The War On Drugs

the mu­si­cal vi­sion­ary be­hind The War On Drugs, Adam Gran­duciel, talks tone and em­brac­ing spon­tane­ity on new al­bum, A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing

Total Guitar - - CONTENTS - Words Matt Frost Pho­tog­ra­phy Shawn Brack­bill

It’s been three years since Philadel­phian in­die-rock­ers The War On Drugs re­leased their break­through al­bum, Lost

In The Dream, and its fol­lowup, A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing de­liv­ers on the high ex­pec­ta­tions that awaited its re­lease.

Adam Gran­duciel’s soar­ing hook-laden songs and vast-sound­ing pro­duc­tion still man­age to ab­sorb the sonic in­flu­ence of AOR 80s he­roes like Spring­steen and The Water­boys, as 2014’s opus did be­fore, but this of­fer­ing ups the ante with a more live feel as well as some in­trigu­ingly left­field tones.

While multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist An­thony LaMarca con­trib­utes some beau­ti­ful six-string lines and voic­ings across the record, it’s Gran­duciel who once again takes cen­tre stage on the gui­tar front in the ex­panded six-piece out­fit. Armed with a bevy of favourite axes, cranked up amps and es­o­teric ped­als, Adam leads us into a unique sonic world where an ar­ray of re­verbs, de­lays and cho­rus bal­ance seam­lessly with beau­ti­ful melodic gui­tar breaks and emo­tive so­los.

A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing was laid down in var­i­ous stu­dios in New York and Los An­ge­les with record­ing en­gi­neer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Weezer, John Leg­end). Gran­duciel’s pro­duc­tion en­com­passes more of a band ap­proach than The War On Drugs’s pre­vi­ous al­bums, where Adam tended to work in com­par­a­tive iso­la­tion. Here he gives us an in­sider’s peek into the process...

What was your mu­si­cal vi­sion for A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing?

“Well, I knew I wanted to make it like I al­ways have [made our al­bums] by sketch­ing the songs out in the stu­dio, but then I also wanted it to feel a lit­tle bit more like we were on­stage play­ing to­gether. I wanted to get a lit­tle bit more spon­tane­ity and more live per­for­mances on the record and, at times, things like the bass, drums and the gui­tar so­los were all recorded live. In the past, we never re­ally had that kind of spon­tane­ity on record. When you start tour­ing, you play songs in a cer­tain way and then I start to feel like it’s tough to re­ally get lost in my play­ing. I was happy where I was at be­fore but you al­most feel like, ‘Oh, how do I get out of this box?’ I think record­ing new ma­te­rial and try­ing to get a spon­ta­neous thing go­ing in the room re­ally helped me end up in places on the gui­tar that I maybe wouldn’t have got to if I had just played the songs for a year.”

So there was quite a lot of jam­ming with the whole band dur­ing the writ­ing and record­ing process?

“Yeah, there was a lot of jam­ming and a good amount of writ­ing through re­hears­ing to­gether. Some­times it was a lit­tle more lay­ered – like the old way, where I’d start with a drum ma­chine and kind of layer parts and write them on the spot. We just did what­ever worked for a cer­tain song. The se­cond song Pain, Think­ing Of A Place and

Hold­ing On were all ini­tially cut live in the room. They were songs where we were in the mo­ment and weren’t re­ally think­ing too much about any­thing. Some­times, when you just kind of lose your­self in a song, you don’t know un­til days or weeks later that that take we did was ac­tu­ally re­ally mag­i­cal.”

You cover a plethora of bases from ef­fects-heavy drone sound­scapes through to beau­ti­fully-crafted lead parts and ev­ery­thing in­be­tween. From a gui­tar per­spec­tive, do you have any favourite, stand-out mo­ments?

“Some of my proudest mo­ments are just a lit­tle bit wilder, you know? I’m think­ing of the end of Pain and Think­ing Of A Place, the kind of stuff where I wasn’t re­ally over­think­ing it. I tend to think about so many dif­fer­ent things on a record­ing. I’ll be try­ing to tune into what the drum­mer’s do­ing, try­ing to keep every­one play­ing the groove and other things like mak­ing sure the piano’s in a nice pocket. Some­times it’s hard for me to just be the gui­tar player and lose my­self. When we’re do­ing takes, I’ll be treat­ing my gui­tar as an af­ter­thought like, – ‘Oh, I’ll prob­a­bly just redo this whole gui­tar part later on!’ So I’ll just go for it and maybe end up go­ing to places I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily try to get to usu­ally: not play­ing with that fear of hit­ting a bum note. Those bits can end up be­ing my most spe­cial parts be­cause I’m just kind of chan­nelling.”

