The War On Drugs. Photo by Graham Tolbert
After talking with The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel for about half an hour over the phone, I was left thinking, “Wow, what a nice guy.” “Steve Jobs just died. That’s crazy,” he said to me at the beginning of the call, as if we hadn’t just introduced ourselves. The questions of mine that I’m sure he’s asked in every interview didn’t annoy him, he didn’t grouse about people handing him their demos, and he even invited me to play guitar with his band for one song when they come to Salt Lake (I’m taking him up on it).
He also had pleasant words to say about Salt Lake City: “I think people on the East Coast have a weird idea of what Salt Lake City is. It’s a gorgeous place with super nice people, and there’s a lot of artists there, people who love what they do.” He has been here twice in the last year, when The War on Drugs played Kilby Court in March (“I like that little fire pit outside,” he remarked about Kilby. “It was really nice to sit out there.”) and backing up sometime band member Kurt Vile at the Twilight Concert Series.
Regarding Kurt Vile, he addressed misconceptions about their involvement with each other’s project. Vile continues to play guitar on The War on Drugs’ records, though he no longer tours with them due to the commitments surrounding his own music. “We met and became really good friends and played on each other’s stuff all the time. I don’t know if people thought he was in The War on Drugs first and then his record came out, and they thought he left the band to do it, but he played on [The War on Drugs’ new album] Slave Ambient, and I continue to play on his records. It was one of those things where he never really truly quit the band in the way that he was never truly as much a part of the band as people thought he was.” He didn’t begrudge my asking, though. “Not everyone reads every interview, so they’re likely just like, ‘Oh, he quit,’” he said. “It makes total sense. I don’t mind talking about it either because it’s a good story.” Granduciel made sure to credit Vile for his creative influence. “Playing on each other’s songs and having someone to bounce ideas off of is a beautiful thing in music,” he said. “I don’t think either of us would have made the records we have if it wasn’t for having people around who we had an intense musical connection with. That’s where the good stuff comes from.”
He was just as generous in his praise for his current live bandmates. “[Bass player] Dave [Hartley] is reaching legendary status. I’ll watch YouTube videos of when we play, and I’ll just watch him, because I can’t really watch while we play, and it blows my mind how he’s like fucking John McVie or something.” He also compared keyboardist Robbie Bennett to a classic rock legend. “Robbie is so good at the piano, he can play like Springsteen’s piano player, how intuitive he is.” While War on Drugs records to this point have consisted of Granduciel playing most of the instruments, he is excited to do more live band recording. “It would be nice to do a record that highlights everyone’s ability to fucking dominate,” he said.
Even though Slave Ambient was recorded with a bigger budget, it still retains some of the earthiness of their previous records. According to Granduciel, that is deliberate. “We don’t painstakingly edit stuff, so there’s a human element in there as much as possible. Even if there’s a little bit of rub between instruments, that’s the good stuff.” A version of the track “Brothers” appeared on their Future Weather EP earlier this year, but they re-recorded it for Slave Ambient. “That one was fun to do because I didn’t think I was going to re-record ‘Brothers,’ and then it became this whole other beast,” he says. This process is indicative of The War on Drugs’ M.O. “We just went through periods of doing multiple versions of certain songs and just trying to search for the one that had the most something special about it,” Granduciel explains. “Sometimes I’d be working on something, and everyone loved it and I knew it was cool, but I just felt like there was something missing, but I was the only one who could really put my finger on what it was.” He was open about his pleasure with the new record, but did not come across as arrogant about it. Describing listening to the record once it was mastered, he explained that “the best place to listen to a CD is in a rental car, because they have the newest sound systems. I rented a car about a month ago to run some errands one day or something, and I put on the new record. It was great.”
For their upcoming show at Kilby Court, Granduciel has promised some preparation for the fans. “I take pride in my stage banter, so hopefully by the time we get there, I’ll have some good things to say,” he says.
The War on Drugs play Kilby Court this Saturday, October 29 with Purling Hiss and Carter Tanton. Doors open at 7 pm. $10 day of show.