The Drums - Getting their kit on...

The Drums have survived a huge storm of media hysteria to become the real deal. By Gillian Orr
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The Independent Culture

It's all too easy to be crushed under the weight of expectation – and perhaps no band this year has had greater expectations thrust upon them than the Drums.

At the beginning of 2010 a quasi-hysterical music press practically announced the New York four-piece to be the saviours of guitar music, despite only having a couple of UK gigs and one EP under their skinny belts. Following a period of the charts being dominated by electro ladies, it was felt the public were ready for an old-school band to fall for. Some commentators hadn't been so excited about a group since the Strokes exploded a decade ago. It didn't hurt that the Drums were equally stylish and good-looking. But it was always going to be tough for them to live up to the hype.

And in a way they haven't. That's not to say they haven't had a hugely successful year – or that they aren't perfectly thrilled with the position they are in. But the Drums aren't perhaps as ubiquitous as they had been predicted to be twelve months ago. And that's down to the band, really.

Not wanting to be some flash in the pan, the Drums have been mindful with their choices; what projects to do and who to collaborate with. In a sign that they are carefully cultivating a loyal following, they insist they would prefer to play to a room of 300 dedicated fans than to 10,000 indifferent revellers. They are in this for the long haul.

Still, the boys have had an incredible year: they released their self-titled debut album this summer; toured the world; recorded a song with one of their heroes, Edwyn Collins; played to a 70,000-strong crowd in Hyde Park, supporting Kings of Leon and won the Phillip Hall Radar Award at this year's NME Awards. They have also gathered an impressive list of musical heavyweight fans, including Morrissey and Boy George.

I first met the band as a foursome in a pub in West London back in August. Over beers they chatted happily about the life-changing journey they were on together. Then, the following month, two days before their first headline tour of America, the band announced that their guitarist and long time friend, Adam Kessler, had decided to leave the band.

The Drums frontman, Jonathan Pierce, later fills me in on the phone from Milan: "After two years of being on the road I think it got to be a little bit too much for Adam. I think when he joined the band, his idea of what would happen with us was very different from what actually happened. We all had no idea what to expect.

"I thought we'd play a few shows here and there and maybe put out an album on a small indie label but it went drastically differently; kind of the opposite of that. We haven't been home in two years, really."

While he's upbeat about Kessler's departure, the signs that he has been hurt by a close friend are evident when the sweet-natured and sensitive Pierce announces that none of the band have seen or spoken to Kessler since the late night phone call came.

"We don't know what he's doing or anything. I'm not interested in knowing what he's up to. As natural as it felt for all four of us to come together, it was that same sort of natural feeling when he left."

Pierce certainly isn't worried about their future. In fact, he's positively raving about it. They have no plans to replace Kessler, choosing to continue as a threesome, although they've been joined on tour by another friend, Tom Haslow. "We've already started writing songs for the new album and we like them better than anything that was on the first album. It's really exciting for us and it feels like maybe if Adam had stuck around we wouldn't have written these songs. It's one of those things that seems like a bad thing but ends up being a blessing in disguise."

He goes on: "Adam just doesn't come up – at all. And I think that's a testament to how much he actually contributed to the band really. I'm not trying to throw him under the bus or anything, but I want to be realistic about him leaving."

The Drums formed in 2008, after guitarist Jacob Graham convinced Pierce to move down to Florida to form the band that they had talked about putting together since they were younger. Pierce had been in various bands with limited success and was working odd jobs in New York, feeling depressed. Kessler and drummer Connor Hanwick completed the line-up. The quartet lived together in Florida for the summer, totally broke, working on their music.

The band specialise in post-punk tunes that you can dance to. Influenced by the Eighties Manchester scene as well as Sixties girl groups, their insanely catchy melodies belie their lugubrious subject matter and lyrics about lost loves and lost innocence. The result is Tony Wilson meets Phil Spector.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on their new double A-side single. Me and the Moon, with its up-tempo beats and cutting observations ("You still sleep with your back to me"), is reminiscent of the Eighties British scene they so admire.

Pierce says : "I think of all the songs that we've released, this is the closest to a straight up, in-your-face pop song. There's no experimentation going on; it's just a simple, sad pop song.

"That's kind of what we go for; these pop songs that are pretty easy to relate to and sing along to."

The other song on the double A-side is Down by the Water. The stark arrangement and echoing vocals is their nod to the girl groups of the Fifties and Sixties. Appropriately, the boys even recreated the Shangri-La's Out in the Streets video for their own promo.

The Drums are currently in the middle of their European tour. Performing at London's Kentish Town Forum last week, they were dynamic. Pierce is a hypnotising frontman and his extraordinary dancing and energy whips the crowd into one dancing mass. The atmosphere is one of frivolity and merriment. It's strange that, essentially, we are all cavorting to someone's heartbreak and loneliness. What pleases them the most, the band say, is when someone relates to one of their songs. This is not a band who idly gushes about their fans, only to later get people booted out of backstage. They enjoy a close relationship with their supporters and often mix with them.

Graham recalls: "At T in the Park we came off stage and were in our trailer and this kid knocks on our door and was like: 'I just jumped over five fences and ran from 10 security guards to get here to meet you.' That sort of stuff is really special to me."

Pierce continues: "It sounds really cheesy but at the end of the day the only thing that is really, truly important is human relationships, so if you can somehow affect someone else's life in some way, I think that's the coolest thing."

Fans aside, has the pressure ever got to them this year?

"The only pressure we have is the pressure of time," says Pierce. "To get things done. We've been really, really busy. But as far as pressure of what people think of us or what people will say, it's not even a thought. I can say that really sincerely."

He goes on: "I think the only time we are ambitious is when we're recording songs. We want to write the best songs that we can. As far as trying to make it big, that was never a goal of ours. But at the same time we're not going to shun opportunities that come our way because we love the music we're making and really believe in it."

After the tour they plan to go back into a studio. A lot has changed since recording their DIY debut. How will this affect their music? "So far the new album is intensely personal and somewhat painful but the sounds are very similar," says Pierce. "The content is on a more serious note really."

Graham explains: "So many bands are so all over the place and other bands are consistent throughout their whole career so every album might sound pretty much the same.

"But that's why you love that band. We want to be a band that you can count on. That you put on any song from any one of our albums and it will make you feel a certain way."

The boys told me that their favourite ever gig was when they first played in the UK, at the Flowerpot in London. When I later tell Pierce that the venue has recently been closed down, he sighs: "I heard. It's sad to happen to a place where so many cool bands started. Nothing lasts forever, that's what I keep telling myself. You have to not expect much in life and enjoy things while you can because, sadly, the best things are always the things that don't last."

Hopefully this isn't some self-fulfilling prophecy but, then, if you're familiar with their music, you'll know that the Drums aren't always ones to look on the bright side of life.

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