Drug Church Is A Job
The ever-quotable Patrick Kindlon on new album Hygiene and making niche art in a pop-focused world.
When I’m supposed to talk to Drug Church vocalist Patrick Kindlon, my calls are going straight to voicemail. His voicemail message instructs me to text him instead, so I do that. But after almost an hour, it’s still silent. Then, finally, I got a response: The band went to a trampoline park on a day off from their tour with Citizen, and it ended with their sound guy being rushed to the ER after dislocating his shoulder. If you’ve never heard Drug Church before, that’s a pretty good encapsulation: pushing off all obligations, acting half your age, and accepting whatever punishment you get from those decisions.
On March 11, Drug Church will release Hygiene, their fourth full-length. While all Drug Church albums find a kind of joy in exploring the dregs of society, Hygiene, much like its predecessor, 2018’s Cheer, continues pointing the finger inward rather than out. Hygiene’s lead single, “Million Miles Of Fun” exemplifies this when Kindlon uses the refrain, “Newsflash/ I need news less” to explore the kind of burnout you feel after staring at your phone all day refreshing Twitter.
Playing a hybrid of ’90s alt-rock, post-hardcore, and occasionally even pop-punk, Drug Church occupy a space that cuts across previously rigid scene boundaries. It’s why a recent Recording Academy video of Drug Church sister band Militarie Gun (both groups feature Nick Cogan on guitar) described the band as “big chord rock,” which actually is about as close as you can get to summing them up. Drug Church’s music appeals to everyone, from jaded indie heads waiting for the next Archers Of Loaf to the pop-punk kids who got into emo through the Wonder Years and even aging punks who still think nothing can top Leatherface’s Mush — an album Kindlon references on Hygiene. This is big, bounceable rock music that’s full of irresistible hooks. And if you listen close enough, you’ll get a sense of Kindlon’s world-weary perspective.
Just press play on “World Impact,” Drug Church’s new single out today. It’s immediate, slightly heavy, but endlessly hooky. It’ll get stuck in your head without you even realizing that you’re singing along to a song about a kid getting stabbed to death over a petty disagreement. We spoke to Kindlon about how the band approached Hygiene, how he builds a sustainable working life through his bands (Drug Church, Self Defense Family, Sex With A Terrorist), his work writing comic books, and his ever-growing slate of podcasts. Below, hear “World Impact” and read the interview.
In interviews around Cheer, including the one I did with you, there was a lot of talk about how that album was Drug Church’s “going for it” record. As an outside observer, it certainly seemed to be a bit of a breakout.
PATRICK KINDLON: I would say that’s true.
So I wanted to hear how you felt things changed for Drug Church after that record came out. Did that response shift the approach to Hygiene?
KINDLON: Well, I’m sure that my band mates felt the upward momentum of Cheer and wanted to stick with that, but it’s hard to say what elements from Cheer resonated with people. This is a thing that happens to a lot of bands: They have some success, and then they misjudge on the next record what made that previous record a success. And honestly, you don’t know until you fail miserably. I would think that, and I haven’t discussed this with them, but I would think they wanted to write something that continued that upward lift while still being personally fulfilling enough to play every night.
I’ve said this before, but we’ve got to have a tank-it record at some point. We gotta have a How We Rock [SS Decontrol’s maligned second album], you know? Just something that’s misguided and profoundly stupid. I’m sure that will be a bummer when it happens, because every band that experiences that feels that two years of their lives were sucked away because they put out something that people didn’t like as much — or people fucking hate.
Right now, we’re out with Citizen, who had a ton of forward momentum on their first record, and then their follow-up, at the time, was not received as warmly. And now people tell them that’s the material they like best, that’s what they want to hear, etc. People can always rewrite the way that something’s received but, again, every once in a while you have to write a total brick, something that fucking sucks and no one likes it. I think that’s probably the lifecycle of a band, so I half look forward to it.
You said back then that the conversations about a follow-up to Cheer were already starting and that the band was considering ditching all the melodic stuff and just writing a really hard, heavy record. Were there any conversations like that going on going into writing the album?
KINDLON: My findings in every band I’ve ever been in is even if you decide on all that stuff before going into the studio, it all falls away. I don’t know these bands that can actually have and execute a plan — I actually think it’s outside of a musician’s ability. I think if you had the ability to execute a plan you’d probably be doing something successful instead of playing music. This is not me trying to expose music journalism as a fraud here…
But it kind of is.
