The War on Drugs interview: Lost in darkness but saved by the music

Writing his latest album proved therapeutic for The War on Drugs’ mainman –and chart success is a bonus

Adam Granduciel pulls out his smartphone to show off brochure-styles snaps of the view from a dressing room at a festival in Tromso, Norway - “north of the Arctic Circle” he explains, pointing at a vista of blue sea and sky.

Granduciel, the figure behind one of the albums of 2014, is describing his current itinerary – and hinting at the disorientation of the fast-moving festival circuit. Just a day after he took the souvenir photos we are meeting in a Portakabin backstage at Britain’s own Latitude. The Suffolk festival may have its own bucolic sights, not least multicoloured dyed sheep, but the view of other temporary structures from his green room lacks the same glamour.

Still, invitations to Europe’s far north and placings higher up the bill show the Philadelphia-based musician is on the up. Recording as The War on Drugs, Granduciel has developed an expansive alt-rock sound that now comes with a more classic feel. While his second album, 2011’s Slave Ambient, was a critical smash, it is this year’s follow-up, Lost in the Dream, that broke through commercially, cracking the UK Top 20 – and is likely to feature in many a “best of 2014” list at the end of the year.

Granduciel has admitted Lost in the Dream’s melancholic feel came from a mental collapse that led to bouts of depression and paranoia, so questions about how he is coping with the extra workload have extra edge. Leaning back on a sofa in jeans and leather jacket, the solo artist looks composed enough: “I just feel a little more exhausted than normal, a little more fried, just because there’s a lot of flying.” Granduciel, though, is keen to emphasise he also enjoys his new-found success. “People are really connecting with the record as a whole or certain songs, instead of the idea of a cool band. Everyone has a favourite song and that’s a beautiful thing for me. In the past, that wasn’t necessarily happening.” Something of a late starter, the 34-year-old Massachusetts native’s music career began properly once he moved to Philly in 2003 and fell in with fellow Dylanophile Kurt Vile.

As the pair played in each other’s groups, Granduciel became known for his fluid guitar playing and intricate studio work, leading to the success of Slave once he and Vile went their separate ways (he, too, has since enjoyed wider acclaim). Touring that album for a year and a half, Granduciel finally returned home at the end of 2012 only to suffer a relationship break-up and face insecurity about his ability to return to the studio. The musician is at pains to point out he was not worried about replicating Slave’s success, but after years working on instinct, he began second-guessing himself.

“You get sucked into just doing this thing, fucking around playing guitar, recording in my bedroom, playing with friends, then you realise you’re 33 and don’t have anything else. What have you been chasing? Everyone else in my circle is, like, ‘you’ve made it’, but here I am after a 13-year period back in the same house and no one there with me.” Granduciel was back at square one, five years since he had been in his comfort zone – recording songs late at night in his bedroom. “I was overcome by fear. Do I still have what it takes? Do I still have that magic in my fingertips?”

He eventually found himself writing what would become a key album track, “Red Eyes” – one of several that would capture his isolation and misery, along with “Under the Pressure” and “Suffering” – though his insecurities continued to grow. “I started getting obsessed with the idea of, ‘what if I don’t get to finish [the song] or present this body of work?’” He mentions bouts of depression and paranoia that suggest a medical diagnosis, though, when asked about this, the talkative artist becomes more taciturn. “Well, yeah, and I read a lot about it too. I’ve lived with it my whole life and I’ve realised what it is in the past year.” This was the bulk of 2013 that Granduciel spent writing and recording Lost in the Dream. As a multi-instrumentalist, he played “80 per cent” of the music himself, another way of adding pressure to proceedings.

In such a situation, knowing when you have finished can be difficult and Granduciel talks about “getting inside” a record, that feeling when you know what is right. On starting the process, he tried to recreate the sound of the live band that had accompanied him around the world over the previous 18 months, which explains the addition of piano and saxophone for a warmer sound. Along with the clean production that gives the feel of eighties FM rock, this balances the darkness of his lyrics, giving the wistful sense of hanging on to summer’s lazy days and long evenings.

Granduciel recognises the Eighties feel is one part of his melange of influences, notably Tears for Fears and Roxy Music, alongside Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Nirvana and Sonic Youth. “People say that artists try to revisit the first years of their life through their whole career. I know there are production styles I gravitate towards and maybe they are rooted in certain sounds, but what I’ve liked over my whole life, it’s been all over the place. [Lost] feels more confident and I spent a lot of time in the studio.”

He also feels positive about returning home after promoting Lost. “It’s just about accepting what it all is and being more communicative with people in my life, bandmates and significant others, about what we wanna do together. It’s unhealthy to keep wanting to isolate myself. Changing how I make music and letting more people in, I’d be happier with life in general.” So rather than create the illusion of his band playing, he might have them perform on the next album? Granduciel’s inner perfectionist returns to the surface. “Yeah, but I might have to scrap it.” He laughs while saying it, though.

‘Lost In The Dream’ is out now on Secretly Canadian. They play Liverpool O2 Academy on 4 November, then tour

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past