Interview: Adam Granduciel of The War On Drugs
Adam Granduciel, main engine in Philadelphia’s psychedelic countryrockers The War On Drugs, is scrolling on his phone in a corner of the backstage dining room of tonight’s venue, Münchenbryggeriet. He’s just come back inside from a smoke out in the moisty, rain-threatening air in Stockholm and is now slouching in a sofa. A few minutes earlier he and his band finished an extended soundcheck, as it’s their first show on the European leg of their tour. “Yeah, we’ve had a week off, so we needed it”, he shrugs. The past few weeks have been tarnished by the public squabbling from Mark Kozelek that arose at a festival in Ottawa a month ago, when the sound from The War On Drugs‘ simultaneous set leaked over to Kozelek‘s stage. It all culminated with the latter’s newly written song ”War On Drugs: Suck My Cock”. None of this is apparent as we sit down for a talk here in Stockholm. Not until Kozelek‘s name is eventually brought up, that is.
You’re really into photography. How did this emerge?
− It’s something I’ve always done. I was really into polaroids for one time, then they stopped making it, they got superexpensive. Then I smashed my camera, inadvertently, so I got an SX-70 pull-up instead. Then I got into 35 mm stuff, but I still have so many rolls undeveloped. I used to shoot all these Super 8 films, I’ve got like sixty-five rolls of Super 8, but I never got a single one developed.
− I have no idea. I should do it eventually. The bummer is that one or two of them are Colour Actichrome, and there’s not a single place in the entire world where you can process them, ‘cause there’s one chemical that’s gone for good. They can process it into black and white, though. Actually an old girlfriend of mine once had a roll processed for my birthday. That stuff was used for the video to “Baby Missiles” from our last album, Slave Ambient.
− All our album covers have been made from my photos, except for the new one, that’s not me who took the photo, but it’s my design. I just like doing it, collecting film, dropping it off. I like to buy expired film, but it doesn’t look as good as you’d think it would. It gets really grainy. You think it will get all psychedelic, but it doesn’t. Kind of a bummer actually, you’re like “aah, this film is from the seventies!”, you think it’s gonna look like that and then it’s just blurry.
− I was thinking about buying a really good digital camera, but I don’t really like taking photos, I like developing photos, you know what I mean?
Do you find inspiration in photography that you make use of in making music, or is it just a way of relaxing and taking a break from it?
− Yeah, it is. I get inspiration from photography in general, though. Like iconic photos of bands and artists I love in the studio. You see like, Dylan in the studio in ’65, at the piano, with his band. And you’re like “I gotta get to the studio!”, you know. But in terms of taking pictures and thinking about music, not really.
While making your latest album Lost In The Dream you were going through a pretty tough period in life. Would you rather be without a period like that and still be making music, or is it even essential to go through it to make the album come out more personal?
− I think whatever life throws at you, if making music or anything, however you express yourself to deal with it, you kinda like you…not roll with it, it’s not that you’re grateful for it. I don’t think that my music would be less if I was just happy-go-lucky, but it was just something that revealed itself in the face of making music. That’s life, I guess. But I’m lucky that I have music as a way to figure it out, I get deeper into the music.
Do you have days when you can’t stand music?
− Yeah, totally.
What do you do instead?
− I watch movies. I don’t even like movies anymore. Sometimes I just like to sit in silence. I mean, sometimes I just listen to music all the time, then I get fed up. Usually when I’m making an album I tend to not listen to a lot of music. Not like I decide to, but once I have a lot of demos or rough takes of songs going, all I really want to listen to is the stuff I’ve been working on. And I’ll drive ‘round at night or something and listen to it. In those times I tend to just listen to all my favourite artists. Not because I don’t care about anything else, but because I’m not interested. I just want to live in my own little world.
− It’s weird too, I remember when I started the last album, we toured so much with Slave Ambient, then we started this album. What I remembered from making music was working on Slave Ambient, its every little note, every single track, then all of a sudden you take that and have four or five songs. But then you go deeper into them, every detail, and then it takes another six or seven months. But I feel like that’s the most fun part, and by then the only music you’re really interested in is your own. That’s why it’s hard to go into the studio and make a record in just three weeks, because you have to go through it all over and over again. I remember two years ago I thought I wouldn’t write another song ever, then nine months later I’m superobsessed with some new songs. That’s where I’m at right now, I’ve started thinking about the next record. But not too hard, you gotta have fun making music.