KINDLON: Yeah, but it is. [Laughs] Everything that everybody tells you is just a fucking lie. People will tell you, “Oh yeah, we were listening to a ton of Killing Joke and we wanted to…” and it doesn’t sound shit like that. Or, “We were listening to a ton of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin…” but those are just in the mix [of the record].
You still have one bass player, you’re not Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.
KINDLON: That’s a fact. Nobody ever executes the thing that they purport to music journalists that they were aiming for. It’s not even fucking close. And if they do come close, it’s typically by accident. Your job is to talk to people who are unreliable narrators because they don’t understand anything. They’re fumbling around in the dark and telling you they can see it just fine. But they can’t.
Certainly, I can tell you that, to me, this sounds like a companion record to Cheer in many ways, perhaps a little more melodic but with, to my ear, some ’80s riffs on there, but at the end of the day, I’m just as ignorant as these assholes.
You bring up a point I wanted to get into with you, which is that, knowing your process, I know you don’t write lyrics until you’re in the studio and the clock’s ticking. So while I can see some natural extensions of subjects you were exploring on Cheer, was that a conscious thing or just because we’ve been kind of sitting in a similar cultural and societal moment for the past five years?
KINDLON: That’s a good question. I feel like I became much [more], I don’t know if it’s nihilistic, as it’s much more positive than that, so I don’t know what the word would be… fatalistic! As people became more… god, how do I have this conversation without sounding like the red-pill comedy guy? As people became more inclined to destroy each other, as a guy who has said every bad thing out loud at some point in my life, I became more and more guarded. But the pandemic made me realize that man proposes, god disposes, so to speak. It’s a crapshoot if you’re going to achieve your goals within your lifetime because there’s forces beyond your control. In the case of COVID, it was a reminder to everybody about that.
Think about being an Olympic athlete starting toward the back-half of your career and you’re told, “Hey, you can’t go to the gym.” [Laughs] Whatever it is, it feels like you’re not just losing years of your life, you’re losing the thing that you built toward this whole time. But I think that there’s a bit of a cop-out and a bit of a liberating principle maybe, if those two things can not be mutually exclusive, to realizing that, “Oh, a tornado can hit your house at any time. There is nothing protecting you from the larger forces of the world.”
A thing that fascinates me — or frustrates me, I guess — in music you meet a lot of people who believe they are anointed in some way, that they’re going to achieve this thing because of destiny. “I’m so good at what I do that I can have these things.” I’ve been around long enough that I can say with confidence that none of them ever do. [Laughs] But you run into these people. And as I always say, every moment of that person’s life is a skill check. To talk about role-playing games, it’s a skill check. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that concept of the skill check, but the point is: it’s all a dice roll.
What I came to realize over the pandemic is: It’s mobs and skill checks all the way down. We, globally, failed the skill check and people’s ambitions got put on hold, or some of them died on the vine, and there’s nothing you can do about that. So I think the record has slightly more of just, “I don’t care which way this goes.” [Laughs] It’s that sort of attitude, and I think that probably makes for a good record.
I think that’s a good summary, but I also feel like with this record, and a lot of your work, is how you kind of extend these parables to other kinds of work while relating it back to music. On the first two singles — “Million Miles Of Fun” and “Detective Lieutenant” — you sing about bricklayers doing their job and no one examining the private lives of those people. Do you wish you could be a musician without having to care about the subcultural drama that’s constantly swirling online?
KINDLON: I would describe myself as pretty thoroughly burnt. You can only see so many bad actors before you go, “Yeah… I can’t involve myself in this.” If you look online, you often have a bad actor at the center of a thing, but you always have them orbiting the thing. Even if something is very pure-intentioned, you end up with, really, the worst kind of people in its immediate vicinity. The people who want to be at the car crash, they want to attend the hanging, whatever it is. When you see photos of people eating their picnic lunches around the hanging and we go, “Oh no, that’s grotesque.” But it’s the same mentality. People want to see you die socially. There’s some thrill for them because they go, “Well, I’m not the guy burning, therefore…” [Laughs] How much of that can you stomach before you go, “Look, in addition to being pretty grotesque on the face of it, you’re also being fucking hypocrites.” How is a thinking person supposed to be in the room with this?
Insofar as I can tell, I’m a blue-collar worker. I’d love to compare my schedule with a truck driver’s schedule. So far as I can tell, they just get paid better. Yes, I get to do something fulfilling at the end of each night, but that’s also kind of misleading, because maybe the truck driver fucking plays Xbox or reads a book or does something he finds fulling too. Just because I’m on a stage the idea that this is a fundamentally different career track or vocation is just stupid.
