Adam Granduciel is a well-spoken American gentleman. He’s also the creative force behind the Philadelphia psychedelic band The War on Drugs, and long-time collaborator of Kurt Vile—who was also in the band for a while.
After two albums and a lot of touring, the band has been in lockdown for most of the year to work on their upcoming release. We were the first interview Adam had done in quite a while, it made a nice change from the burned-out non-talkers we sometimes talk to. Even with all of the anti-government ranting.
NOISEY: Hey Adam, how’s it going? How is the new album coming along?
Adam Granduciel: I’ve been doing all right. The album is nearly finished. I’ve just been writing a lot at home, not going out or playing shows. We haven’t played any shows this year. You’re actually the first interview I’ve done in about a year.
I’ll try to make it memorable. I read you just wrote down the phrase “The War on Drugs” and decided later when you created the band that it would be a good name. Have you found some meaning in the name yet?
The actual war on drugs is such a stupid thing; it’s such a stupid American thing. We’re an American band playing American music—it’s an American issue. It all seems to fit.
I just got out of hospital, I had surgery and it cost me $30. How does that make you feel as an American?
I feel like I’m being cheated! I just want freedom. Not that bullshit politicised corporate Republican/Democrat freedom. Real freedom: freedom to live. If somebody gets a brain tumour I want them to be free to get that shit checked out, and then be free to live their life—not have somebody profit from it so they’re in debt for the rest of their life.
It feels like the closest thing America has to a socialist type lifestyle is in the prison system. You would get free treatment in the infirmary instead of a $10,000 broken arm.
That’s it, three squares meals a day; you’re looked after in there. I don’t usually go on political rants like that by the way.
Nah let loose, do you ever get kudos from Christian groups or the DEA for promoting a positive message against drugs?
Yeah I get letters and emails every now and then. I’d love to be called The Drugs, or just Drugs. Who in a rock and roll band doesn’t want that? I don’t hate drugs.
Did you intentionally mix white-bread Americana classic rock with something bizarre like the Neu! style? I noticed the Motorik was all over Slave Ambient
I didn’t, I wasn’t trying to mesh styles at all. It just fit when I was programming and writing the songs, it just gave me freedom to play guitars and synthesizer over the top. I don’t like drums dictating the song; like when you hear a fill and then you know the chorus is coming up.
My friend saw you play when we were at SXSW last year and wouldn’t stop raving about how you played the harmonica. Are you some sort of bluegrass Harmonica pro?
[Laughs] No I don’t play bluegrass harmonica or anything like that. I don’t listen to country or bluegrass records. I just play it through a sampler and give it a whole bunch of effects and lots of reverb. It sounds a bit more psychedelic that way.
I didn’t really want to ask you any questions about Kurt Vile, but does he play on this new record?
I didn’t have time to play on his new record; he didn’t have time to play on my new record. This is the first time really—either we were travelling or he was overseas or we were just busy.
When you start working on an album do you have a clear direction, or is it just a bunch of songs you’ve written over the year?
I never have a clear goal or a theme when it comes to writing an album. I have been locked up doing nothing but writing this forthcoming album for most of this year. This new album is darker than the last one. It has a real sickness sound, a brooding sound. I would spend about eight months on a song, leaving it alone and going back to it later on. I just kept layering things on, building them up in to epic songs. I let the songs evolve—it’s really daunting.
Can an album this consuming feel done?
The album isn’t quite real until it’s released, I’ll give it to friends and stuff to listen to, but until it’s out in the world and we’re touring and playing it doesn’t seem real. I know it feels like I have done nothing with my life, oh but I made this album. It’s all part of the creative process.
The War On Drugs will be touring this summer, check them out here:
28 December at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne
31 December at the Falls Festival
6 January at Oxford Arts Factory in Sydney