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Escape Velocity

Too Good To Be True? The Drums Interviewed
Iain Moffat , February 16th, 2010 07:35

Iain Moffat talks to Brooklyn sensations The Drums about handling hype, stealing food and keeping things simple

As a seasoned season ticket holder at the bastion of the toilet circuit that is Camden's beloved Barfly, this correspondent's seen no end of abundantly-attended gigs there through the years, ranging from Gallows to the Polyphonic Spree, but rarely have they been helmed by as utterly overnight a sensation as this lot. Still, Universal have already signed up to the expectation that the Drums are likely to find themselves experiencing lots of hits, and, while their set may be surprisingly lacking in bangers, you can kind of see the point.

After all, the fearsome foursome have no shortage of inspired and dazzlingly diverse offerings up their not-yet-overly-immaculate sleeves, with 'I Felt Stupid' swinging mischievously on the Cure's coat-tails, and 'Submarine' shoving a boatload of dark minimalism into some dislocated doo-wop. And 'Let's Go Surfing', as you're probably well aware by now, is the most iconic whistleathon since 'Young Folks'. Of course, as is de rigeur in this age where Doherty-style sloppiness Will Not Do, they cut quite the dash too, comprising Jonathan Pierce on vocals (no, not of football commentary on Five fame, though he shares the former's exuberance), Adam Kessler on bass (no relation to Interpol's Dan beyond their moving-to-New-York-was-a-stroke-of-genius backgrounds as far as we know), Connor Hanwick on drums (or, as their MySpace cutely credits him, “the bangin'”) and Jacob Graham, the man who brings the sometimes-twangly, sometimes-jangly guitar. Not to mention All The Dancing In The World, if memory serves – that is you, right, fella?

“Yes, I suppose that's me! It's just something I've always done with this band, probably because I'm so happy with the way the songs have turned out that I can't really contain myself.”

That's certainly a sweet and satisfyingly riposte to the idea that, as has been suggested, the band are “too good to be true”. After all, a more cynical combo would be totally unfazed by performing one of the year's first major UK tours in the company of several more established critical darlings (most notably the formidable Big Pink), not as still thrilled as this...

“It feels really weird to be playing in front of two, three thousand people already; in fact, with all the other bands there, it actually feels like we're doing a festival. But we're doing it every night. It's amazing, cos 'Best Friend''s the first thing we wrote, and we only did that just over a year ago. We didn't even really exist as a band until May.”

That's right, readers: NINE MONTHS AGO. Two singles on the mighty Moshi Moshi label, year-end and year-beginning poll appearances aplenty, aforementioned major deal... The number of bands that have got through that much that fast could probably be counted on Abu Hamza's fingers – even at your most ambitious, surely you must have realised that, for most people, that's aiming just a touch on the high side?

“It didn't really seem possible to us either. We just took whatever crap jobs we could, played every show we got offered... The four of us were living in one room, even stealing food when we had to, but I don't think any of us had felt so good about the music we were making. We had to give it a shot. And, of course, it worked. It's snowballed really awkwardly since then, but I wouldn't change the pace of it at all.”

What's quite intriguing about you, though, is that, even for such a new band, this feels like a much steeper career curve than an actual learning curve...

“All of us have sort of been in bands before. Jonathan was actually in one [erstwhile Erasure tour-mates Elkland] that got signed to Columbia, but that turned out to be the classic story of boy gets signed too young, majors start interfering 'til it's really not about him any more. I think it's made a real difference, though, the fact that we've all got various degrees of experience in this industry. It's meant that we've been able to make good choices this time around. We can tell now if someone's genuine or if they're just looking to sensationalise you.”

And, of course, having been around the block somewhat, you're clearly much less inclined to feel part of any scene or hostage to fashionable influences. For instance, even though Peel might have carried on playing them into the mid-90s, it must be a good twentysomething years since anybody else banged on about The Wake at all, never mind to the extent that you lot have.

“But The Wake is absolutely the band that's influenced us more than any other. I think they're about as perfect as it's possible for a band to be. It's funny, people don't seem to know who they were in New York, but it's really surprised us that when we've gone on about them here no-one else seems to know them either! We stumbled across them a bit by accident, I must admit – we were all fairly obsessed with Factory Records and got it into our heads that it'd be great to hear everything the label put out. It wasn't really all for me, but now and again you'd find something that really leapt out, like them or the Stockholm Monsters...”

What's intriguing about that is that, as much as Factory really didn't have a particular label sound, that kind of singlemindedness could have easily led you to concentrate on a singular era or ethos, but, instead, there's a whole lot of cross-generational cherry-picking going on, which is already a little too fully-formed to be wholly haphazard. So what is the master plan, then, Jacob?

“I always feel like we've got a really clear vision for what this band is and where we're going, but whenever I try explaining it it always seems to sound incredibly vague! We're not interested in being the most original band in the world. Everybody seems to be involved in some sort of originality contest at the moment, but, really, who cares? What's wrong with just wanting to sound good? Mostly, we want to enjoy ourselves, and if we end up doing that with songs that don't sound anything like each other, that's fine with us too. I think that does happen, but I think there's a definite cohesion to what we're doing.”

And that would be...?

“What we're trying to do is strip pop songs back to the simplicity they had in the 1950s, but present them in a way that works now but without being annoying – we don't want to be overproduced, we don't want all the unnecessary stuff that goes into music, all we really want is to be entertaining and to keep this as personal as we possibly can.”

'Best Friend' is released on Universal Island on the 5th of April.