My girlfriend didn’t know that anybody on Earth knew guitarists’ names. When I told her, “Yeah, so-and-so’s a famous guitarist,” she said, “What?” Because to her, her relationship is exclusively with the song. She couldn’t name a guitar musician. And that’s the thing, if you couldn’t name the people in the band, you have no relationship to them, and then suddenly this guy’s got a fridge full of bodies and you’re like, “I can’t listen to that anymore.” What are you talking about? The music is recorded. It’s a thing you interact with no differently than you interact with your living room. If you have nice, natural lighting in your living room, then you have experienced something similar to music. It’s fulfilling, it makes your life better, and it’s edifying in whatever way. What’s the difference? If the contractor who put those windows in turns out to be a bad dude, are you going to smash those windows? You might not hire him again, you might not want to be in his presence, but you’d still enjoy that.
Is that part of why, on “Piss & Quiet,” you have basically your version of Charles Barkley’s “I’m not a role model” thing with the lines, “Don’t believe a thing/ From a man on stage?” Basically pushing back on the fact that people tend to view you as something more than just a person who happens to sing in a couple bands?
KINDLON: Most musicians are making $24,000 a year and living in their mom’s basement. The idea that you would follow their advice on fucking anything is insane. There’s just a disconnect. People look on stage and they see, legitimately, it might just be because someone has lights on them [that they view musicians differently]. [Laughs] I just don’t get how people could look at that and say, “This guy’s got it all figured out.” He’s about to get in a van full of farts.
At least the truck driver’s farts are their own.
KINDLON: [Laughs] That’s very true.
To speak to the work aspect, I know on Cheer producer Jon Markson just had you drill vocal takes over and over until you got them right. Do you feel that it made you better equipped to do your job, so to speak, on Hygiene?
KINDLON: You know what, maybe that’s the case that I’ve gotten better at it. There’s a running gag that I’m actually talented but I don’t tell anyone and that I’ve actually been taking lessons for years. [Laughs] But that’s not the case. Jon [Markson] and I just have a good workflow. You do enough takes of anything, you’re going to sound good. And I hope nobody comes to our show thinking I’m gonna sound good. That’s not what I do. I just perform and hopefully it makes the grade for that night. If this album sounds more melodic, it’s just because I was put in a corner.
I was kind of mad, to be honest. They wrote stuff that I didn’t feel capable of. As it turns out, I am. But I was frustrated for a minute thinking, you guys keep writing this melodic music, you gotta replace me with somebody that can fucking sing. I know a lot of people really like Fucked Up’s later material, but it loses me because I feel like you can only do the gruff voice to layered melodicism on a couple of songs per record before it kind of becomes a mush. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a successful band and people really like that juxtaposition but, for me personally, I really like for things to fall into the pocket, but not fully. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like a good vocalist. There’s very few good vocalists that I connect with. But I think if you are at odds with your music the whole time, it’s only clever for so long. So I was kind of resentful, but then I sang it and it worked. That’s because I have Jon Markson in my corner going, “Do this because you can’t do that.” I’ll pull the plug on my band mates if they try to go any more melodic than this because, to me, this is the upper limit of what I’m capable of.
I mean, it worked for Frankie Stubbs with Leatherface.
KINDLON: I don’t know if it filtered down to you through James [Goodson, Dazy mastermind and Drug Church’s publicist] or anybody else, but the other day I asked and got a “yes” from Pure Noise on re-recording Minx, because I hate the recording of that record so much.
It’s remarkably bad.
KINDLON: It’s truly terrible. And these really clever songs are just lost. They said if we can sell enough T-shirts that it can make sense financially. It’s just so frustrating. It’s weird, the more acclaim Leatherface got, the worse the sound got for like two records.
Well, I’m including that here so Pure Noise are now even more on the hook to finance it. But with the talk of being in the van earlier, Drug Church occupy a unique space, getting to be probably the hardest band on a Citizen tour, but also probably the softest band on a more hardcore-leaning one. Do you think being kind of in the middle of the Venn diagram works to your benefit at all?
KINDLON: I would say it really depends. Most tours are good for us, and you can put us in front of most guitar music, you can’t go too heavy and you can’t go singer-songwriter, but you can put us on tours with most guitar music and we’ll be, if not palatable, at least tolerable to most people. In that respect, we’ve been beneficiaries of that. But there is an age disconnect. Some bands we’ve gone out with play in front of an audience that’s too young, I feel, to really grasp what’s going on. I’m not mad about it. At 12, my favorite band was Rush, and that was certainly above my intellectual pay grade — I still don’t understand some of the things they were doing.
