Artist Interviews

Q&A: The War On Drugs

By | Published on Thursday 4 August 2011

The War On Drugs

The War On Drugs began when, having met as regular fixtures on the local Philadelphia circuit, singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel and fellow troubadour Kurt Vile started playing together in 2003.

Expanding to a quintet, the band went on to release several EPs including 2008’s ‘Barrel Of Batteries’, which garnered them acclaim for its honest play on ragged, Dylan-esque Americana. They then signed to Secretly Canadian for their debut LP ‘Wagonwheel Blues’ the same year, after which Granduciel and bassist David Hartley weathered the departures of three original members, Vile included.

Propped up by replacement sticksman Mike Zanghi, the band’s present line-up put out their ‘Future Weather’ EP last year. Beatific lead track ‘Baby Missiles’ (sounds like Springsteen in the fevered throws of psych-rock daydream) gets a deserved second chance to shine on their new album ‘Slave Ambient’, which is due out on 15 Aug.

Following the release, the UK-based portion of the band’s subsequent tour will kick off with a show at London’s Cargo on 13 Sep. Furthering a promotional slog that also includes an Urban Outfitters-sponsored stream of the album  and a free giveaway of standout album track ‘Come To The City’, Adam Granduciel found a spare few moments to answer our Same Six Questions.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
I started playing guitar when I was thirteen or fourteen. My first guitar, a 1963 harmony bobcat, is actually my number one guitar right now. I didn’t have any formal training on piano or anything, so I taught myself guitar and practiced all the time. Then when I was around eighteen or nineteen I started ‘getting into’ writing more and learning how to record. I started out with just a cassette deck, and then got a digital eight-track when I was 21 or so… that’s what a lot of the first record and early demos were done on.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
Well, now the record is finished and I’m able to look back at the whole piece, I think self-discovery and really going through an intense process, both mentally and recording-wise, were the main inspirations. In the moment, however, it’s all about just crafting the songs and letting them have their own identity.

Q3 What process do you go through in creating a track?
This record was really a combination of conventional writing and demoing, and a mix of extensive experimentation. I never really worked on each song individually from start to finish – I’m always working on stuff in my home studio and a lot of the songs started from hours or weeks of extensive dubbing and sampling/re-sampling – the backbone of a lot of the songs are rhythmic samples or drones or whatever, and that dictated where the song could wind up.

Eventually, I got out of the home studio and did most of the overdubs and mixing with Jeff Zeigler in Philadelphia, but also spent time at echo mountain studios in Asheville. Certain songs went through 20 or so transformations until they felt right to me… always adding and subtracting, trying to find the heart of the song. Some songs were a first take live cut like ‘I Was There’ and ‘Black Water Falls’, and others like ‘Your Love Is Calling My Name,’ ‘Come To The City,’ Baby Missiles’ and ‘It’s Your Destiny’ had been worked on for more than two years a piece.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?
So many. Velvets, Dylan, Spectrum, Bob Johnston, Simon and Garfunkel, Walter Sear, Tony Visconti, the Boss, Yoko Ono, Neil Young, Roy Orbison… tons!

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
Get in your car, crank up those speakers and listen to the whole thing!

Q6 What are your ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?
Well, obviously I want a lot of people to hear the record cos I’m so proud of it and I think it’s really unique. I’ll be recording and making albums for a long time, but the process that I went through on ‘Slave Ambient’ can’t be rivalled. I just hope people enjoy it and come to expect The War On Drugs’ records, as a whole, to be inspiring and enjoyable.