Interview with The Drums and Encyclopedia album review

Kettlemag, Music, The Drums, Encyclopedia, emily murray
Written by Emily Murray

Last month American indie pop band The Drums released their latest album Encyclopedia, three years after the release of their last album Portamento. We chatted to founding member and guitarist Jacob Graham about Encyclopedia:

How did you form the band?

Jonny and I have known each other since we were kids and we’ve had lots of bands together (and a few on our own too). So The Drums was just sort of the idea that stuck.

What would you say your major influences are?

When the band first started we had very specific influences: 1960’s girl groups (especially The Shangri La’s and The Ronettes) and then the whole Postcard / Factory / Sarah Records thing (especially The Wake, Orange Juice, and The Field Mice). And that’s how we sort of established our sound, but now our influences are a bit more vague. We’re more inspired by ideas than by other bands. We feel like we have a pretty strong foundation with our first few releases and now can bend those parameters a little and be inspired by less obvious things, like… the early electronic music for advertisements by Raymond Scott.

Describe your band’s style in three words

Sad, nice, strawberry.

Tell us about Encyclopedia. How did it start up as an idea and how did it develop?

Before we recorded a single note, Jonny told me he wanted to make a very raw, garagey no-wave guitar record. I told him that I was tired of normal music and had only been listening to very… shall we say “animated” music? Such as the soundtracks for The Land Before Time and An American Tail, and my favorite Japanese synthesizer pioneer Isao Tomita. These two ideas seemed to be complete opposites, totally conflicting, but we decided to just smash them together and let them crystalize and create something totally new. And we’re just thrilled with how it all turned out. We think it’s begun a new chapter for The Drums – something much bolder and more interesting. And there’s still a dash of girl group and C86 in there too.

As far as how those ideas developed…. I’d say not too much. We sort of had our blueprint and ran with it. There were a couple of surprises along the way though, I think we pushed the envelope of those ideas a bit further than we thought we could, in both directions, with songs like ‘Magic Mountain’ and ‘U.S. National Park’.

Where did the name come from?

We didn’t come up with the title until the record was almost finished. When we were nearing the end we were just trying to think of a fitting title and Encyclopedia ticked every box. We thought it was just a lovely word, but we sort of view this album as an encyclopedia of all the different sounds, styles and moods that make up The Drums.

What is your favourite song on the album?

‘U.S. National Park’ is currently my favourite song on the album. It’s very relaxed but has lots of little interlocking parts and sparks.

What have you got planned next and for the rest of the year?

We are touring non-stop for the rest of the year; our first proper world tour in quite a while. Besides that we’re just excited to get back in the studio and make another record. After Encyclopedia we felt so invigorated and have so many new ideas.

Who are you guys enjoying listening to at the moment?

Hmmm… There’s a new band on the Ghost Box label called The Soundcarriers. They just put out an album called Entropicalia, I’ve been listening to that quite a bit. And this great singer songwriter from Sweden, Joel Alme.

Our Album Review

The first time I listened to and saw The Drums live was back in 2010 when they featured on the NME Awards tour alongside Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees, though they stole the show. With songs like ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ and ‘Down By The Water’ they had a laid-back and easy-going relaxed sound, perfect listening material for a hot summers day down by the beach. Influenced by the likes of New Order many of their songs had heavy synth beats, give a listen to ‘I Felt Stupid’ for an example, and great guitar rhythms to get you up and dancing. They soon became known as an upcoming hot band set for stardom with their first album being successful, however although their second album Portamento wasn’t bad it wasn’t received well.

Three years later though they are back with a new album Encyclopedia, which promises a new era for The Drums with a refreshing sound. The opening song ‘Magic Mountain’ certainly sounds different to their earlier records, although it still has the synth beat and catchy upbeat guitar rhythms we associate with the band. More experimental it certainly grabs your attention, although the repetitive nature of the song can get dull, and calls for you to listen to the whole album, which continues to be intriguing, different and experimental, in both good and bad ways.

Encyclopedia is certainly a good choice of name for an album that showcases the different sounds and tones of the band as they say goodbye to the sunshine beachy melodies. It feels rawer than their previous works, with plenty of edges that have not been filed to perfection. This sound is much appreciated though as the sheeny shiny auto-tune of the chart topping hits we hear on our radios can feel alien and not real. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce’s voice has never sounded more raw but great as he snarls the bleak lyrics and almost yells them in ‘Magic Mountain’. Despite the bleakness and melancholic nature of the lyrics and sound, somehow it is still really easy listening, probably due to the fact that they still rely on catchy synth beats and guitar riffs.

Some songs work better than others. Only half of the album will actually stay with you after listening as some of the songs seem to blur into one, but the songs that do work are rather good. One of my favourites is ‘I Can’t Pretend’ which opens with an extremely strong beat that rings like a bell for your attention. With a pleasing rhythm that combines synth and pop, although the lyrics are miserable it still somehow manages to have a feel-good tone. ‘US National Park’ sounds like it could have come straight out of Joy Division repertoire, and listening to it it is no wonder it is Graham’s favourite song on the album with its relaxed tone that has little sparks every now and again. These rewarding songs are a new step for The Drums showcasing a much fuller and unique sound from the band that hopefully will continue in their later work. It is a shame there are some disappointing songs on the album, but with an attempt at experimentation it was inevitable this will happen.

What do you think of The Drums new releases? Let us know in the comments below