The clamour surrounding New York’s latest indie-pop darlings The Drums has been deafening since the release of their Summertime EP last autumn. Barely had the boys written a handful of songs before the industry was breathing down their necks to sign them. The Drums were fresh-faced and seemingly musical novices; at their earliest shows founding member Jacob Graham pogo-ed across the stage like a tambourine wielding Bez as he hadn’t learnt how to play his guitar parts yet.
DOWNLOAD FOREVER AND EVER AMEN (SAINT ETTIENNE MIX) HERE
They combine everything from early Soft Cell drum machines, through doo-wop inspired croonings, The Beach Boys’ surf-vibe, to the relentless driving bass and deceptively simple guitar lines of the Factory Records immortals. Rather than throwing the kitchen sink in as well, singer/producer/band leader Jonny Pierce caps it all with the kind of vocal and lyrical flamboyance that would make Morrissey proud.
With their eponymous debut LP out on June 7, and their latest single Forever and Ever Amen released this week, Don’t Panic stole a few words with Jonny and Jacob in the midst of their relentless schedule to figure out if we should believe the hype.
Are there any acts you’re looking forward to playing with over the summer at festivals?
Jacob: Best Coast are playing here. I’ve never seen them.
Jonny: Smith Westerns. I’d be excited to see them. They’re old pals of ours. Right now we’re real control freaks. We do all our own work, we direct our videos, write, produce and record all our music. We’re so busy in our own world, maybe that will lessen a little as time goes on, but right now we’re really trying to create this world of The Drums. So we haven’t had the chance to look at the schedules. Looking at our schedule, finding out where we’re going next, I don’t know where we’ll be three days from now, but it’ll be cool to play the festivals. It’s our first time. We’ve played one or two in America.
Do you guys remember the first time you met?
Jonny: Very clearly. I was living in Up-state New York and Jacob was living in Ohio.
Jacob: We were at this summer camp. I was about to fall asleep one night when I heard someone playing the Smiths. In the middle of America when you’re 12 no one likes that, everyone thinks it’s retarded. I thought it sounded cool, so I went over. He thought I was going to make fun of him but I said, “They’re my favorite band.” And he said, “They’re my favorite band.” I was just like, “Oh, we’ll be best friends then,” and he said ok. I remember I just said bye and went back to sleep (laughs). But the next day and the rest of the days, we just hung out and talked about music. It was the first time I had ever met someone who liked that kind of music and really wanted to go digging for it, because it’s so hard to find out there. We had so many similar bands that we liked, but we were also able to show each other bands that we both liked right away. It was just really cool.
Jonny: We’d keep in touch over the years. Every summer we’d try to get together for at least the weekend if not longer. I was living in New York City. He had moved to Florida for a few years before. I called him and said I wanted to start making music again. And he said, “Why don’t we start this band we’ve always been talking about starting, like really do it? Let’s just write music that we want to write.” At that time I felt like I had nothing to lose because I was depressed. I was literally at rock bottom. So I packed my bags that week, and went down to Jacob’s place, shared a bedroom with his little brother. That’s where we recorded the Summertime EP, and a little more than half of the full-length album. Of course right away we were like, well what synthesizers are we going to use? We started writing Best Friends on synthesizers.
On the early songs you can really hear the drum machine. Has that been phased out now that you’ve got Connor Hanwick drumming in the band?
Jacob: It’s a song-by-song basis. I think for a great song, not that any of our songs are great, but a true pop song, you get that perfect little melody and it kind of dictates everything that’s about the song. The whole song falls into place, and you can kind of tell what’s supposed to sound like what, if you want it to sound like it’s supposed to. You can mix and match things and get a strange sound, but we like things that sound like what they’re supposed to sound.
Jonny: For us, genre, musicianship, location, era, all that stuff, is kind of irrelevant. What’s important to us is a perfect melody. That’s our goal. That’s our aim. We sorted of landed on our sound through different influences that we’ve had. The Manchester stuff, the Sun Records bands was stuff we listened to growing up. When we started the band, we started listening to a lot of The Shangri-Las and The Supremes. We got fascinated with girl groups in the 60s. It’s a whole lifetime of changing ideas building up to this point. We came up with the name ‘The Drums’ a year before we wrote our first song. We didn’t think we were going to be The Drums. We would just be stupid on the phone, saying, “Yeah, that would be the coolest name for a band,” but I think subconsciously we tucked it in our back pockets.
Were you just waiting for a band called The Drums to show up over the next year and when they didn’t have to do it yourselves?
Jacob: It was this dumb idea we had when we found photos of garage bands from the 60s in shoe boxes in a junk store. We’d buy the pictures, tack them to our walls and say, “That’s the Drums.” I think it’s like the way we get a melody and it dictates the whole song wrapped around it. I think when we came up with the name we imagined that we could see the whole band in our mind right away.
Jonny: It was a blueprint for what the Drums would be before we really knew it. We had photos of the coolest band in the world and each number we’d play. We were creating this whole world. For The Drums, the music really did come last. Everything else came first. Out of that came the songs, which is a really exciting feeling for me. So many bands are like, “Oh yeah, it’s all about the music,” and for us, it’s simply not. That’s why when we’re on stage, we really like to perform and put on a show.
Where does the inspiration for the songs themselves come from, specifically the lyrics, which have that classic feeling of being both heartbroken but joyful?
Jonny: A lot of the lyrics come from personal experiences, but any of those personal songs are blended with ideas.
Jacob: They’re romanticized beyond the belief. You could turn them into a movie.
Jonny: Each song is like a photograph. You look at a photograph and instantly you’re transported. I think that’s what every good pop song should do.
Is there an experience, or perhaps a song, that you’ve shared that has been the most influential in forming the Drums and making you who you are?
Yeah, we know the exact song. It’s the song that started the band. It’s by a band called The Wake, and it’s called Pale Spectre
. The first week we knew we were going to start writing music, I think we had just found that song. It’s a really obscure song. A friend sent it over to us and it’s just an example of a perfect song that looks and feels and sounds so cool. It’s a perfect pop song. Everything about it is so right.
Jacob: It’s rare when you come across a song you just think, “Everything about this song is absolutely perfect.”
Jonny: It’s perfect because it sounds imperfect. You have to listen to it man. For our first song, Best Friend, we wanted to write something that sounded like this song, and we didn’t end up anywhere close, but we ended up with something that was really exciting for us.