It’s been a drama-filled couple of years for The Drums … Adam Kessler’s departure from the seminal ‘surf band’ of 3 in 2010 was followed soon after by an almost complete dis-banding/ break-up. Since then, it’s been a long haul to get The Drums‘ second release out to the masses but despite the pain – they’ve pulled through. Jonny, Jacob and new addition Connor are coming to play Portamento for us at the Laneway Festival plus a series of side-shows next month. Unlike the mass cinematic sound and ‘bigness’ of their debut, the follow-up (written and recorded mostly in singer Jonny’s kitchen in the midst of heavy touring) is, to quote Jacob, more real, “To me it was amazing that it read so much like our own actual experiences within our individual lives.”
MusicFeeds spoke to Jacob from his New York home today …
MF: Hi Jacob, thanks for picking up the phone…
Jacob: Hi Patrick … thanks for calling me … I really appreciate it
MF: Where are you guys at the moment?
Jacob: I’m at home in New York City, which is where I like to be, and the other two (Jon and Connor) are both, I believe, travelling out of the country – I mean I don’t know why anyone would want to do that in their free time (laughs).
MF: Jacob, you’ve said often that you’re a real homebody, but it seems that for the last couple of years The Drums have been constantly on tour. How do you deal with that – not ever really being at home?
Jacob: Well, sometimes I can’t deal with it and I just go into a soul-crushing depression, but to get myself out of that I tend to spend a lot of time in my own head working on my own little projects. For the most part of time while on the road I read a lot of books – that keeps me sane and happy.
MF: So I’m happy that I’ve got you at your best – in your own space at home – what does home look like?
Jacob: Well, I’m sitting in my living room right now – it’s pretty simple. The other guys make fun of me saying it looks like an old lady lives here. I’m surrounded by a bunch of antique book shelves and lots of books kind of mixed in with old electronic instruments. It’s just kind of a cosy little place that I feel very comfortable in.
MF: Antique book shelves sound gorgeous and you mentioned you read a lot while on tour … there must be lots of books on those shelves … what are you reading right now?
Jacob: I’m actually reading a few books right now. I tend to read more than one book at a time. I have a friend who works in publishing who always puts me onto good stuff and then I have my own things I’m kind of obsessed with. I like to read fiction and non-fiction at once so I can go back and forth. Right now, though, I’m reading a book of short stories called In Persuasion Nation [#a collection of short satirical works by George Saunders – includes the award-winning The Red Bow, in which a town is consumed by pet-killing hysteria, and Bohemians, in which two supposed Eastern European widows attempt to fit into suburban USA] and a book by the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis called The World’s Last Night, which is really fascinating. It was one of his more controversial works I think. It’s all about the efficiency of prayer and the implications of life on other planets.
MF: Are you exploring or questioning your religion at the moment?
Jacob: I don’t know that I’m exploring it so much. I grew up in a strong religious home the same way Jonny our singer did, but didn’t necessarily turn away from it so much as he did. I’ve been attending a Quaker meeting, which is the religious society of friends. I’ve been doing that for a little over a year now. I’m still doing a lot of reading about it, though, having only been involved for a year. I’m open to reading all sorts of things.
MF: There’s been lots of rumours floating about that just before you released Portamento you guys nearly broke up? How true is that?
Jacob: I’d say equal amounts of both, if that’s possible. I think our band is kind of fragile and probably on the verge of breaking up pretty constantly and I say that seriously and jokingly at the same time.
MF: Why is that? Personality clashes or musical differences?
Jacob: All of us have strong, clashing personalities, which I think is beneficial to the music. The music sounds the way it does because of that. We each have very specific ideas about music and when we’re recording, we’re all fighting for those ideas to get through. Part of it is about the way things have come together for us, but I think maybe part of it is also because most bands, you know, historically before the internet came about, would be in a band for years and years and be working away at it for so long before getting a record deal. I mean, how long was Aerosmith playing in bars before they got to tour the world – probably a lot longer than us. Because of that, it put us in a different headspace – I mean about 3 or 4 months after we played our first show we were playing in places like Iceland and England, and I think because it happened so quickly for us, it’s something that we didn’t work so hard for, and I mean that in a way that we were not completely certain that this was the way we wanted to spend our lives, and once you get to a certain level you are spending your life that way, you know.
MF: Are you happy with where it’s all at now?
Jacob: I go back and forth. I love making music and I love writing and recording songs. Touring is the process I dislike the most, but that’s what we spend the most time doing.
MF: Have things changed since you’ve lost one band member and gained a new one?
