Since the release of the first album full of pop hits almost ten years ago, The Drums have travelled a tortuous path. The surprise effect has gradually gone with each albums, and the band of mates really became Jonny Pierce’s solo project. During an open and honest interview, he talked about what made him produce the touching and luminous Brutalism, whose release next week coincides perfectly with the arrival of the sunny days.
How are you?
Jonny Pierce: I am good. It is nice to be talking about a new record.
How do you feel about it?
Jonny: I am excited! I feel really grateful that people are still curious about The Drums, attentive to what I am doing. A big part of that for me is that I have always maintained a curiosity about myself as an artist, about who I am, what I am doing. I think in order to be curious you have also to be a bit open. The Drums have an established sound. When you hear our music you know it is this band, but I think at the same time that I am bringing in elements that sort of keep the sound alive and fresh. Also, I am always on a personal journey and I am willing to talk about it. I feel at this point, it is almost that people are with me on this journey, listening to where I am, the person that I am turning into. The Drums kind of provide something that a lot of bands don’t and that is vulnerability. Talking about things you are scared of… I have a lot of friends who are in bands, but I don’t know a lot of them to be willing to talk about feeling sad, or alone, or scared. Certainly not men in their thirties. They always have to be singing about how they are in control, strong, all this stuff. I don’t think any of us are in control, we are all a little bit scared and I just wish more people would talk about it. Being willing to talk about it is also why people can relate to this band in a way. I hear all the time from a lot of straight guys : “you guys are my favorite band, you say all these things I feel like I can’t say” and I feel them. Sometimes I feel like a voice of a demographic of people who are just too scared to admit things. But they feel it when they hear it in the music and they relate to it.
We feel like the music you are making helps you channeling what you have been through lately. The Drums became a one man band two years ago. You released “Abysmal Thoughts” which was like the start of a new chapter, with you being in full control of the sound, songwriting and lyrics content. “Brutalism” seems to be even more introspective, and deeply personal. How do you see the evolution between the last two albums?
Jonny: “Brutalism” is an album of self love, or at least a beginning to explore self love. I am asking myself a lot of questions, it is a very introspective album. It is about how I am feeling, a reflection of where I am in my life. I have never been more conscious of myself, everything from what I am eating to exercising, to taking out bad relationships and putting in good relationships in place, learning to be alone with myself. I have just moved to Los Angeles and it is the first time in my life that I lived alone, and it is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I spent a lot of time in anguish, it was a big change. I have actually never lived with people because I needed them to help me. I kind of needed to help people. Whether it was a boyfriend, or a roommate, I always had someone that I could take care of.
But not yourself.
Jonny: It was a way to ignore my own needs. I could spend all my time helping people through difficult times, and then our relationship would come to an end and I would realize I spent the last two years holding this person’s hand through every difficult trial. Every moment of every day was about making sure they were happy and I forgot to make myself happy. So “Brutalism” have been made in a part of my life where I was starting for the first time to really take myself seriously. And when you start taking care of yourself seriously, when you take control on one area of your life, it boils over on the others. Then suddenly you are cleaning your life up. You really look at yourself and ask: “Is this who you want to be your whole life or do you want life to be better?”. The album doesn’t have a lot of answers but I understand a bit more about who I am and life has gotten better. It was for me the beginning of the process of self-discovery during the making of the album. You can hear it with songs like “Body Chemistry”. I am finally confronting my depression.
Speaking about music, you are still writing catchy, dancy songs with lyrics that are not that positive. There is also this ballad, “My Jasp”, with acoustic guitar and minimal percussions, which is quite unusual for The Drums. What is the story behind that song?
Jonny: That song came out a while ago. I recorded it probably three years ago when I was making “Abysmal Thoughts”. I was married and I just had a divorce. I wrote that song a few days after we had decided we would get a divorce. So there were those awkward moments, that strange feeling of not feeling safe with someone anymore. In the song, this is such a specific feeling and it is so tender that I had my guitar player come up with something a bit more delicate. Because I can’t play that stuff. (laughs) The Drums have always sounded the same. It is very basic, you hear one note at a time and a lot of reverb because I am not good at guitar. I wanted to be growing as a band and to try new things. The rule for me is if it feels right, just do it. Even if it goes against what people might think The Drums are, I am happy to introduce new things.
You really sound good in “Blip of Joy”, one of the most optimistic songs you have written.
Jonny: Thank you! I really believe that if you are looking for sadness, or despair, or trouble, you will always find it. But I think the same goes for happiness or joy. If you are actively on the hunt for happiness, you are going to find it. It surrounds you too. Most of my life I forgot about that, I dwelled a lot on the complexities of life and I get frustrated. I do deal with some depression so it is easy for me to look for sadness. Even in art, books, movies, paintings, photographs, music, I am always drawn towards the more tragic side of things. I guess that I relate to it. But I have found that if you are looking for that stuff, it is there, in endless supply. But if you look for the other stuff, you can find it. It is the first time in my life that I allow myself to experience it. I used to truly think that happiness and laughter are for other people. And yes, this is not really me, but it can be me. I don’t have to be fully miserable in order to make great art. I can make art and find some happiness. But it doesn’t mean that every day is wonderful.
Sure, life is not black and white.
Jonny: Absolutely, my music is a combination of that idea. There is this joyous sound but there is also like a strain of sadness going through. It really to me represents life.
Is the “Brutalism” cover a way to assume that you are now really on your own with The Drums?
