Interview: The War On Drugs' Adam Granduciel, On Being Lost in the Dream
By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 15, 2014 4:00PM
The War on Drugs will play the Metro on March 23, just days after the release of their third album, Lost in the Dream, which this writer is already confident will be regarded among the year’s best.
A decade after forming, the Philadelphia indie rock band, helmed by Adam Granduciel, continues to deliver an intricately textured, hazy take on Americana.
Lost in the Dream indeed sounds like an offering from inside of a journey, yet from a more expansive and direct perspective than previous releases.
There are lots of sonic surprises to unpack, strings and horns that reward you upon examining the carefully crafted layers, but it’s the kind of album you can jam on from end to end just letting it ride.
“I’m trying to be a lot more disciplined as a songwriter,” Granduciel told Chicagoist while walking around downtown Philly. “Instead of starting with textures or half-baked ideas I’ve been working on songs at home on my piano or playing a lot of guitar and coming up with little things," Granduciel said.
"I’m crafting it more than just layering a bunch of stuff and editing it or sticking another song on top of it," Granduciel said. "I’m trying to write more songs that I’ll still want to sing in five or six years. It’s more natural, a little more from the heart and less about soundscapes.”
Granduciel has acknowledged that Lost in the Dream was born out of a difficult period in his life, and this evocative yearning is rendered in the music. He explained that, even when feeling “cloudy or anxious” he strove to write what he was feeling, and focused more on the bigger picture.
“I was thinking about life in a bigger way than I ever had before. I was dealing with a lot of questions about my life like anybody probably does in their early thirties or whatever," Granduciel said. "Questions about your purpose and connection to people you’re in relationships with, romantic or friendships, how to find happiness, and just waking up in the morning.
"I was trying to make music while going through all of that and be honest with myself and write about it or at least write whatever perspective I was feeling at the time, ”Granduciel said.
Granduciel creates music that’s distinct and personal yet widely resonant. His aim wasn’t to write about specific events in his life, but to focus on emotional honesty while addressing life’s questions.
Nostalgia winds through the album, easy to isolate in some places like the nod to “Young Turks” on “Burning.” Other times it’s just a feeling, the vague memory of a mood conjured by rolling down the windows and feeling the sunshine on your face. Tracks like the first single, “Red Eyes” kick off the road trip by amping you up, while slow burners such as “Suffering” were written for nighttime reflection on deserted stretches of highway.
Interestingly, The War on Drugs is a band that doesn’t actually record together. Instead, Granduciel begins by working out demos at home and then invites members to record individual parts in the studio.
“I like to get the heart of every song, find it, record it, mix it, and really struggle to get that magic in,” Granduciel said. “Everyone on their own time is pushing stuff, learning it as the record progresses. Then when it actually comes time to sit in a room and play everyone gets the vibe of each song and knows the little tiny nuances.
"The point of the song just comes out immediately, which is good for me because then I can sing it a lot more emotively with more intensity than I did in the moments by myself, Granduciel said. "Obsessing over the recording to make a beautiful album is a really nice touchstone for where we start making songs as a live band.”
Obsession comes up often in conversation with the unassuming, affable musician. Yet his proudest moments on this album came from knowing when to key in on these instincts and when to overrule them. Granduciel was unhappy with the overblown recording of “An Ocean In Between The Waves,” and he decided to mix in his original demo of the song instead.
“I took the drums, the original guitar, and the original organ, everything that was giving it that midnight vibe that it had lost. I just honed in on that feel and we rerecorded the version that’s on the record in like a day and a half," Granduciel said.
"We did the vocal and a bit of a different arrangement pretty much just built upon the original tracks I did. It wasn’t like I knew exactly what I wanted it to sound like, but I knew exactly what I had lost," Granduciel said. "A lot of people thought I was crazy to go rerecord that song, but I just knew it didn’t feel like me when I listened to it You want to listen to your own music; I make it for me too, not just to press onto vinyl.“
When he felt unsatisfied with early recordings of “Eyes to the Wind,” Granduciel said he benefitted by outside perspective, via mixing from Nicolas Vernhes.
“He heard what I didn’t hear - that it was really beautiful, personal song. I was focused way too much on the build up here, or keyboard here, and Nicholas just put all that other stuff into the background That insight was one of my favorite moments,” Granduciel said.
Adapting an album recorded mostly by himself for a touring band has been refreshingly natural. For the first time, The War on Drugs is rehearsing in a dedicated space rather than Granduiel’s home. “It doesn’t sound exactly like the record but it sounds bigger and really spacious and open and glorious and really kind of musical,” Granduiel said.
Soon,Granduiel will test out those bigger sounds in spacious venues, including the Metro. After extended time off from the road, Granudciel is looking forward to touring again.
“There’s six people in the band, and everyone is pretty much my favorite musician in some way. I think the fans are excited and there’s no hype anymore with us," Granudciel said. "They know basically what they’re going to get and they just want us to come out and play naturally.
"I’m looking forward to just playing every night, sharing it, meeting people afterwards, and just putting some songs out there finally,” Granudciel said
Rather than evading one's self, Lost in the Dream feels like the soundtrack of getting found. On the other side of this transition we can expect a more self-assured Granduciel, with increased confidence in his songwriting and musical instincts. Maybe The War on Drugs hasn’t yet arrived, but, as with many journeys, the beauty lies in being along for the ride.