The Drums' Jonathan Pierce on the Benefits of Being Pure at Heart

By Bryan Grogan, November 8, 2019

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The Drums exploded onto the indie rock scene in 2009, with a slew of ultra-catchy tracks like ‘Forever and Ever Amen,’ ‘Best Friend’ and ‘Let’s Go Surfing.’ Young and still experimenting with their sound, the band were caught off-guard by suddenly being catapulted to fame. Follow-up albums like Portamento, which was released in 2011, just a year after their debut, didn’t capture the public’s imagination quite as much and the band began to splinter. 

Fast-forward eight years and Jonathan Pierce, the charismatic blonde lead singer of the band is the sole member of The Drums. While The Drums could never be accused of not making personal, intimate tracks, the latest album from Pierce, Brutalism, sees him connect with the music of his childhood, revisiting the ’90s and moving away from the band’s signature indie pop sound. 

We caught up with Pierce to talk about his songwriting process, finding ways to be more vulnerable and how he is now much happier making music alone ahead of the band’s three-date tour around China. 

Pierce doing his best Morrissey impression. Image via The Drums/Facebook

Is this your first time to visit China?
I’ve played a few different shows in China over the years and every time I get invited to return I feel lucky. I think what’s most exciting to me is that China is a place that I don’t get to go to often and whenever I do, I find people with the same hopes, fears, and dreams as I have. It reminds me that no matter where we are from, we are all part of this beautiful and sometimes terrifying thing called life. It’s about the music, yes, but it’s about the human connection too.

What band will you bring to China?
There are four of us on stage. Vocals, guitar, bass, and a drummer who also runs our electronic section. I’ve known all of these players for years. They are like my family. To me, this is the best incarnation of the band. I don’t plan on making anyone an official member of the band. The Drums is just me. I hope I can keep the live band as it is for a long, long time.

Are you happier making and writing music alone, or would you prefer to have other members to work on ideas with?
When the others left years ago, it felt like a door opened. It started my journey of self discovery. I spent a lot of time alone. I mean a lot! I was so used to trying to keep everyone in the band happy, that I really forgot about myself. I was insecure and wanted their approval – and I was willing to do almost anything to get their approval. I’m a very different human now. I do what I want and I love myself. I approve of myself. When they left, I was handed power – or maybe I should say the power that was always inside me started to stir. I found myself rediscovering my love for music. I no longer had anyone to answer to. It ultimately was a huge gift of freedom.

Is it challenging to be the person carrying the music? Do you see a future when you leave The Drums moniker behind?
Like I said, it was a gift to be alone – even if it was scary at first. I have all the power and creative energy that I need. I feel it is an endless supply. Will I ever leave The Drums behind? I don’t know. I try not to think about the future very much and just be in the present. I kind of just do what I want when I want to. My goal is not to rule the world, its just to make something meaningful.

I remember in advance of your second album, Portamento, you spoke about moving away from being reliant on hooks. I think with the new album, Brutalism, there is less of a structured, calculated feel to the music, and more free flow experimentation. Was this intentional?
I dunno, I think it’s still pretty pop-oriented. I think the real change was in the sounds. Less of an ‘indie’ feel and a bit more lush. A bit more in your face. Also, it was a record where I dug into my musical fetishes like the breakbeats of the mid ’90s and implementing a lot of my first love: the synthesizer. I grew up in the ’90s and listened exclusively to electronic music and so, I think this record was me going back to being a kid and playing with the sounds that formed my tastes. It was a personal reclaiming of sorts.

“I found myself rediscovering my love for music. I no longer had anyone to answer to. It ultimately was a huge gift of freedom”

Brutalism is a nice heavy, symbolistic word. Why did you choose it to name the album?
It was the first record where I took away the playfulness mostly, and decided to be straightforward and stark. I might be playful again one day and you can certainly dance to it, but I just wanted to spill my guts on this one.

Thinking about the music that you are making as The Drums today, how do you look back on the early records that the band made?
When I made the early records, I really didn’t know what I was doing – it was my first time playing guitar in my life, but I liked the sound I had come up with – so I ran with it. I had no money and came from a very difficult childhood and was very stunted in my maturity level. I was very insecure and I found myself sort of hiding myself behind the music. It’s taken some time, but I feel I’m in a place of vivid self discovery and learning so much about myself. I’ve learned that showing the world who I am and being transparent and making my self vulnerable is my path to happiness – it’s yours too by the way. I’m trying to put that in my songs. For my latest album, Brutalism, I was brutally honest and direct. I didn’t use much humor in the album, like I sometimes do. I was feeling sad, anxious, lonely and scared and I wanted to talk about it directly. The more honest I am, the more fulfilling my work is.

In terms of songwriting, how has your appreciation for what amounts to a good song changed throughout the years?
I used to have all these rules about what makes a good song. For me, it really just boils down to sincerity. If you are being sincere, I think the chance you’ll write a stunning song is much greater – no matter what the genre.

Shenzhen: Nov 13, 8.30pm; RMB300 presale, RMB350 door. Hou Live. See event listing. Tickets
Shanghai: Nov 14, 8.30pm; RMB300 presale, RMB350 door. Mao Livehouse. See event listing. Tickets.  
Beijing: Nov 15, 8.30pm; RMB300 presale, RMB350 door. Tango. See event listing. Tickets

[Cover image via Showstart]

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