Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2010
The Beatles’ Lennon and McCartney, U2’s Bono and The Edge… many monsters of rock emerged out of youthful friendships. For Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham of The Drums—tipped to be one of 2010’s hottest bands—the connection was immediate.
“It was so unexpected, because you go through childhood in Middle America somehow finding out about bands like The Smiths and Kraftwerk and thinking it’s the greatest thing in the world, and everyone you meet thinks you’re out of your mind,” says Graham (above left) by phone from Amsterdam, describing his first encounter with Pierce at a Pennsylvania summer camp. “So when I met someone who liked all the same stuff, it was a dream come true.”
Like many current bands, The Drums are fascinated with the Spartan sounds of ’70s and ’80s synth-pop and post-punk. But unlike others, they flesh this out not with trendy Noughties fashion but a pre-Flower Power approach that harkens back to the innocent rock’n’roll of the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Their first band was a short-lived effort called Goat Explosion, which Graham quips was mainly “an excuse not to go to college.” When they reconvened in Brooklyn a few years later, they decided to ditch the synths.
“We sat down to record our first Drums song with synthesizers, but it sounded boring,” he recalls. “It was Pierce and I and my little brother living in a tiny apartment. And my brother’s guitar was sitting there and we thought, why not use it? It seemed like such a novel idea—we had never touched the things in our lives, so they seemed alien and exotic. And I think the way we come across to people is not as a guitar band, because we don’t know how to play properly. But that’s given us our sound—our limitations have formed our sound.”
There’s an endearing if calculated naivety to The Drums that’s earned songs like “Let’s Go Surfing” and “Best Friend” millions of views on YouTube—and also raised the hackles of many of their fellow musicians.
“To us, musicianship and technical skill are really uninteresting—perfection is boring,” Graham says. “I would much rather hear some kid who doesn’t know what he’s doing but believes in his music than some guy who can effortlessly play the guitar—character and personality come from imperfections, I think.”
Graham even welcomes the critics.
“People either love or hate us,” he says. “There hasn’t been much in between—I can understand why and it makes me happy. I wouldn’t want it any other way, because our goal with the band is to be as potently ‘us’ as we can be and always retain creative control.”
The Drums, recorded in the band members’ apartments in New York and Florida, has their stamp on it from top to bottom.
“No one else has touched it,” Graham affirms. “There is no middleman, no one has even been given the opportunity to improve it and make it sound better. Anything negative people say about us—like we’re not good at our instruments, our songs are too simple or we care too much about how we look—is probably true for the most part.”
The Drums’ preppy, pre-hippy fashion goes beyond the peg-leg jeans and asymmetrical haircuts popular with many bands at the moment.
“It’s something we think warrants putting a bit of thought into,” Graham says about the relationship between fashion and music. “So many bands say, ‘It’s all about the music, and I have a beard to prove it.’ That may be fine, but a band that cares about its look—it creates a mood and helps people to perceive your music in the way you want. A lot of bands look so sloppy these days, and it’s all for the sake of being original or something. But if your only goal is to be original, then you forget to make something that is actually nice.”
Imagine combining the DNA of Morrissey, Frankie Avalon and James Dean, and then casting the resulting creature in amber to be preserved for future paleontologists. The Drums are something like that: the product of modern technology but rooted in some sort of semi-mythical past. “I hope we can retain that naive quality,” Graham says. “And I feel like if we ever start to lose it, we might just break up.”
Stylishly shambolic rock band from Brooklyn. June 14, 7pm, ¥5,000. Duo Music Exchange, Shibuya. Tel: Creativeman 03-3462-6969.