Progress Report: The War On Drugs
NAME: The War On Drugs
PROGRESS REPORT: Adam Granduciel discusses Slave Ambient, his band’s first full-length in nearly four years.
In addition to having what is arguably the greatest band name of all-time, Philly’s the War On Drugs are one of the most criminally underrated bands currently making music. This might be due to the fact that up until earlier this year–with the release of the Future Weather EP–the band had not let loose of any music for a long time. Since the release of Wagonwheel Blues in 2008, the band toured intermittently, recorded intermittently, and spent a lot of time doing god only knows what down in Philly. Also, founding member Kurt Vile went off and did his own excellent thing, subsequently taking other founding member Adam Granduciel out on the road to play in his backing band, The Violators. Long story short, it’s been a minute since the War on Drugs put out a record. However, next month the band will release Slave Ambient, their first new full-length in nearly four years. Given the deeply textured, heavily-layered production of the album, it’s not surprising it took so long to make. We called up Granduciel to discuss the excellent new tunes and find out what’s up with him and Mr. Vile.
STEREOGUM: Is this a little bit like the calm before the storm for you?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Actually, not at all because tomorrow I’m going to Europe with Kurt for a week. And then come back and then rehearse with the Drugs for three days and then leave for almost a month with Kurt. We’re doing the Pitchfork thing, then we’re doing a tour with Thurston Moore and then I come back and I have about two weeks of rehearsals with the Drugs and then the drugs go on tour for about seven weeks or something. So yeah, I’m actually kind of in the middle of the storm right now…but it’s like the calm before the storm, before the other storm.
STEREOGUM: I guess I didn’t even think about that. That is a lot to balance, doing the two band things at once. It’s good, though. You’re traveling, working, and playing.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah. I get to do some traveling and some playing. It gets tricky sometimes with scheduling. Like over the summer, you know obviously they want me to be around a lot for Drugs stuff, which really I am available like all the time. But I can’t not play in the Violators. You know, it’s like, one or two shows is ok for me to miss but it’s difficult to miss like a whole tour. Our tour’s overlap sometimes, but when there’s downtime I’d rather just be playing and traveling.
STEREOGUM: How would you characterize the making of Slave Ambient? Was it a hard record to make? Seems like it took a really long time.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: It was. I mean, it was exciting to make because a lot of the stuff I had been working on it for a while. Not even so much like I was working on the same song for four years, but a lot of them, I was having a hard time for a couple of years putting it all together. So a lot of it had been started three or four years ago and then really the last six months of it…well, then the EP came out and it was supposed to have been the full-length record itself, but I couldn’t wrap my head around finishing it. But I knew that the songs that made it on the EP were songs I was confident in, and that the EP made sense as its own little thing because those songs were all realized around the same time. So then in the last six months, when it was kind of like, we need to finish this somehow it kind of all came together. We went down to a studio in Asheville, North Carolina and the intention was to finish the record there. We ended up tracking stuff and mixing, but we didn’t really keep any of the mixes so we ended up going back to Philly with it and I really finished all of it at a studio in Philly over the last four months. In December of 2009 I went down to Dallas for a week to do some sessions and a lot of that got scrapped, but little moments from those sessions stayed so I kind of had that stuff for the last few years and worked with it here and there. And then it was really like the last 6-8 months I was listening to a ton of stuff and going through it and finally deciding on certain versions. And then there were a couple of songs that just came out of the last session that were totally fresh songs so that was nice. In the end there was just a bunch of stuff that had been sitting around waiting to be finished, and in the end I just had to make sure it all kind of worked together. Does that even answer the question? It took a long time. I guess it was hard to do.
STEREOGUM: Well, the record sounds very much of a piece. it doesn’t sound like something that was somehow patched together.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: I think because we did all the mixing and all the finalizing at Jeff’s, that really helped tie some of the different sessions together, you know? If I had stayed with more of the older mixes it would have sounded a little bit more ramshackle.
STEREOGUM: The record is so densely layered. Mixing-wise, it must have been really complicated.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah, some of them were
STEREOGUM: Even in some of the songs that are relatively simple there’s still a whole lot of layering going on.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: For sure. A lot of them were really intense to mix. Some were a lot easier. Like the song “I Was There,” the third song, that was actually from the Dallas sessions. That was really easy. That was kind of like, it was a version from awhile ago and we brought it up and that was just kind of how it was. It didn’t need any sort of embellishment really, and then a lot of the other stuff I would start at home with the tape machine and then transfer it into the computer at Jeff’s and go back and forth with it, working, and keep doing stuff that way. Definitely a lot of layers, but when we went through everything and started to make decisions, the mixes kind of came alive and they started to make more sense. We just make a few tweaks, and usually when we make those tweaks we sit with it for a couple of weeks and then you can go in and start arranging the stuff. Once you know it’s all in there then you can go in and start deciding where to cut things up. I mean I love the whole…some people are daunted by the mixing, they don’t want to have anything to do with it, but for the Drugs music, it’s a pretty integral part of the records. I mean any song on the new album could be mixed a million different ways and it would give it a totally different feel. So we spend a lot of time mixing stuff and listening and going through other versions, but yeah I love mixing. By the end it got a little maddening but that was only because we were so close to the end and the process had been so long.
STEREOGUM: Are you a person who finds it hard to call things done or to arrive at a place where you can call something finished?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah, somewhat. I think when it’s right, you know. It does take me a little while to understand when that is. It’s just a matter of finding the right moment in a song where it just feels like it should feel. And usually that has to do with just the overall feeling of the vocal, or the drums and this or that. It’s hard to know.
STEREOGUM: How was it playing these songs live? I’ve seen you play before, but it’s been a long time.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah, we’re probably a lot different now than when you saw us before.
STEREOGUM: It must be tricky trying to replicate the sound of these new songs.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: It was for a while. The last tour we did where we opened for Destroyer, we had a little bit of a different band. We had a different drummer because Mike was on the road with Kurt at the time, and then we added my friend Robbie who was playing keyboards and Wurlitzer piano and that was actually the closest that we’ve been to, not exactly replicating, but trying to give the songs a similar feel to what they are on the records. We were playing a couple of the newest songs on that tour and I think for the upcoming tour we’re probably going to add another guitar player and just have Robbie doing mostly piano and keyboard stuff but yeah, it’s hard to rehearse some of this stuff. You don’t wanna rely on backing tracks. That’s something we used to do back in the day, we used a lot of backing tracks for stuff and that’s kind of a dangerous route to go down sometimes. So it’s kind of tough finding a happy medium between using ambient stuff behind certain songs and just getting everyone on the same page and getting everything synched up without using computers or anything. I’m excited for when we have two weeks to rehearse all of it. On the last tour we were definitely on the same page so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get into the new songs.
STEREOGUM: Well it must be really satisfying to have this record out. Nearly four years between albums is a long time for most bands these days.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: It is. I like the record a lot because it’s so close to me. But I think once when the label had it and people started saying they liked it, that was just awesome because it had been a long time and a lot of the songs had been floating around in my head or on tape for a long time. It was one thing to finally finish it. It was another thing was to have a good record that people were interested in and seeming really into. So yeah, it feels really good.
STEREOGUM: It’s nice that there’s such a positive vibe for what you’re doing and what Kurt is doing. It must be a good feeling for both of you…and also very cool that you can still play together in both projects.
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah, it is good. I think for like…we’ve known each other for a long time and gone through random times of annoyance with each other and it’s just really nice that we still play together and hang out. Obviously his record is doing great. It’s just…we’ve worked so hard for a long time, you know? We’re just both obviously super supportive of each other and the music has kept us close friends.