Your songs often tend to run into the six, seven or even eight minute mark. Is there a reason why you make them so long? Like you want the listener to ponder on what you’ve just sung in the lyrics?
− I think realistically a lot of it is because when I’m working on the original tracking of the song, the final version, I just keep going sometimes, like I’m in the moment. Then you end up putting so many things on it, all these little moments. “Oh, the piano is a sweet thing here! You gotta keep the sax, ‘cause the sax goes up here!”. So all of a sudden you can’t cut anything and it’s up to six minutes.
Many artists, when writing songs, often start off with the same chord, like it’s their favourite chord. Do you have a favourite one?
− I would say mine is probably Fmaj7. I have so many songs starting off with that, but with a capo it ends up in different keys anyway, to Gmaj7 or Amaj7. And I’ve always liked C# minor or C#, those I’ve also had a lot of songs in, or Eb.
Last year, your friend Kurt Vile made one of that year’s best albums. This year, you have made one of them. Do you think Kurt will make another great album next year, like you’re taking turns?
− Yeah! He will always make ‘em!
Is it encouraging for you both to have eachother as inspiration when either of you is doing good?
− Yes. But I think it was a little different when we played together. Now it’s just about supporting eachother in spirit, you know, when we talk and hang out. When we’re talking about the record he’s starting to make, it’s like “oh, come over and we’ll do some recordings!”. Talking about what studio he’s going into, just to keep him excited. We’re getting older and it’s harder to find the same inspiration we had when we were twenty-four. I mean, not hard to find it, but it becomes a grind sometimes. Like I was saying before, you get really into a record, then you have a lot of stuff to do and go on tour for a year and a half. Then all of a sudden you gotta start all over again. So it’s nice to have people to support you and keep you excited. Plus it’s someone whose music I love, respect and cherish.
Is there even a bit of rivalry in there? Not in a negative way, I mean, but a positive?
− Umm… For sure, there has been at least. Nowadays, probably not as much. I don’t know. I feel like we’ve both grown up a lot and are just happy to look at our lives and be fortunate for what we have. Musically, friendship or family. But in our twenties, there definitely was…not rivalry, but we were slightly competitive, I guess. But pushing eachother at the same time.
Speaking of rivalry. Mark Kozelek. What happened there…?
− Never heard of him.
No? Okay. Then I think that’s my last…
− I mean, to be fair to that idiot, what he said in that song… I didn’t really have a problem with any of it until I heard the song. First of all, he never met us, and yet said all these things. He’s such a douche. I asked somebody if I could get his e-mail, because I wasn’t trying to start this stupid Twitter thing, I was just bummed. I went to a mutual friend who explained that he wouldn’t give out his e-mail address. So I just got an e-mail through this friend that said “Mark wants to come to the Fillmore, he will write a song called ‘War On Drugs Suck My Cock’, you back him up on it and he gets to play ‘Beer Commercial Guitar’, then you back him up on one of his songs, ‘Dogs’, from his new album. And then he plays ‘Beer Commercial Guitar’ on one of your songs.”.
− We were on tour and I thought “this is actually a pretty cool idea, I don’t have anything against this guy, this is cool”. So I was really excited and was gonna write him back in a couple of days, ‘cause I was busy at the time. Then two days later I get an e-mail back from him, saying “the offer has expired, maybe when I get home from tour I’ll go to Starbucks and buy your record.”. I was like “you’re such a fucking prick, dude”. He was such an asshole, I didn’t even say anything. Then he goes to the internet and he “challenges” us to this thing, but I was like “you fucking prick, you already said ‘No’!”. He’s such a fucking child. And then the song is just idiotic, he’s just a fucking idiot. I don’t have time for idiots. I’m just pissed that he tried to make it come out like he was challenging us. I had already essentially agreed to it, and then the Starbucks comment…what the fuck, dude. Get over your fucking self.
How do you think tonight’s show will go?
− Great! Now I’m all fired up!