don't think there's a specific place. It's more romantic to us to not have an actual place you can find on a map, but just sort of closing your eyes and really being able to envision this like perfect setting. It's more like that then kind of like 'the beach at this place.'
I was hoping you'd just say, "Oh yeah, it was inspired by Miami Beach ... or Ft. Lauderdale Beach."
[Laughs]. You know I haven't really been to the beach there. The funny thing is I don't think any of us would go to the beach if you paid us [laughs]. We're not very beauty type of people. It's almost like when we made the Summertime! EP and had that idea and kind of had songs about surfing and the beach and stuff, it was kind of like ... it's so strange, because we never expected this band to get to the level that we're at right now. We really didn't think anyone would like it, 'cause we thought we were just making really selfish music to please ourselves. So it's like when we made that EP, we didn't realize the whole world would be hearing it. So sort of our idea was like to just do something that seemed a little bit off. 'Cause we were so inspired by those Factory Records bands like Joy Division and the Durutti Column and Stockholm Monsters that we thought, 'Wouldn't it be weird if you were in a record store right now, just digging through some records, and you found old Factory Records band or like Echo & the Bunnymen or something and they made like a weird beach-themed EP?' [Laughs]. That was kind of our mentality, almost like it was almost like a weird thing. But then when it came out and people thought, 'Oh, that's who they are exactly. That's their thing.' And it is, but it isn't. It's almost like if The Drums were asked to direct like a summertime-themed movie or something. I think the full-length record kind of shows people the whole picture of the drums, and what we're really about. It came out a few months ago in the UK, and I think people over there are already understanding to our vibe. The first time we went to the UK to play shows, all the reviews were saying, 'This wasn't what we expected at all. We thought they were gonna be this kind of summery band, and they sound more like Echo & the Bunnymen or something.' [Laughs]. But I think some different sides of the band come out here and there.
So if that's the case, what made you choose to work with Surfer Blood and to tour with them? Because they definitely are decidedly beachy surfer rock.
Yeah, totally. Well at the same time we're not trying to like run away from that or anything. And I think the main reason is that we think Surfer Blood write great songs, regardless of what their themes are and what they're all about. But at the core of it, it's just really great pop songs. And also kind of like I've lived in Florida for so long, and I knew the singer, J.P. [Pitts] of Surfer Blood for years. We'd been in different bands and played a lot of shows together, and always knew what the other person was doing. So it just kind of like was this weird twist of fate that our bands were both kind of like taking off at the same time, you know? So this whole summer we've been in Europe playing summer festivals, and they've been at like every one. And it's so nice when you're on the road for so long to know people. You're away from your friends for a whole year, and it's nice to kind of pull into a festival and see familiar faces and hang out with people. So I think we both kind of loved it so much that we decided to do a tour together in America.
And you guys planned a pretty big tour, also.
Yeah, it's like two months or something.
And you guys have like what, 4-5 stops in Florida alone.
Yeah. For Florida we've got a lot of shows. I don't know if it's because they're from there and have been playing a lot of shows there, or what.
Yeah, usually when they tour here, they usually hit at least 3-4 different places in Florida.
We're excited to do it though. I've got some friends there, so it'll be cool to just hang out and relax a little bit.
So then what can fans expect from your show this Saturday in Miami?
Umm ... I don't know. [Laughs]. I guess ... we're not really the sort of band that has any tricks up our sleeves, or any surprises, really. We're not gonna throw anything at the crowd or like have confetti fans or anything like that. We like the idea of like a classic band just getting up there and doing their thing, but doing the best job of it they can, you know? Every show we do, we give it everything we've got. And that's just always been our philosophy. Kids come to shows and I used to be a kid that went to shows and would save up a lot of money to do it, and sometimes a band would be having a bad day and just not do a good show because of it, and it's really depressing. So we always try to do the best we can, and do something that can help people kind of understand our music more and feel a part of the whole thing.
Have you come up with any joint band songs? Surfer Blood did that the last time they came to Miami with Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Umm ... [Laughs]. You know, I think the truth of the matter is we're not as talented as either of those two bands, so it might be difficult for us to do that [laughs].