After a couple of years away, The Drums finally returned to the UK last week, albeit for perhaps the shortest tour possible. Only London, Manchester and Glasgow were to be graced with the New York band’s presence, and quite a bit has happened since they were last here; as well as releasing their third album Encyclopedia, they’ve dropped a member. Again.
There was a throng of interviewers lingering around Scala waiting for their turn as I stepped into the small dressing area with Jonny and Jacob. The two founding members often come across as moody and miserable in pictures, but in person they’re surprisingly cheerful and chatty. “We haven’t played Scala before, we’re really looking forward to it,’’ said Jonny, ‘’I just peeked out into the hall and it looks beautiful, like it’s going to lend it’s self well to the show we’ve already prepared.’’ But when asked if they enjoy playing in the UK, there was a longer pause. ‘‘Uh, I think we have mixed feelings,’’ Jacob answered, almost reluctantly. “It was almost like a home from home for us for a while, and then it suddenly kind of wasn’t.’’
Things have changed immensely for the band over the years, and after the huge hype of their debut record died down, they began to find their shows shifting to be something quite different. It’s an age-old cliche that bands from across the pond can often feel alien playing in the UK compared to stateside, but The Drums had plenty of experience in adapting during their NME-fuelled peak. Now, after such a long time away, this twosome has forgotten what it’s like. “We actually don’t know how different it is now. I could say what it was like three years ago, which was pretty crazy for us over here, especially with the hype of the first record. But it was also hard to define, because you don’t know what your real fan base is.’’
The band believe it was like being on ‘‘Noah’s Ark’’ for them whilst waiting for the hype to subside. “It was like we were waiting for the flood to disappear and we weren’t sure where we were going to land. Whether it be on a mountain, or in a valley. I think we kind of landed somewhere in the middle.”
The Drums began as a four-piece, but lost Adam Kessler during an American tour in September 2010. They stuck together as a three-piece for sophomore album Portamento, but consequently lost Connor Hanwick after the album’s touring in 2012. Encyclopedia is the first record to be written with the band at half numbers, but this doesn’t seem to faze them at all: ‘‘It has always been Jacob and I who wrote the songs anyway, with the exception of like four or five that the other guys helped out with. Well, one of them helped out. The other guy never even stepped into the studio,’’ claimed Jonny. Even though they have touring members in the band, they still consider themselves to be a two-piece. ‘‘We’re a duo at this point and I don’t think that will change,’’ continued the singer. “We’re a bit too difficult, maybe. I spent the last three years pointing the finger at the people who left, but sometimes I think you have to reassess and just think. They might have been idiots, but maybe we’re idiots too.”
With the year coming to an end and lists abounding, it’s always good to find out who and what most artists have been listening to. Usually, a quickfire list comes easily from such a default question, but Jonny is a bit more measured in his response. ‘‘People asking us this is just the worst for us because we don’t really listen to anything. If I’m not on tour, I actually don’t listen to music unless we’re in the studio. Even if I’m at home, I don’t put music on in the background. I just really like to enjoy the silence, I don’t know why. When I was growing up, if there wasn’t music on, I’d think there was something drastically wrong. I’m not even joking, I used to set an arpeggio on my analog synthesizer and just click hold, and put it at a low volume while I went to sleep. I do kind of like the new Raveonettes record, though, that’s pretty cool.’’ Jacob, however, seems to be a bit more keen, especially when it comes to new finds. “There’s a band called Beverly who are on tour with us from Brooklyn. They have a great record called Careers and they’re amazing live, too. There’s a band called Half Handed Cloud that I like, and Xeno & Oaklander just put a new record out that is as good as anything they’ve done.’’
It’d be rational to assume that with all that has happened to the band over the years, they’d be doomed to deteriorate. However, their resilience is admirable and they’re back now perhaps stronger than ever, adamantly putting the music first and relying on their ever-persistent knack for strong melodies. The result? Watching them at Scala was the best I’ve ever seen them. They had the crowd hooked and singing every line to every song and they even seemed to actually look happy on stage, even throughout some of their stranger dance moves. Maybe such dramatic tests of the very fabric of the band were essential, enabling refinement and the filtering of unwanted noise. Jonny likes the silence, and in the space he’s created within the band, he may just have found his element.
Words and Photography by Jack Collins