American rock band The War On Drugs just put out their fifth studio album I Don’t Live Here Anymore on Friday, October 29th. Just ahead of its release, staff writer Kelsey Sidman sat down with the band’s frontman Adam Granduciel. They talked about the War On Drugs’ connections with Boston, Granduciel’s relationships with Kurt Vile and his current bandmates, his advice for aspiring creators, and more.
THE NEW ALBUM COMES OUT SOON, HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT IT?
Adam Granduciel: Yes, the album is coming out Friday. I am psyched. I’m excited. I’m excited to put something out into the world.
THE TITLE TRACK, “I DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE,” BRINGS A SORT OF NEWER ELEVATED SOUND TO THE BAND. CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT THIS SONG MEANS TO YOU, WHAT IT'S ABOUT, WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE BAND?
AG: Yeah. I feel like the song itself was sort of a simple little acoustic thing I had. I sent it to my keyboard player, Robbie and I was like ‘maybe there's something on this’ and he came up with the beautiful hook or arpeggio. Then we just sort of ran with it.
It just had this sheen to it that was a little bit closer to a big sounding, kind of pop song than some of our other stuff. But I always liked that. A song that reveals itself and sounds kind of polished, I really enjoy that. I like trying to take it there.
The song has Lucius singing background vocals. They are both such amazing singers and the way they work together and how they elevate this tune, without even really thinking about it. When they sang on it, there weren’t even any vocals on it. I hadn’t even done my vocals so they kind of gave it a really amazing energy. I think the song is just about an affirmation of knowing where you wanna go, where you want to end up and how you’re gonna get there. And how you’re going to get there even if people are standing in your way or even if there are some pitfalls here and there. You have a really clear idea of your destination.
ALMOST FEELING LIKE YOU DON’T BELONG TO YOUR OLD SELF ANYMORE, IN A WAY?
AG: Exactly, yeah. That is good. Good way of putting it.
YEAH, I DEFINITELY GOT THAT FROM THE SONG.
AG: Yeah. I’m gonna use that.
IS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE BEHIND THE NAME OF THE BAND?
AG: It was a name I came up with a long time ago, around 2003. It is kind of hard to explain, but me and my oldest friend Julian, we were college roommates. We were living in California and we were really inspired by beat poets and everything and free form and free association writing. We had typewriters set up in our house in Oakland. I worked at a restaurant until 1 a.m. and I would come home and we would have these crazy typewriter sessions until 5 a.m. and drink wine. We were writing a sort of dictionary in the style of that beat, loose association. We were just defining words like the Pacific Ocean. We would write a tag team poem about it. I think somewhere we probably heard The War on Drugs on TV or something. Julian bashed it into a typewriter. I was saying ‘that would be a good name for a band.’ It felt like a band name to me.
You always heard it with a “the” in front of it. It was a very kind of American, popular culture from hearing that word all the time growing up. So that’s just what I started recording music under. Very early in 2004 as a way to write music and stamp it on cassette and hand out. It just kind of stuck.
I READ AN ARTICLE IN VANITY FAIR RECENTLY SO I HAVE A FEW QUESTIONS ON THAT. YOU’RE FROM MASSACHUSETTS, RIGHT? CAN YOU SPEAK TO YOUR EXPERIENCE LIVING HERE AND THE TIME YOU WERE IN YOUR CAREER WHILE HERE? WHAT DOES BOSTON MEAN TO YOU?
AG: Yeah. Last time we played there, you know, the shows are always fun because basically my whole family comes. My brother and sister still live in Boston. My parents still live there. I worked on Newbury Street at a restaurant. I bought my first Spaceman 3 CD at Mystery Train, which is no longer there on Newbury Street. There used to be a place called Nuggets near Fenway Park which was a great record store. They sold old Rolling Stone magazines. We used to go to the Middle East for shows, to see bands that came through and high school bands would play there. I got my first guitar on Commonwealth Avenue at the Guitar Center. Boston is where I grew up. I lived in the suburbs specifically but my dad had a store in the North End. Every weekend I basically grew up in the North End going to Italian restaurants and Celtics games. Before it was redone in the modern way. Boston is a funny place. People always say it is hard for bands in Boston but we always have good shows there and we love playing there.
I THINK IT’S GOT A PRETTY COOL MUSIC SCENE.
AG: Yeah. Before I moved to Philly, I was working at a restaurant on Newbury Street. I was going to my buddy’s house every afternoon in Allston. He had a studio in his basement and he was always recording bands and friends. I was always sitting on the couch watching Eric and Wally do their thing. I love Boston.