I’m not mad at a younger person who is interested in other ideas. But going on tour, partially in support slots, you’re not necessarily playing for the person who tripped over your music and really likes it, you’re playing to somebody else’s audience. I feel the disconnect then. When we play with a crowd that has a particularly young audience, I don’t enjoy myself quite as much. But also, old-old audiences that are only capable of nodding at you aren’t great either. There’s kind of a sweet spot in terms of a mix of people to make a show pop. You need the guys at the bar nodding, and you need the person up front who thinks that getting there four hours early for their favorite band — presumably pissing in a cup or something and waiting through the entire thing — you need that person to accidentally get stagedove on and have that experience. And then you need like, mid-20s to mid-30s knuckleheads just stagediving and whatever else.
I would say we’re largely blessed with the tours we’ve been offered. The Citizen one has been among my favorites. For young guys, Citizen has had a pretty young career. They were peers with their audience when they started, they were 18 and playing in front of 18-year-olds. To their credit, a lot of them have grown with them. But it’s a good mix. I’ve found this tour to be very fulfilling.
But as far as being the heavier band on the bill so to speak, my tastes tend to lean heavier than Drug Church, so I rarely see us as the heavy band. But sometimes it can be awkward. If you’re playing an emo show and you run out there like you’re Bulldoze or something, it’s not always a great fit, and I’ve certainly felt that way before. But a lot of people who have been exposed to it for the first time do seem thrilled, and I’m also thrilled to be somebody’s gateway band. There are these gateway bands that people kind of low-rate, but I think that shit’s goofy. To be somebody’s first stagedive, that’s a nice feather in your cap as a band. The more of that we can get going, the better.
Does it feel like Drug Church are able to sit in kind of a new wave of post-hardcore, alongside bands like Fiddlehead or Militarie Gun, as something that kind of brings back that sound that’s been a little less prevalent the last few years?
KINDLON: To push back on that a little bit, it’s probably always in vogue, it’s just lame and you and I didn’t like it.
OK, fair point.
KINDLON: Stuff like Fiddlehead makes sense to you and I’s ears, but Being As An Ocean was bigger than all of our bands for a number of years and that’s just a style of post-hardcore that you and I don’t care for. But that stuff, and this is no disrespect, those bands don’t make sense to my ear. But is it taking a turn toward something I like more? Oh, absolutely. [Laughs] But we’re going to see the same thing we saw with that other wave. There’s going to be Fiddleheads, which are exceptional, and then there’s going to be stuff that wants to be Fiddlehead that’s less exceptional.
But you bring up a good point. Critics love to opine that rock music isn’t popular, but there’s a pretty huge world of popular rock music that just doesn’t intersect with people who read websites like this.
KINDLON: People don’t know that Papa Roach has had many hits besides the one with the Harvest riff. That band has been around for 20 fucking years for a reason, and it’s because they have active rock hits. That’s just not on any of our radars, but it certainly exists. Rock On The Range is a big deal. Or Rockville, or whatever the fuck it is. [Laughs]
To that same token, we’re having this conversation while a band like Turnstile is playing on national television. How do you view that? Is it a rising tide lifts all boats kind of things, or are they Nirvana and we’re just going to get a whole lot of Sponges?
KINDLON: I mean Turnstile is to credit with so many good things, but I’m sure five years from now we’ll be blaming them for a lot of bad things too. That’s the way that works. They’re opening a door that, if it stays open too long, we’re going to get a lot of trash in there. They’re an exceptional band in a lot of respects, and their attitude toward success is as commendable as it comes. It’s hard for me to blame them for anything, but I’m sure I will in the future. [Laughs]
People are going to ride this wave the same way bands have ridden every other wave. This is no disrespect to friends, but on this tour we’ve run into fellas who were high on the hog two years ago and hit a brick wall because tastes change. But that’s inevitable. I have friends who survived the whole metalcore success. They were making like $100,000 playing in a fucking guitar act at 19 and now they’re grown men with mortgages and are having a hard time clearing $50,000. You gotta weather these things in whatever capacity if you’re a career musician. Or, if you’re not a career musician, you gotta get while the gettin’s good.
There’s gonna be waves that are more palatable to you and I and there’s gonna be waves that are torture. It was only 10 years ago that people thought that dubstep was going to be the dominant style of music moving forward. These are just trends.
There’s a line on the last song on Hygiene that kind of speaks to all this when you sing, “I’m living between shrinking margins.” I think that speaks to the fact that not everything we do that’s personally enriching is monetarily enriching. Depending on how you read it, that can either come off as self-defeating or a defiant, empowering thing, so how did you want it to come across?
