Currently on tour supporting their second album Portamento, The Drums guitarist Jacob Graham took some time out to talk to The Edge before the band’s gig at the Portsmouth Pyramids about the band’s future, the problems with modern music and how he dealt with the hype that his band received.
Having just released album two, what’s the plan for the future?
At the moment, just more touring really; we’re really trying not to think about album number three. We released album two very quickly because people were viewing us as a very trendy band, which didn’t sit very well for us because we always thought we were doing everything we could to sit away from trends. To be called ‘trendy’ was a shock to us. We wanted to put our second album out and for it to sound similar to show that we’re saying “we’re stubborn and we’re sticking to this”. We want to be like the Ramones, where everything sounds very similar – we want to be consistent.
You have a very distinct sound. Is this something that came straight away, or did you develop it over time?
It came vey quickly, but it was after years and years of being in other bands. Once we started The Drums we had a very good idea of what we wanted to do, which was to mix the sounds of The Shangri-Las and The Wake. I don’t know if we accomplished it, but our first two songs ‘Best Friend’ and ‘Me and the Moon’ sort of sounded like that, so we thought we’d stick with it and move forward.
You’ve been quoted as saying that Joy Division and The Smiths are two of your key influences, two seminal British bands. Would you say you prefer the British music scene to the American?
I’m not sure, I think that there’s good stuff throughout. I feel that British bands seem to reflect on the idea I was saying about creating a distinct sound and then sticking to it, but there are many American bands that were hugely influential on us as well. We listened to those two bands specifically a lot more when we were teenagers, almost so much that we can’t anymore we over-listened to them. I think that those two influences were more ascribed to us by the press. But when you’re a teenager is when you are deciding what you want to sound like and this sticks with you. To be honest, we don’t like bands as much as we like songs. It’s exciting when a band writes songs that you can continually listen to, like The Smiths, but some bands don’t. For example, there are a few songs by Dolly Parton that I’m obsessed with, but most of her catalogue I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.
Would you say there’s a big difference between playing in Britain and playing in America?
There is, but it’s hard to define really. I would say that the similarities are more surprising than the differences. We sort of grew up in the UK; it’s where we first started touring. I think it’s got a lot to do with Radio DJs in England having the freedom to play what they want. To be played on mainstream radio in America you practically have to be royalty. As far as the shows go it’s very similar, and even now in America we have fans coming up to us telling us about how they listen to all these obscure bands. It’s thanks to the internet really that we could have got so popular. When I used to find new bands, I had to read interviews from bands and look into who they said influenced them, and it took ages; these days, thanks to things like Spotify, what took me like weeks to find takes like an hour.
What’s the story behind the cover for the new album?
I don’t think there’s a story really, it’s kind of an anti-story. It’s just a childhood picture of Jonny [Pierce, vocalist] that I decided to paint the eyes red of. I would describe it as a characterture of the record, it makes no sense, it’s just like ‘duhh’.
Recently you collaborated with Edwyn Collins. Who would you say would be your ideal collaboration?
To be honest, we don’t really want to collaborate with anyone as such, because we’re doing our own thing.
So no Rhianna duets on the horizon then?
Um, certainly not. Of everyone, Edwyn was the person we wanted to collaborate with so it already kind of happened. The Wake would be ideal; they are such a great band with such a great sound, and it’s such a shame they got largely overlooked. I nearly collaborated with them. They asked me to record some synthesizer parts for their new album, so I did and I thought they were really good, but they didn’t seem to think so.
They might end up on the special edition?
Yeah, hopefully they’ll surface some time. You never know.
Cliché question I know, but how has your life changed since you became popular?
Certain aspects have completely changed and certain aspects haven’t. My day-to-day life is completely different – personal relationships are much more of a struggle. I’m home every chance I get, but we’re touring all over the world; it’s become a global thing and you just have to keep going. What we didn’t realise at the time was that if you’re going to release a second album so quickly, you have to tour. We’ve been constantly on the road for nearly three years now.
So after this tour it’s time to relax for a bit?
We’ve always worked so quickly, I think, that if we really spend some time on album number three, we might be able to make our masterpiece. You never know, it might even end up being a double disc! With recording the second album everyone was like “Will you be able to live up to the hype?” and “Will you be able to write ‘Let’s Go Surfing 2’?”, and our response was always “We don’t care”.
You noticeably dropped ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ from your Reading 2010 setlist. Do you ever get tired of playing the same songs over and over again?
It does get tiring; it’s exciting to incorporate new songs, but we understand you can’t just completely ignore the hits. There are certain songs, like ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, that none of us actually like. It doesn’t represent who we are.
Sort of like Radiohead with ‘Creep’ then?
Yeah, exactly, we just don’t really care; we’re just like “Well find another band that will play the hits, because we’re not that band!”. But at the same time we’re not just going up and playing ambient noise, we write very strict pop songs, an entire set of pop music. We want to make music that is interesting to us. If you think about everyone else then you’ll end up writing very generic pop music. It will work for a little while, but people like, say, Ke$ha won’t have a lasting legacy.
What would you say is the best aspect of touring?
Obvious answer, but I would have to say the crowds. It’s brilliant to see a crowd of people who are into your music and want to see you live. Jonny and I have been in bands since we were kids, and we have always been the outcasts. When I was 14 or 15 I would book slots in the middle of punk shows around where I was living; we would stand there playing our pretty pop songs with synthesizers and everyone would hate it! We would have the reputation of being the worst band in town; people would be like “Oh, they’re awful”. We felt we had the right to play. Even when we first started The Drums everyone seemed to hate us, so it was weird when suddenly everyone was saying “You are hitting the nail right on the head”. It probably won’t last, it’s the whole thing of being trendy against not being trendy, and at the moment pop music is very trendy.
You make a very different kind of pop music to people like Ke$ha, though…
Yeah, there were lots of bands sort of basterdising pop music like The Killers and Hot Hot Heat. The bands from that era that have managed to stick around, like the Arctic Monkeys, had some integrity about them. They were just on the other side of that movement and as such have stuck around. In America at this point, there was a massive hardcore scene but these days it seems pop is replacing hardcore as the alternative scene.
Yeah, music’s always changing. For example, it seems ’emo’ is starting to die out.
Yeah, that was awful, and hopefully it’s dying because the world is starting to get smarter! But you never know with the music industry, it’s very fickle, and we’re just grateful for the chance we’ve been given so far.