Jacob: I don’t think things have changed much at all because Adam was never quite part of the core nucleus of the band that was writing and recording – Adam never recorded with us really, so in that respect it kinda just felt like loosing a co-worker that you had a friendship with, which is fairly common.
MF: As we all know now, you and Jonny met at summer camp in your teens. Can you take us back briefly to that moment you met … was it like ‘hey let’s make a band’?
Jacob: (laughs) It’s funny because when we were growing up Jon and I would often think back to that moment and often think it really was amazing. We met each other at a bible camp (a church camp). We were like 11 and 13. It was night-time and everyone was going to sleep and I heard music coming from the distance. It was either Orchestral Manouvres in the Dark or the Smiths. It was that kind of music that kids our age didn’t listen to in America at that time … in the mid 90s. So I went over and just asked who was playing it. Jon said he was. At first he thought I was going to make fun of him. Eventually, when we realised we both loved the same music, we stayed up all night listening to music, and we’d both never met anyone else our age at all that was into that sort of thing. We decided that night that we were meant to do something together, but we were too young. We stayed in touch and that’s how The Drums was born years later.
MF: In the bio for Portamento, the new album, there’s a decscription of it being a much more personal version of The Drums. What do you mean by that exactly?
Jacob: Well, it’s mostly in the lyrical content, which is mostly all Jonny, although we all together steer things in a certain direction. With our first album, I think our guard was up a little bit – most of the songs were grand and cinematic and just not based in reality. On Portamento we wanted to make a record that was more based in reality and really blunt. Most of the songs are about actual things that have happened. I guess in that respect we’re closer on this project to folk song type lyrics and stuff like that.
MF: If all the songs on Portamento feature a scene from real life – what’s your most memorable scene and why?
Jacob: There’s a few different moments but one that really stands out for me is the song Searching For Heaven - Jonny and I co-wrote it – I wrote music, Jon wrote the lyrics. What’s interesting about that song in respect to our own personal lives is that it was based on my own personal struggle with religion and coming out at the other end. You know, feeling very disheartened by the whole thing and then sort of eventually coming around to how I felt about it. When Jon wrote the lyrics they ended up being about the same sort of struggle with a different outcome and I don’t know if the outcome is as important as honestly portraying the struggle and the attempt. To me, it was amazing that it read so much like our own actual experiences within our individual lives.
MF: You recorded the album in your kitchen right? Being such a successful band – you could probably be recording in the best studios of your choosing and with big name producers – why do you choose to do it all on your own?
Jacob: Yeah, we recorded mostly in Jonny’s kitchen for a few reasons really. First being we don’t want to change our sound – we like our sound. We live in an age where we can record our sound with what we feel is high enough fidelity (some people don’t think that about us). All 3 of us are so opinionated as well and if we were to work with a producer, that to us just sounds like torture really. The idea of working in a big professional studio – you know, it’s the idea that it costs money to do it, and even though we could set aside money to do it, it’s just too much of a mental barrier to be sitting in a studio thinking that every minute that ticks by is another dollar.
MF: But surely with your success money isn’t an issue?
Jacob: I mean, yeah, we could feasibly work in a studio just like any other band, but, you know, before The Drums most of us had no money at all – living below the poverty line, just barely getting by. It’s a very natural thing to think of money in that way. I guess we don’t want to restrict ourselves … so maybe a ‘normal’ band would be like ‘we’re going to record an album, were going to spend 3 months and these are the hours we going to spend on it’. That doesn’t work for us.
MF: You guys are heavily involved with every aspect of the band outside of the music … co-directing your videos and being involved with the artwork etc. Can you tell me about your latest visual project Visiomento. Where did this idea come from and how does it work?
Jacob: It’s definitely not a very defined idea. We just wanted to make a weekly video series and it’s mainly for our fans to get to know us a little better and to show sides of our personalities that they wouldn’t normally see. Even our sense of humour – that doesn’t really come across in our music. It’s just our way of doing something that was within our own context.
MF: I saw you guys play at Splendour a couple of years back and it was an electric show … what can we expect from your Laneway shows in February here in Australia?
Jacob: Well, we certainly won’t have any confetti cannons or anything like that (laughs). Hopefully just what people have come to expect from The Drums – a fun concert which is enjoyable and energetic, maybe slightly thought provoking … I don’t know. We’re just going to do what we always do I suppose.
MF: And what does the future hold for you guys? Anymore surprises up your sleeve that you want to share?
Jacob: I don’t know really. I feel as though we’re sort of in an ‘in-between’ period when there isn’t much news. I do need to tell fans though to watch Visiomento because if there is anything to be learnt about us that u don’t already know, it’ll be in there …
The Drums will tour Australia in March on the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival line-up.