Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs talks about 'Live Drugs'

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The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs (Matthias Heschl)
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Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs talks to Mary Lucia
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Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs talks about the band's latest release, 'Live Drugs,' which SNL musical performances he pored over as a teen, and the intimacy of playing in smaller venues.

In addition to reflecting on how life has changed in 2020, Granduciel paints a picture of the live shows they chose to pull from for this new live record, audience and band and crew all synchronizing for transcendent sets that left an impression on him.

Interview Transcript

MARY LUCIA: I just wonder, it's like in the last couple of weeks, have you vacillated between feelings of hope and then hopelessness just sort of like on the regular as most of us have?

ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Yeah I mean usually I'm just obsessed with staying healthy and limiting my exposure to everything. I mean luckily in California I can be outside most of the time. We find ourselves in quite the state of affairs right now.

LUCIA: Let's go through the process of when you started thinking about a new War on Drugs record, what month was that? Or what year was that?

GRANDUCIEL: It was 2019 in the summer that we started to mix some of the audio, like the live audio. But I didn't think I was gonna do a live record for a couple years. I figured I would do another record, we'd go on tour and maybe I'd have a whole new set of recordings to comb through for maybe like a live record in 2022 or something. So I kinda wanted to get a headstart on a bunch of it and we did it in the summer of 2019, but then once the lockdown happened I kinda stumbled upon the mixes in my Dropbox and as the time went on I kinda realized that it felt like the end of something. I just felt like the best thing to do was maybe try to highlight the last two years of our touring cycle, and all the ways the band had grown. Trying to put stuff on the record that had become a staple in our sets, like an evolution of an extended intro of something or transition. In this case the Warren Zevon cover and really just think about it in terms of 2017 and 2018. So yeah, I wasn't planning on doing a live record but it just seemed like a project worth diving into at the time. The work on my new album had kind of come to a halt and I hadn't listened to them in eight or nine months when I heard them I was like, "Oh, these sound really good. We should just go with this and see what we can kind of put together and see how it could maybe be a record." But I wasn't planning on doing something for a couple years but I'm happy we did, I think it came out really good.

Well I think some bands who maybe consider themselves more of a live band and maybe some who consider themselves more studio oriented and god help those who think the real show is the live show, because with this just inevitable, or questionable, "When is things going to get back to semi-normal?" I almost wonder if it makes those live bands start thinking a little more when they're in the studio like, "Well if I don't have the opportunity to rip these songs live in front of somebody - do I take more time or do different things in the studio?"

Right. I think we're all sort of coming against a question, just where everything exists but in the studio, yeah. I'm close to finishing a new record now and I've been working on it for a long time, maybe three years or so. That's like it's own thing. In this band it's kind of like the studio records are one thing. They don't necessarily involve the live band, they do in certain ways but we're not six of us in a room for two months duking it out and cutting a record. It's done in a totally different way and then the six of us are kind of the interpreters of these studio recordings and trying to give them a life outside of the album.

It was kind of, for those two records, a nice way of wrapping up that era of how those songs went from being on tape to being captured in real life and changing every night and trying to find the immediacy of what music is. Instead of trying to recreate something that exists on a record, the six of us just try to reinterpret and give everything a real life of it's own instead of trying to just do what's on the record every night.

And then by nature are you someone who- do you roll with change pretty well?

I think so, yeah. I think in the context of performing, and even in the studio- I think sometimes people are confused because we'll work on something for so long and then in the last couple weeks of that process I'm muting everything that we've done. I actually really like changing something pretty impulsively, just depending on what it- trying to go with the flow and just rearrange something, reshape something in the last minute. In terms of the live thing, yeah, I'm always trying to find a way to use the studio recordings as a jumping off point for where a song can go. In the record sometimes I'll start with a demo and then I'll get really attached to this demo so we'll end up overdubbing and rearranging and tracking on this demo for two and a half years without ever being in a room working the song out. That's kind of the process of making music but what you never give yourself is the ability to take a song and structure it with the band and see what happens. Sometimes in soundcheck you know, I'll always be trying to find a new way to perform a song because we never really had the opportunity to work on it as a band and so it was always like a premeditated arrangement and structure and sonic palette. I really enjoy trying to uncover things in the songs that seem to only exist on the record but with six guys playing can hopefully turn into something that I would not have recorded or arranged in a certain way.

So Live Drugs, which has a release date of November 20th, just to clarify for people, it's not per se from one live show. It's not your Budokan record, your Cheap Trick record. It's culled from a hundred hard drives I'm assuming.