KINDLON: Well, both I suppose. You guessed it accurately, as my two interests [guitar music and comic books] have been in a downward trend for 30 years. People can be glib and try to deflect and say things like, “This album tour that this band is doing is packing big rooms,” but we’re talking about macro trends. We’re not talking about someone doing well because they nailed the time to come back. It’s not the same thing. Comic books have been in a downward trend for a long time, as has guitar music, but what do analysts say in finance? When in doubt, pull out.
What if you’re really big into a completely dead artform? Then you just have to accept the fact that you’re never going to be a topic of conversation. You might be able to find a community that is with that, where they know what’s good and enjoy speaking about it, but you’re never going to be the zeitgeist. Like, remember Death Grips? [Laughs] People thought Death Grips was going to be a generational band. People are desperate for anything that gets traditional rock music the fuck out of here.
That’s a prime example of people being like, “Wow, this feels different,” and then by the third album no one cares.
KINDLON: The culture of the people who make decisions for what gets talked about has just moved away from guitar music. There’s a Billboard top rock singles thing you can find online and I would say the most guitar-ish thing you can find on there is the Lumineers. There are these other acts that are massive, and I’m talking about bands like Imagine Dragons. Imagine Dragons technically features guitars, but if you’re into more traditional guitar-based rock music, they’re almost unidentifiable. You could be a musician and still say, “Is this a guitar?” The culture is over the five-person rock band as an idea. It gets borrowed from. At this moment rappers, for some reason that is completely mysterious to me, want to be rock musicians.
I’m not sure if it’s nostalgia or opportunism, but it definitely feels like there is some interest in trying to recreate rock music from 20 years ago.
KINDLON: I mean, I’m as guilty as anybody else because I just identify things I like and attempt to do them with the understanding that it will fail, but in failing, I might arrive at something that other people might enjoy. I’ve said for years that the two biggest influences in my creative life are Dan Higgs and Lou Koller. And you can see that if you watch me. I’m not an original person and I’m not out here to be an original person. I’m out here to express myself and those are two things that I really fucking enjoy. Is it possible to be in entirely too much debt to somebody? Oh, absolutely. I can be critical of these acts that are borrowing too directly but the truth of the matter is that they just might be better at it than me.
I have my influences that I attempt. This is no exaggeration, there have been multiple albums of Self Defense material where I am trying to do, exclusively, one Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy song. One! For me, I’ve never achieved it. I’ve never even come close! It’s failure after failure. But, in those failures, some people find something rewarding. I’m not an original person and I can’t be mad at these guys for being better parrots than I am. But I think it’s the fact that I know I will fail that at least I understand that I’ll arrive at something at least remotely original. But I’ve truly never sat down and said, “I want to create something wholly new without direct influence.” Everything I do has direct influence. I’m not a drug guy, so it’s unlikely I’ll have some major breakthrough where I’m like, “Here is a new style of music.” But certainly nostalgia is an engine for a lot of people. I wouldn’t say it’s an engine for me, but I cannot claim any actual degree of originality.
With that, I guess it sounds like you’re someone who isn’t trying to make one perfect thing, but a lot of pieces of work that feel authentic to where you are in a given moment.
KINDLON: I would say that’s ultimately all you have. In music, success is such a funny concept. Years ago when Drug Church was shopping labels I sat down with a record label guy who said, “There’s a ceiling on guitar music. Just buy a house. If you can buy a house, you’ve won the entire game.” And I tend to think he’s right! [Laughs] The problem is that people look at something like Metallica and that’s their point of comparison, but that’s not really realistic. Forget realistic, it’s stupid. [Laughs]
Can you have a career? Musicians are very stupid fucking people who see themselves with a corporate mindset almost in that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. And it’s like, listen, I’m sure Clutch has good years and bad years, but their highs and lows are within a manageable bandwidth. And that’s what we call a career. I have a great admiration for working people. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be one. I’d love to be wealthy and not have to be in the company of working people and instead be in the company of oligarchs. But, as it happens, I’m in the workforce of music. To that end, if there’s a material goal on my part, it’s to have a career. And if there’s an artistic goal on my part, it’s to experience the ups and downs of that career with some grace. And that’s it.
People overthink music to a disgusting degree. Or maybe they don’t. But people give interviews like this. They feel put on the spot, and they get entirely too deep because they feel like they have to. It’s all just work.
Hygiene is out 3/11 on Pure Noise.