Jonny: It does provide that function, but for me it was a little bit more personal. The cover of “Abysmal Thoughts” is an ex-boyfriend by the time he was my boyfriend. For the new album, I had a different boyfriend, we did a photo shoot. We had that image and it felt wrong for me to put anyone but myself on the cover. I spent ten years hiding behind people on the cover. I was too insecure to put myself right on in front. So it was a decision to break a bad habit of insecurity and making decisions out of insecurity. I stepped into it and it was and still is a little uncomfortable for me, because it doesn’t look like what I would naturally want to do. Sometimes breaking a pattern is difficult and uncomfortable but you know it is the right thing to do. It is all about loving yourself. I felt it was important for me. I stepped into a place that was a little bit scary and realized that the world is not going to end and that is okay.
So for the next cover.
Jonny: It is me naked. (laughs)
The Drums is now a solo project but you have worked on the new album with several people to shape it up, musicians and technicians like Chris Coady (Future Islands, Beach House, Smith Westerns) for the mix. How did it work? Wasn’t that hard to find cohesion working with different people?
Jonny: I have brought in some people to help me write. A drummer helped me to write some of the drumbeats and the basslines and some of the guitar. He played some of it, other guitar players helped me a little bit. I brought in a mixing engineer indeed. The process was so wonderful. It gave me the space to think about what it is I want to say, because traditionally, I would do everything and by the time it was time to write lyrics, I was kind of exhausted, I just wanted the songwriting to be done, and move on to the next song or take a break. But this made the process so much easier. It was about creating, giving people jobs, saying: “you take care of this and you take care of that”. I know that we have our own sound, so even when we experiment or even if people are playing around, there is still the core sound of the band. It is unshakeable. And again, it was stepping away for the controlling side of me that needs to control because I am afraid of changes or new things. But now I don’t want to be afraid of change, I want to embrace it and I want new things in my life all the time. That is how I feel alive.
About the title, “Brutalism”, is it a clear reference to the brutalist architecture?
Jonny: I have always loved brutalist architecture, I think it is my favorite. It is heavy, hard, and stark. It is overwhelming sometimes, kind of unpractical. Those are words I would use to describe my last relationship. (laughs) I felt it was appropriate. Actually, in my last relationship, I moved from New York City to Brussels to be with someone, and in Brussels there is brutalist architecture everywhere. I have hardly been noticing it but the entire city was such a reflection of the love I was feeling. I was really in love but I was forgetting about myself. That was really destructive. There is so much concrete in these buildings, very little windows. That is how I was feeling. It was a real brutal relationship.
Do the bands that inspired you in the past still have an influence on you as a songwriter today?
Jonny: I don’t think bands from the past have a current influence on me. They helped develop some of my sound. They are still part of the creative process in that sense, but I am not listening to them or purposely trying to bring that spirit in. I have a whole new set of music that I let influence this album and a lot of it is from the nineties in the UK. There is also this Swedish band called Whale. When I was growing up in the nineties, I was loving a lot of this electronic music from Europe. But I was not able to explore it very much because my parents would not allow me to listen to this. In a way I am entering those bands now.
Are there any bands you could recommend? What are you listening to lately?
Jonny: That is a really good question. I am listening to a lot of techno, house, electronic music right now. I really like Palms Trax. He does sort of intelligent techno.
So the next Drums album will be techno? (laughs)
Jonny: That would be a dream, we will see!
Do you listen to your own music?
Jonny: Not really. I am not putting it on actively. A new thing I am trying is to not get uncomfortable when someone else puts it on, because there are many situations where I go to a party and someone is like: “Oh that’s the guy from The Drums, let’s put it on”. (laughs) And I used to be like: “Please, don’t”, but now I am just going to let it happen. It might be uncomfortable for me but I am trying to receive love. It is like an honor for me, and instead of pushing that kindness away, I should just allow it to happen.
What is your favorite song on “Brutalism”?
Jonny: I think it might be “Loner”. It is my favorite because it sums up how I felt my whole life. There are a couple songs like that, “Book Of Stories” is another one from the first album. Whenever I hear them or play them live I am thinking that is me. This is why I’m an artist. I can really relate to it.
You will be touring for “Brutalism” in the coming months obviously. Are you excited to be back on the road?
Jonny: I am! The only part that I don’t like about touring is that we have five albums now and people will want to hear the singles, and we only have a limited time. So we will be playing the singles and nothing much deeper than that. Part of why I am excited is that I will be touring the world for the first time with this new self identity that I discovered. So I am excited to see what will happen.
What is your favorite part about touring?
Jonny: It is the connection with fans. After every show I always do a signing. I have met some people that really touched my heart and who made me feel that all of this is not just a good time but it is something that can be very important to some people and actually can change their lives. My life is changed and nurse by that. I am not just here partying, this is something real. I have never been interested in riches, in fame. I am just interested in being affective. If I feel like what I am doing is affecting people, then I am happy.
One last question: our media is called “RockUrLife”, so what rocks your life?
Jonny: What rocks my life is when I meet someone who is willing to speak their truth. When I meet someone who will make themselves vulnerable and we can connect on all levels, in happiness but also in sadness. I am a real believer that if you shut off one emotion, you shut them all off. If you are hiding a part of your life, then you are hiding all of yourself. My world is rocked when I am in a rare occasion where I meet someone who is willing to expose all of who they are, because I think that is where the true human connection is found. I think human connection is the only reason to be on this planet.
That is wisdom!
Jonny: Yes I hope so!