The Drums leave surf beat for dark side on Portamento
In June of 2010, the Drums charmed the pants off indiedom when they released their self-titled debut album, which included the beach-ready blogosphere hit “Let’s Go Surfing”. But as the band’s Jonathan Pierce reflects on the success of that breakthrough tune, the frontman has some less than favourable things to say about its giddy mood and happy-go-lucky lyrics.
“For the most part, those are empty words,” he admits, answering the Straight’s call from a tour stop in Hoboken, New Jersey. “We might feel a little nostalgic about them at this point, but there’s nothing very exciting about it for us.”
When it came time for the group—which also includes multi-instrumentalists Jacob Graham and Connor Hanwick, plus live members Myles Matheny and Danny Allen—to write songs for the newly released Portamento, the singer delved into more autobiographical lyrical territory than before. “What felt very natural was to write an LP that was personal and something that was much more reality-based than anything we’ve done in the past,” he says.
Certainly, those hoping for a retread of “Let’s Go Surfing” will be disappointed by the deeply confessional poetry found on the band’s sophomore album. On the standout “Days”, Pierce croons, “I worked so hard/And I killed myself/And you broke my bones” over a minimal, reverb-soaked groove. The single “Money” is similarly unsettling, with a bouncing bass hook that sets a disarmingly catchy backdrop for the vocalist’s references to death and domestic violence.
So what led him to write such dour material? “I’ve always been inspired by sadness,” he explains. “It’s the most beautiful of emotions. I really think it’s got a lot of texture. Whereas happiness, to me, is just a little boring.”
He gives a self-deprecating laugh and continues, “My favourite movies always end in tragedy and my favourite songs always sound very sad.”
Despite Portamento’s many gloomy moments, however, it’s by no means an outright bummer. The band hasn’t lost its knack for penning catchy pop melodies, nor has it abandoned its ’80s-tinged postpunk sound. This much is clear from the opener “Book of Revelation”, a soaring, synth-spiked gem on which Pierce confidently declares, “I’ve seen the world/And there’s no heaven and there’s no hell.”
For the frontman, this antireligious message represents a major personal breakthrough that occurred during the Portamento writing period. “I really came to terms with my belief—or nonbelief—in God,” he reveals, adding that he grew up in a strict Pentecostal household. “Religion as a whole, I really threw it in the garbage once and for all.”
And even though some listeners may be turned off by the controversial words, Pierce explains that honesty in songwriting is the Drums’ number one priority. “To be realistic,” he says, “we’ll be on tour for a very long time. I want to be putting out songs that I can always feel every time I sing them.”
The Drums play Venue on Tuesday (October 11).