I ALSO READ ABOUT YOUR STRONG CONNECTION TO GUITARIST KURT VILE, CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP AND HOW IT AFFECTED THE MUSIC?
AG: Yeah. We met in Philly after I moved there in January 2003 and we met in April or May of that same year. I moved to this tiny little house and I had this roommate, Joe who worked with Kurt at the brewery. I was always recording in my basement and Joe said I should go see his friend Kurt sometime. So I went to this place, The Fire, near my house where he was playing and it was awesome. And we started our friendship.
Over the next basically ten years, we just recorded so much together. We both had these little 8 track recorders before we all had computers with pro tools. We had these little ten fader recorders that ran off discs that we both learned how to push to the limit. We had all these discs of songs and we just got really into hanging out and playing music together and eventually playing shows together and recording in my bedroom and house. And in his music room. He at one point lived in Boston too and we had that connection.
It was one of those early relationships that really fused a lot of learning. I learned a lot from just having someone. I was always really inspired to do music and I met someone like Kurt who was just as excited to do it and is really good at it. It was a real blessing.
CAN YOU INTRODUCE AND TELL ME ABOUT THE REST OF THE BAND, WHAT THEY DO?
AG: Yeah. Dave Hartley is the bass player. He has been playing bass in the band since about 2007. He was in it when Kurt was still in the band. He is probably the best bass player around right now. Ridiculous player. He is a great friend and musical mind. A really dedicated guy.
Robbie Bennett is our keyboard player and piano player. He has been in the band since about 2009. He is a crazy player, musical genius, freak, tonal freak.
Our drummer is Charlie Hall. He and I have been friends for a long time. His son is now 15 and I babysat his son as a baby in Philly. He played a few gigs with us early on and then joined for real during “Lost in the Dream” in 2014.
Anthony LaMarca from Youngstown, Ohio, plays guitar and keyboard in the band. On the newest record, he played a lot of drums too, he is a really good drummer. He went to The New School in New York. He is a really amazing musician. He is next-level sort of savant but also an incredible person. He has a huge impact on our band.
John Natchez plays Saxophone and keyboard. He is from Newton. He was actually friends with my brother in middle school. I was in fourth grade or something when I first met him. They called him John Nachos. Years later, when we were looking for a Sax player to do the David Letterman show in New York, I asked Sharon Van Etten, ‘do you know any Sax players?’ and she said you should call John Natchez. I was like, ‘can’t be the same John Natchez from 20 years ago’ but it was.
He came to the gig and did Saxophone for us and it was like we knew each other from another lifetime. He joined the band during “Lost in the Dream” and he is a great friend and great player and part of our band. He is so into his world, his Sax, his pedals and how he can paint with those things. He is a really great organ player too. He is not just a Sax guy. He plays organ and synthesizer and he is really into all the new stuff, the modular. He is really important and a great person.
Those are the six guys. We are really close, always texting on the band thread.
HOW DO YOU BELIEVE YOU GOT HERE, WITH ENOUGH FANS AND SUPPORT TO PLAY MADISON SQUARE GARDEN? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO ARE ASPIRING MUSICIANS OR CREATORS IN GENERAL?
AG: I think honestly we got to where we are because we believed in the craft first off. When I started music, I wasn't trying to be in some successful band or I didn’t wanna do the band thing. I really wanted to pursue a creative life with music. I was fortunate enough to meet people that wanted to do the same. I just got really into the craft. I wanted to learn how to work in a studio and make sounds and make sounds that I liked. You know you can go to some studios and plug your guitar in and there’s your song. I was inspired by movies, music and books about making music and recording and all these things.
I just tried to stay true to what I liked and tried to get better at my craft each time I worked on something. Whenever we were handed a path into the next chapter, people liking “Slave Ambient '' or “Lost in the Dream '' or something, and getting to play live, we took advantage of those opportunities. We tried to always put together a band of like-minded and good people that believe in the craft first and foremost. No riff-raff.
I don’t know, I guess just kind of staying true to what it is you like about whether it’s art or painting or photography or whatever you’re into. For me, with music, it was being creative and being okay spending time by myself and getting lost in sound for a year. Just learning and not doing anything other than recording in my living room, not really pursuing much else but that, for a long time. I was okay with that. It was a lot of fun.
GOOD ADVICE. THAT IS ALL I HAVE FOR TODAY AND IT WAS REALLY GREAT TO TALK TO YOU.
AG: Yeah thanks a lot I appreciate it.
I'LL BE LISTENING TO THE ALBUM OUT FRIDAY!
AG: Can’t wait.
The War On Drugs latest album I Don’t Live Here Anymore is available now!