The War on Drugs – interview

Our girl in Japan, Katie Clare, had a quick chat with The War on Drugs at the recent Hostess Club Weekender in Tokyo.

The War On Drugs 2011 album ‘Slave Ambient’ is a powerful stomach grabbing album in which you find yourself immersed in a warmly secure cinemascope of soundscapes, as the verdant classic rock tracks power along they spark imagined rolling American railroads, as ethereal brooding melodies and lustily ardent vocals technicolour the scene.

The War on Drugs an essentially lo-fi aesthetic indie rock band had produced an album with a multi textural, cohesive and expansive sound and found themselves after the departures of various members, in 2012 as Adam Granduciel, Dave Hartley, Robbie Bennett and Pat Berkery.

The band has just finished their show, a shimmering languid set that adulated unwaveringly with momentum and small powerful explosions, both dynamic and hypnotic. I’m given a warm welcome and cool beer in a surprisingly enormous dressing room, as the band relax we chat about the country we are all visitors in and the up’s and downs of travelling, tours and different languages.

Adam: The more I travel the more I speak like a child, except when I get drunk. Then I speak French – if there are French people around. I studied French for a couple of years, if I lived in France for a year it would all come back to me. Now it just results in me getting wasted in Paris and saying the same four things over and over again.

The bad part of touring is not touring, I get off tours and I find myself really irritable with people I love. It’s hard like anything else but at the same time – if there is a show at the end of the tunnel.

Dave: Adam is most built for touring – out of all of us. We have only toured with Pat a little bit, but I think all of us are pretty close to that. I had a friend well adjusted, smart, sensitive – a dude. I took him on tour and he was a mess he could not handle not being in control of his environment.

The War on Drugs – interview

Adam: That is what is so great for us as a band. We were kind of thrown into this, the four of us did not really exist up until this record (Slave Ambient) came out in 2011, we did a tour starting in March a six week tour in that year which was the first real full tour that Robbie did on keyboards and guitar, although another drummer than not Pat, we’d done shorter tours but that was when ‘this’ really all started. So a good part of these two years, pretty much, being away from home; it’s an amazing thing when you turn round and look back at it. We’ve never really had a fight as a band that is really special, it makes the music better because everyone is dedicated to the music and it gets better every show: we are not fighting over a girl or just getting wasted. It is gratifying to go on the road and have it mean something, for you to get to the end and it to be that great – every band should think they are the best band in the world that is part of rock n roll if you don’t you are missing the point.

LTW: So every gig still excites you then?

Adam: There was a period where it didn’t excite me, which was depressing, but then we made a change, the weak revealed themselves. But yes it should, it should excite you to play rock music in front of people.

LTW: ‘Slave Ambient’ is so multi-layered did you have concerns about replicating that live?

Adam: No, because when the whole album was about deterioration, there really was no ‘band’ when it was being made. There was Dave and Rob was a friend and we were all working on it but we were not rehearsing the songs. Songs were written over a period of time, in the studio or from before but for the most part there really was not a band and then we did this tour with Destroyer. The craziest tour I have ever done I will never do again, none of must be subjected to that again, nine and a half thousand miles in six weeks, one part 14 straight days of shows.

Dave: We live in Philadelphia and the tour started in Vancouver so took a week and half tour of dates up to start the tour, then we did the tour a figure eight across America finishing up 4 and half thousand miles away from home. It was a crazy tour, we were crossing from Canada back to American in Northern Montana and driving through fifteen feet of snow, if we’d slide off the mountain we’d be dead.

Adam: We had so much equipment and shows to do on the way home, so it really was one of those tours that if that does not break you …. and that was the first tour with the four of us and that was the tour we learnt to play the songs on.

Pat: The record was not even out then.

Adam: So it was never written with ‘live’ in mind which was good because then we were able to interpret as four people rather than one idiot you know which was kind of how it was made, one moron as filtered by four musicians. We are, not going to hire a guy no one likes to play guitar just to recreate a part on a record.

LTW: Who and what musically has influenced those four musicians?

Adam: I think we all have bands we like and songs that we love, ones we have loved since we were really young and visual moments of rock history that have probably affected us intensely. There are bands that go ‘Looking for bass player for band looking to be …’ and then they list four bands they want to be like, we have never been that kind of band.

LTW: So perpetual change, new influences, listening to new bands?

Adam: Yes totally, I listen to new stuff, to many to list, to many to remember.

LTW: Okay, who’s on your iPods?

Dave: I have Megaphone on my phone and Frank Ocean…

Pat: …and Richard Swift, but yes the new Frank Ocean album is great love it.
If you like singer songwriters you really have to check out Jake Bugg, his debut is incredible.

Adam: Jake Bugg alright. What do you think about Joe Bonamassa, you don’t know Joe Bonamassa! He is this white guitar playing super cheesy guy, when we played there a couple of years ago this guy was like ‘You got to check out Joe Bonamassa he’s like sold out Wembley’ I was like what? who? and he is like this legend in England, I would go online and watch these Joe Bonamassa videos and he’d be like going to guitar show with these boutique stands and walk in like he was Hendricks, expecting things for free, it’s hilarious.

LTW: He (Jake Bugg) has just done a US tour; I’ve not had a chance to read how well he’s done.

Adam: America is pretty fickle, we’ve been lucky. We’ve toured the country 15 times, the first twelve was too nobody, but we just kept doing our thing and now we do really well touring America – for now at least. But I can see how a band with a new record out won’t do to so well, people aren’t going to say ‘there is this hot new band I want to see’ well no it depends on the city. New York can be a good place you can play to 400 hundred people on your first trip then go 90 miles away to Philly and play to six people.

Dave: When we tour we try to tour with bands with like as people do good shows, lots of bands have bands open from that city and they just have to hope the promoter has done their job.


Hostess Entertainment certainly has for this bill and we chat further about bands, face masks and Obama’s place in American’s future: however there are bands on stage not to be missed and it is past time for recording devices to be stopped and stowed away.

Keep an eye open for UK dates in 2013 and all The War On Drugs news via their official website, Facebook and Twitter.

Interview and images by Katie Clare. You can read more from Katie on LTW here.

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