The War On Drugs play psychedelic, scruffy guitar grit with Dylan-esque (via Tom Petty) overtones and Springsteen anthemics, but a spacier vibe. Their Secretly Canadian debut full-length Wagonwheel Blues is full of spacious jams piloted by the war stories of songwriter Adam Granduciel (vocals and guitar) with the help of guitarist Kurt Vile, bassist Dave Hartley, and drummers Kyle Lloyd and Charlie Hall. If you haven’t heard them, take a listen to the fuzzed out, slicing harmonica and organ-lined jam, “Needle In Your Eye #16″ and the skittering amphetamine poetry of “Taking The Farm” after my discussion with Granduciel about his job as a property manager in Philadelphia. He has some good stories about dead squirrels, clogged toilets, porno flicks, and a drywall specialist obsessed with Pink Floyd.
STEREOGUM: How long have you worked for the company?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: I’ve worked here on and off for about four years, taking breaks all the time for touring and recording and gardening. They’re always cool with me taking time off. Actually a bunch of the band works here too — that’s how Dave and I met a few years ago. We’ll have practices here too sometimes. I’ll bring a Casio in and show him new tunes.
STEREOGUM: How’d you get the job? Previous related experience? Or you just happened upon it?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: I started as a driver delivering mail and packages to all the different buildings around the city and in the burbs. Anyone who has driven with me knows this was a major hiring mistake. I knocked the mirrors off the company car on the first day trying to pass a SEPTA bus and just walked into the office …”Hey, I’m the new guy and here’s the mirror.”
STEREOGUM: Your duties include maintenance and repairs. Did you always know how to do odd jobs and lite plumbing and the like, or is this something you picked up on the job?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Pretty much picked most of it up on the job but I don’t do the serious stuff. Old man Sam is the lead plumber. He pretty much just sits in his van all day and listens to the Phillies though. “Hey Sam, got a clogged toilet at 40th and Spruce.” “I’m tied up.” “No you’re not, I’m looking right at you. Go Phils!!”
Anthony is the guy you really wanna work with though … lead drywall specialist. He has this semi-automatic drywall gun that has a belt of screws like Rambo. Amazingly, he can only focus though if Pink Floyd is on. If someone has the classic rock station on he kinda just paces around and stares at the walls, making measurements and smoking, but as soon as he pops in his worn copy of The Wall or Dark Side … it’s on! The screws come out and he’ll do a whole room in like fifteen minutes. I think Meddle may be a bit too weird for him … just the hits for Anthony.
STEREOGUM: As far as maintenance, what are you expected to do? If there’s a clogged toilet, is that off limits? I had a friend who did similar work, and people asked him to tackle just about everything. Where can you draw a line?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: We pretty much do everything and anything — from clogged toilets, to sewage backups, from collapsed ceilings to burned out bulbs. That’s right, we get at least two calls a day requesting we come and change light bulbs. Say what you will about U Penn kids, but some of these ceilings are at least seven feet tall. We also usually get calls about coming over and removing mouse traps with the dead mouse in it, too.
STEREOGUM: You also clean up the apartments after folks leave/die/move out. Can you walk us through a typical clean-up? Like, a standard clean up when there isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Well ideally the people take everything. We rent to mostly students — undergrad, graduate or teachers and visiting professors etc. Most of the time people take everything and do a good job. If they leave stuff we just toss it … or keep it if we want but I’m tired of keeping all this junk around. I could have a printer sale on my sidewalk if I wanted. Usually all that’s left to do is make note of damages, redo the floors, fix holes, fix leaks, redo carpets and get the joint painted.
STEREOGUM: I was told you found an amplifier and a drum kit that you used in the recording of the album.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah, an old red Pearl beater set … sounds great … real trashy. Records real well … used it on a bunch of demos and got some samples from it along the way too. I kicked a hole through the bottom of the snare drum recently after a few too many so it may have lost its charm. The amplifier was just an old solid state gorilla or something … I gave it away to a friend.