More realistically it's culled from about fifteen shows between September 2017 and December 2018. There were a ton of hard drives but it's probably at the end of the day about fifteen shows that we took from. And some songs are edited, you know, the first half of the song is from Canada and the solo is from London, and the back half of the song is from somewhere-

Oh wow!

Yeah I had a lot of fun with doing that. Mostly anything that we use a drum machine on is pretty easy to like fly things in and out. Not really, I wouldn't be flying a solo from one show, it would be spicing the whole bad. I wouldn't be getting too crazy with flying things in, but we would just splice and we'd be like, "Oh man the band is really cookin' in this solo," so we'd just grab that and fly it in. And then there might have been something really special that happened in the last 45 seconds of something so we would use that and finesse it so that- but to me that's the fun part. A lot of my favorite records are heavily doctored in post production. There was no overdubbing on this. There was no vocal tuning, it was just having fun with the presentation of what a live show is or a live recording is. Once we got into the nitty gritty of everything it was really fun to dive in for a month or two and finish it all.

Yeah a little digital surgery. I just wonder if, when you found out, "Oh we're going to be listening to the show from 2018 in Boston." Can you go immediately to your brain and go, "Yes, I remember that show and it was a great show." or "Hell no we're not going to revisit that show."?

Yeah I can remember most- if you give me a random show, I can remember the show. Where I started with everything was, I kinda went backwards. I tried to pinpoint like fifteen shows that I remember as being, magical? Like I remember the show we played in Cologne and Germany, I couldn't tell you the exact setlist but I remember I was wearing a t-shirt and sneakers and that the band and myself just felt like hovering all night. You know? I just remember it was like one of those shows that- and I think it was because that was maybe like a 2,500 capacity room and the next night we were playing our first arena show in Belgium. To like 11,000 people. I think there was like, it almost felt like, ok tomorrow's going to be really stressful but tonight lets just have fun and blast off and enjoy ourselves. So there was like fifteen shows I remember from that touring cycle that just felt different. They felt like everyone was communicating. Audience. Band. Those are the ones that I started with. I was able to listen to that knowing that there was something special about the band that night.

The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs (Matthias Heschl)

Do you feel that when you're playing in front of a ton more people and you've got intimate songs, and yet, I think a lot of musicians feel as thought they're forced to sort of amplify and exaggerate because there are so many people, is that a difficulty you find with your music?

I don't find the music part, I don't worry whether or not it's communicating to a lot of people. I think when we play these bigger places it's just more, it's just more. It's just a lot of people and I'm not like an entertainer, you know what I mean? I feel like there's an added pressure on me to kind of like drive the night, as you will? Because you have more people there, I think people who go to a show where there's 11,000 people are expecting a certain level of engagement that maybe our band doesn't necessarily provide. But I think we provide it in a different way than I think me running around, taking my shirt off -- you know what I mean? I don't think-

Paul Stanley, right.

Yeah I don't really think that's how we're delivering but we deliver differently. When we play these smaller more intimate things it definitely just, it makes it all about everybody in the room. I think there's something about having songs that can translate at a huge festival? But I think I prefer, it's almost cooler to have them translate in a medium sized room. It's cool to like have those- where the regular songs sound great and beautiful and spacious and then the big rockers are like almost too big for the room. And I kinda like that instead of trying to like, fill in this space with the majority of the music instead of just having Under The Pressure in an arena. There's something really nice about almost feeling like claustrophobically big for some of these rock rooms. I think a lot of that's just my own anxiety performing. I love it so much and we played a couple of arenas and then we got used to it, well I don't know if we got used to it. I just remember a lot of those shows that were the most magical were ones where I felt like everyone in that room was really tuned into the band and the catalogue and us as six guys and friends. So that's kinda where we started was looking at those hard drives and just knowing, like there was one show we played in Canada that, it was just a really fun outdoor festival. We played with bands that we love. It was foggy and humid and we had a beautiful day off the day before. The show was just great, it wasn't like a big production. It was just an awesome show. It was an hour set. We blasted through it. I remembered that and I was listening to the show knowing what it felt like outside, and knowing how excited the crowd was because we had never played there before. That's all I needed to know that whatever we were committing too was good enough, you know?

The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs (Shawn Brackbill)

You did perform "Ocean of Darkness" on Fallon, when was that exactly?

That was three weeks ago.

What was that experience like? Had you ever done anything like that? Obviously a Zoom performance.

