The Drums reflect on Russia, Elizabeth Taylor, and discovering the joys of a US National Parks Pass
“Russia is a funny little animal right now, doing all sorts of things that aren’t good… this is going to sound strange, but to be perfectly honest, what’s been going on in Russia has really influenced a lot of this album…” says Jonny Pierce, lead vocalist of The Drums. So, most fittingly, The Drums played a kick-off show for their new album, Encyclopedia, in Moscow, Russia.
Encyclopedia has an incredibly dark, dreamy, hallucinogenic sound. Then, there are layers of deeply emotional lyrics, weighted in anxieties and feelings of “loneliness and desire and fear of losing [but also] fear of never getting,” Pierce explained. Feelings that, essentially, relate to the political complexities and emotional hardships, linked to the desire for personal freedom in a country such as Russia. Pierce adds that this opening show felt so relevant and important, and actually made him feel emotional on stage for the first time in years because “the album is really meant to be a letter of comfort to the outsider or to someone who’s being abused and hurt.”
This idea of an ode to the outsider is referenced in the music video for the first single and opening track on the album, entitled “Magic Mountain.” At the end of the beautifully cinematic piece (directed by Pierce alongside long-time collaborator and the Drums’ other half, Jacob Graham), is a dedication. The music video is dedicated to the late actress Elizabeth Taylor. She appears in one brief glimpse during the final few seconds of the video. When asked about her importance to the band, Pierce says he and Graham had always been fans of hers. “She identified with the freaks and outsiders in the world. She’s just always been a really beautiful symbol of acceptance and celebrating differences,” Pierce says. His explanation means a lot because it solidifies the overall message that these songs are really about acceptance. For example, Pierce describes the track, “Let Me In,” as “a song about just being exactly who you are, nothing more, nothing less”. He also describes the meaning behind “Magic Mountain”: “[it’s] finally finding what’s good and pushing out what’s bad and fighting to the death to protect what you’ve finally found.”
Though the songs all have a dark quality to them, as Pierce says, “the future is uncertain always…if you crack these songs open and you really sit with them, you can find a sliver of hope in all of them.” So perhaps the harsher songs exists on the surface and it takes a few listens to seek out the hopefulness the band suggests is still there.
Another theme that boldly resonates throughout the album is the presence of nature. Pierce excitedly recalls his exploration into the wilderness, just prior to writing the album.
“I’m a big US National Parks junkie! I have a pass to any American national park, and I would encourage anyone to do it. It’s eighty bucks and you can get a whole carload of people and you can do it for a year and there are just places you can’t imagine!” Songs like “US National Park” and “Wild Geese” represent a totally different locale of forests and fields, whereas in the past, songs like “Let’s Go Surfing” and “Down by the Water” clearly evoke sun, sand, and beaches.
Encyclopedia reflects the tumultuous time in which it was written and recorded. After a year of touring, press and promo for 2012’s Portamento, the Drums needed a break. Pierce and Graham began working on solo material. The temporary split was evidently short-lived as they regrouped, realizing that The Drums’ loss of band members was an opportunity to create the album Pierce and Graham had been dreaming of for years. Encyclopedia was a product of many changes, some good and some bad in the lives of these two musicians. It was a result of anger and frustration at first, but then also a result of letting go of anxieties and simplifying the creative process by working with only each other. Pierce says he felt he and Graham were “very much on the same wavelength – sometimes we feel like we’re sharing a brain when it comes to music.”
It was during the creation of Encyclopedia that Pierce got married in the beautiful New York countryside, while at the same time he was finally able to shut out the people in his family who weren’t supportive. He also embraced his atheistic point of view and has a new outlook on life, “because that fear is gone for me and I’m not worried about being punished in hell forever for loving someone. A flower smells twice as sweet and a tree looks twice as beautiful than it did before,” he says. All of these discoveries and experiences clearly gave him inspiration for the album, so it was incredibly difficult for the pair to amalgamate the final material. “You know, I probably could have written an Encyclopedia of Encyclopedias,” laughs Pierce.
The Drums will continue their tour for Encyclopedia, and, as promised by Pierce, they will “always be going where people want to hear [them]– that’s a policy we have.” So, to all you outsiders… the Drums have your back.
The Drums play Le Cabaret du Mile End Sept. 24.