STEREOGUM: Find anything else that made its way onto Wagonwheel Blues?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Not really. It’s nice though when I was working on recordings to have my mini-disc player on me when cleaning out basements — listen to loops and songs all day so by the time I get home I’m pretty inspired to turn the tape machine on. It also gives your voice a nice tone when you’re suckin’ in dust, dirt and asbestos all day. I started using one of those SARS masks last year though and it really helped with the chronic chest pains…
STEREOGUM: What’s the most disturbing thing you’ve discovered?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Usually just rats or squirrels that got trapped in a basement under a pile of debris and never made it out. I find them a year later when I’m cleaning out the basement and they’re all flat and half mangled. Unfortunately people have died in our places, but I’m thankful I haven’t had to clean that shit up. Bob Sr. does that and he’s seen it all in his 25 years … I won’t get into it cuz this is a family blog, but it is sad when it happens.
STEREOGUM: The most exciting?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: I just found the Velvet Underground Peel Slowly re-issue in mono and stereo the other day in a vacant apartment.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Probably this thing last week with like four mice on one glue trap … all having eaten their legs off. Actually this one Penn girl who became a friend of mine over the years started a campaign at local grocery stores and shop-marts to stop selling glue traps because it was just mean and pointless. She also has a pet rat, but she made up these sweet silk-screened flyers and put them everywhere. I think one place actually stopped selling the traps.
STEREOGUM: You said you haven’t had to do it yourself, but how does one clean up after a dead body? Is there a process you follow each time?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Again, I’m lucky that I don’t really know … folks have died in a number of ways … some peacefully, others not so much. But the problem is even if someone goes in their sleep sometimes you don’t know until two or three weeks later when others start complaining about the smell. The ones who have passed while I’ve worked here were all handled real well and with great dignity. You know, you end up seeing the families a lot to discuss belongings an shit … cops are called in, the health department, too.
STEREOGUM: I was also told that people have tried to bribe you. What sorts of things have they not wanted you to report? What kinds of things are you supposed to report?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: It’s usually just the parents trying to bribe me to do special work for their daughter or something. Like one guy was upset the apartment (built in 1950 or something) didn’t have central air for his daughter cuz they were from Arizona and she needed it. He said “What’s your account number? Let’s make this happen. I’m big shit here.” Other times we get a c-note to “watch over my daughter this year, will ya.” Ok…
STEREOGUM: Since you’re around as the super and get to know the people, I assume, it must be a little strange to go through their remains after they move out. I also imagine you learn a lot about private lives, etc. Can you talk a bit about this?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah, there was someone making pornos in their apartment for a few years. Never got to know them “that well,” but they always seemed nice when they came into the office. It is weird though to walk into a place to check a leak or something and there are a bunch of cameras set up around the bed and pornos playin’ on the tv. No one’s home of, course, but still it’s pretty obvious.
Another guy is a sculptor and his entire apartment is filled with his work …. really great stuff. There’s actually a Drugs press photo in his place (Editor’s Note: see below). He sculpts all day and watches VHS tapes of backyard UFC type shit. “Did you hear the Nail go into that guys forehead!!!” “No, I didn’t, man …. please turn that off.” He’s a big fan of the album, actually, which is good cuz if he had a beef with me I’m sure he’d pull some fucked up backyard shit. And it’s always nice to get to know the sweet UPenn girls…
Oh, there was also this house last year of like 12 guys … a big, old beautiful townhouse that we had to turnover and one of the kids left a huge robotic dildo in the closet. The new tenants moved in and one of the mothers was like “looks like someone had some fun.” I saw what she was talking about and got it taken care of but she had this smile on her face and well…
STEREOGUM: When you move out of a place are your more careful now to avoid leaving behind incriminating or embarrassing refuse? Or has it inspired you to leave false clues and invented narratives for the person picking up after you?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Well, I’ve actually lived in the same house in Philly for five years now and I’ve had about thirty roommates at this point. It’s been a wild ride there. The landlord moved to Greece and some ceilings are collapsing and problems keep coming up but I take care of what I can. I just pay rent whenever I want. My studio and practice room are set up there though so its been worth it to keep living there and to keep trying to find others to move in. Right now it’s two deadbeats who amazingly make a ton of dough but are just idiots. “You got that rent man? It’s the fuckin’ 25th already.” “Awh man I’m pretty broke … next week I promise.” Meanwhile he’s holding a case of micro-brews and an ounce of Northern Lights. He’s out next week.
Wagonwheel Blues is out now via Secretly Canadian.
[L to R: Adam Granduciel, Charlie Hall, David Hartley in Adam’s neighbor’s apartment studio; photo by Travis Newman]