Well we have done Zoom performances before this whole year obviously but when I was a kid, when Pearl Jam released their second record, Verses, they were on Saturday Night Live and I used to record every set SNL, Letterman- of bands that I loved and would watch it over and over on the VHS and I remember I was so excited for them to play SNL and the first song they played was a song that was on their next record. The song from Vitalogy and no one had ever heard it and I was like so blown away by that. They played three songs that night, and I watched that version of "Not For You" probably a thousand times. Just obsessed, watching a band play. Obsessed with watching these guys play music and so when they asked us to do Fallon I didn't really want to do a song off the record because I felt like that was venturing into greatest hits territory which I was uncomfortable with. So I was like, why don't we do a new song? And I was kind of just inspired by that memory of watching Pearl Jam and I was like, I've been working on this record for too long. Let's do one of these songs that I've been kicking around. It's a lot of work to do these Zoom things because obviously they're not live so you kind of have to lay something down and then I send it to all the guys and they lay it down then I get the audio mixed and then this other guy does the video. It's fun, you know? It's worth all the time we put into maybe four minutes of music, is worth whatever enjoyment people get out of it in this sh***y, sh***y, sh***y time.

Totally. Have you found that there's been anything that has provided more comfort to you than you thought would have? Is there any sort of musical equivalency to comfort food?

I think maybe revisiting classics or finding a gem in some new music. Something that's recent that you're like, "Aw man I love this. This really good." Just playing music and Zooming with the band. We did this podcast thing. That was actually kind of really comforting too because we were all Zooming, did about four or five Zoom sessions for a couple hours. Just talking about the tour and Dominic was producing it and asking us questions and directing the thing. That was really fun just because, it was just us talking about this life that seems now, with everything we know about this virus and everything, how far away it feels. When you're on the road it's like everything that we've learned about this thing, it's like not-touring 101. It just made us realize, like sleeping in close quarters - everything about what we do. Talking about being on the road and these shows and where the songs came from and funny stories- it was really comforting it just reminded you that yeah, you are alive and these things, we've been able to do so many great things and we'll do them again. It might be a different capacity but who knows. Staying in touch with the band obviously, and new music to focus on and involve everybody in a different way.

Do you listen to radio?

I do! I listen to, on my hi-fi at home- my hi-fi, give me a break-

Thanks Dad!

It's like the anti hi-fi to be honest. But I listen to the classical station here, I turn it on sometimes. I listen to National Public Radio, I listen to WXPN in Philly. I tune in to The Current sometimes because I've known you guys for a long time. I listen to KEXP. Yeah I definitely listen, you know, when I'm in my car too, I'll listen to everything like local rock radio to internet radio. I do.

Do you think it's important, this is just a sort of softball question for you, what does public radio- what place does it serve, do you think, in people's lives? And what value is there

First of all I think it's very comforting. I've never listened to public radio, even since what seems like the divide has widened in this country, but I've never listened to public radio thinking I was getting anything other than just truth, you know what I mean? Without even really thinking about it. Covering local stories, covering national stories, and then also the music. Giving bands from all over a voice. Bands that are traveling through Minneapolis who are going to play to 35 people that night at the 7th Street Entry, it's like, they're gonna do a session with you guys, you know what I mean? And that's amazing, no one else is gonna do that. There's no other platform even maybe on the bigger SiriusXM stations. There's no other platform where a band juttin' around in a van is gonna have a platform to reach more people. There's just a really great network between these stations and independent promoters and universities and communities that I think is really important and it's probably taken for granted all too often. I think more people listen to stations like yours than people realize. How impactful public radio is for, on a music level, just for any level of band and really, any level of consumer. I'm sure in your area more people have heard us through The Current, through stuff on the YouTube than from the modern rock station, you know?

Yeah absolutely and it's just, it's just kind of an old school promotional tool where if you're in town and then you come by our studios and you play a session then we run it at 5 o'clock and somebody hears it in their car and goes, "G** damn I'm going to see 'em tonight." I mean, it really seems old school but it's, I like that about it too.

Well that was a perfect answer Adam and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about this, in this completely sh** show of a world right now, I appreciate it so much. And happy to see that you're creating and that you're moving forward and we just hop that we see you on the other side of this soon.

We definitely will, we'll see you on the other side.

External Link

The War On Drug - Official Site

Credits

Host - Mary Lucia
Technical Director - Eric Romani
Producer - Derrick Stevens
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza

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2 Photos

  • The War On Drugs, 'Live Drugs'
    The War On Drugs, 'Live Drugs' (Atlantic Records)
  • The War on Drugs
    Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs (Dustin Condren)

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