08/26/2011 10:23 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Drums Go for Broke


You would think that the Drums would just cheer the hell up already. 2010 was a very good year for the indie rock darlings. Their assured debut album, one of the best in recent memory, was released to mass critical hossanas. Their first single "Let's Go Surfing," with its jolly whistling refrain was near inescapable, and even popped up in a Lexus commercial. Granted, that song had the band lazily lumped in with last year's surf revival (Best Coast, Wavves, Surfer Blood) when really they have more common ground with the gloom titans of the eighties. Drums songs have all lyrical angst of Ian Curtis, Robert Smith and Morrissey at their most miserable, albeit set to a tune Justin Bieber could easily tap his Converse along to.

Yet despite all this out of the gate success, their catchy new single, "Money," is a sad lover's lament at having empty pockets. It's perfect for recessionary romeos and as emblematic of our post-Madoff times as Madonna's Material Girl was to the Reaganomics era. And the rest of the new album Portamento has more downbeat ditties, with songs like "I Need a Doctor, Hard to Love," and "Please Don't Leave" continuing where their debut left off in an even darker, more Wellbutrin worthy vein. But really, that's just the way we like Drums and frontman Jonathan Pierce, who chatted with me all about their fun new mopey opus.

The first single "Money" is fun-it's the perfect love song for the new fucked economy!
Haha, I've never heard it put that way, but that's great.

You're not still broke? Come on, you must be doing okay now, especially after "Let's Go Surfing" was used in a commercial!
You'd think I'd be a lot better off, but not really so much. The song's more about caring about someone and trying to get your shit together and failing, which I can relate to.

video for MONEY

Ah, the myth of bands getting rich off a hit record. I've heard this story many times before.
Something funny happened recently. I was eating in a restaurant, and Courtney Love came up to me, "You're the lead singer of the Drums, right? You know, you may get a song on the radio and sell some records but you will never be able to afford to own a house."

Words of wisdom from the Widow Cobain! Whatever, she inherited all her money from her dead husband's estate. Hole certainly didn't make her rich. Plus she spent most of it by now.
I actually know very little about Courtney Love.

It's probably best that way. The video for "Money" is funny, you gazing longingly into empty shop windows and hanging out in parks with guns.

We used to concept and direct all our own videos, so this time we handed it over to someone we trust and let them come up with it. As we progress it's all about being less of a control freak.

This album has quite a bit of talk of heaven and hell, and the lack thereof. You were home schooled in a very religious household, right?
I grew up in a strict Pentecostal family, both of my parents were church ministers in an upstate New York town called Horseheads....

Holy shit, really? That's quite a name for a town!
Yes. And we lived on the church grounds and there were all day revivals, speaking in tongues and fire and brimstone. It's taken me nearly 30 years to not fear the fires of hell anymore, I don't think I'm going there anymore. But you never know!


Anti Christ? Drums lead singer Jonathan Pierce feels the spirit on the cover of Portamento

The first song I ever heard by The Drums was "Best Friend." The lines, "you're my best friend, but then you died, and how will I survive," it hit me like a punch in the gut, because my best friend had recently died of cancer.
Ahh man I'm sorry, but thank you for sharing that, I'm really touched.

Thank you. I was like, who the hell writes pop songs about their friends dying? Yet there I was bopping along to it. What inspired that? Did that happen to you?
No I wrote that thinking of my lifelong best friend Jacob (Graham) who's in the band, so it's not really autobiographical. It was the first song we ever wrote.

That's part of your genius, your lyrics about death and heartbreak are married to the catchiest pop melodies ever. Hence all the Smiths comparisons.
Thank you. I'm always drawn to sad songs, movies, and books. The first album, the songs were each like little movies. We made the first album in a bubble with no one knowing what the Drums were. We never thought anyone would hear the first ep and album, we never thought we'd quit our day jobs.

Well we heard it. Congratulations on avoiding the sophomore slump curse.
A lot of bands try to do a creative 180 with the second album, get a big producer, change their sound, but we couldn't do that. And on Portamento I drew mainly from my life and experiences.

You've said that The Smiths "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" is perhaps the most perfect song. What Drums songs come close?
I'm very proud of "Down by the Water," "Best Friend," and "Book of Stories" from our first album, and off the new one "Money" and "In the Cold." I can actually step back and listen to and appreciate that one and think its very sad and beautiful.

It seems like 2010 was the year of surf music, with Best Coast, Wavves, Surfer Blood, and Beach Fossils. Why do you think that happened? Have you ever even surfed a day in your life?
Never. We wrote "Let's Go Surfing" in Florida right when Obama got elected, so it was really about that optimism and being elated.

In fact the chorus where you sing "Oh mama, I wanna go surfing," some think it sounds like you're saying "Obama."
Yes I know. But surf music on the whole is upbeat, happy music and we are living in such dark times it makes sense that this style of surf music got popular.

video for LET'S GO SURFING

Right as the band were taking off, your original guitarist Adam Kessler quit the band. What happened there, and have you recovered?
It was hard at the time but we just had to move on. I think it's like any job you take, he signed on and we didn't know what would happen, and all of the sudden there's all this pressure and I guess he didn't see himself doing this for the rest of his life. If I saw him on the street today I would probably walk up and give him a hug.

What do you find the worst trend in music at the moment? I hate all the damned autotuned voices, every "singer" sounds the same, like a fax machine going off.
When I listen to pop radio, which isn't very often, only really when I rent a car, every single song on the radio is about the same thing; partying, let's get dressed up, go to the club, lets dance, have a drink, party all night. Who writes this stuff? Is that all you have to say? I mean I like to party once in a while, but do we need all these silly songs about it?

Portamento is out September 13 on Frenchkiss records. Catch them on tour this fall (, and follow them on Twitter at @thedrumsforever.