How do you feel your ap­proach to tone has de­vel­oped over the years?

“I used to play a lot of acous­tic gui­tar and then, later, I started to play through an amp. In terms of tone and style, I’ve al­ways been in­flu­enced by a lot of dif­fer­ent play­ers. I love Nick Drake, Mike Bloom­field and Sonic Boom. I like those three a lot! As I checked out more mu­sic and got more ex­pe­ri­ence through ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent pieces of gear and dif­fer­ent gui­tars - that changed things. I’ve been lucky to get some cool sounds out of lots of dif­fer­ent gear over the years. I try to be dili­gent with my play­ing and I prac­tise a lot. I haven’t re­ally been able to put [the gui­tar] down since I played for the first time at 12 or 13. Ev­ery­thing’s al­ways de­vel­op­ing though. Some­times, I find that I’m stuck in a box but then it feels like I’ll just get one new trick or one new se­quence of notes and that kind of like opens it up for the next cou­ple of years.”

Did any new gear or ap­proaches end up help­ing to shape A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing?

“When we were mak­ing this last record we did a ben­e­fit show with Neil Young. For about two years, I’d had one of th­ese new Gretsch White Fal­cons but it didn’t have the Bigsby on it and I didn’t re­ally think too much about it. When we played this thing with Neil and he had the Bigsby go­ing on his White Fal­con, I just thought, ‘Why don’t I have a Bigsby on my White Fal­con?’ It just sounded like the most ex­pres­sive thing ever. So I had Fender put a Bigsby on it for me and that was the day be­fore we recorded

Think­ing Of A Place and Pain. That’s what I used on those recordings. I’d used one be­fore but not on that axe and it was just so fresh. I think I was over-us­ing it, but I was just so ex­cited! An­other thing was, ‘Oh, I re­ally want to get into feed­back’ so there were a few times where I tried to do more of that stuff on my ’66 [Gib­son] SG [see page 35]. I think it’s just about al­ways try­ing to grow.”

Aside from the White Fal­con and SG, what other gui­tars did you bring into play dur­ing the ses­sions?

“I played my ’72 Les Paul Deluxe a lot.

“there was a lot of jam­ming and writ­ing dur­ing re­hearsals”

That’s like my main gui­tar and I love it. I have this Gib­son amp from the 60s with a lit­tle 10" speaker and I would just roll all the tone off the Les Paul and put the tremolo on the amp and not use any ped­als ex­cept maybe a lit­tle bit of re­verb. Some of those sweet kind of dark, clink-y licks that are al­ways in the back­ground are that Les Paul. I have one of those new Jazzmas­ters that Fender gave me. I love that gui­tar and I’ve had it for a cou­ple of years. Every­one says, ‘Oh dude, you’ve got to get a vin­tage!’ but I’m like, ‘Yeah, vin­tage is good but this gives me a dif­fer­ent kind of thing, you know?’ You put it in the mid­dle po­si­tion and it’s re­ally bright and you can use it in a re­ally cool way. With acous­tics, my gui­tar tech lent me his Gib­son Hum­ming­bird and I used that a lot on the record and then I also used this white 80s Ja­panese Squier Strat with the sweet rose­wood neck. I used that all over the track Noth­ingToFind. That real clear chime-y kind of stuff is that gui­tar, and the SG. I did also use the White Fal­con.”

And what other amps did you utilise?

“I used my ’65 [Fender] Su­per Re­verb and then I had my Hi­watt [’74 Cus­tom 50] that I love, and my 70s Fender Vi­bro Champ. I did use that Gib­son amp and this 2x10 Gretsch amp a lot too. If I was us­ing my ped­al­board, I would al­ways have a DI go­ing to Shawn [Everett, record­ing en­gi­neer]. Usu­ally, I was record­ing with the small amps like the ‘Champ’ or the Gretsch. There was a 60s [Fender] Prince­ton in my stu­dio too so I’d use that a lot and then I have this re­ally cool 15" Marshall combo with re­verb and tremolo. I think they only made a cou­ple of hun­dred of them in the 70s be­cause they were over­heat­ing and were catch­ing fire. That gui­tar has a re­ally dark sound.”

There’s a droning swathe of ear-catch­ing ef­fects shim­mer­ing across the gui­tars on the al­bum. What are some of your go-to ped­als this time around?

“I guess my main thing was one of those Roland Cho­rus Echoes from the 70s. It’s like a tape echo with cho­rus built in. I plugged straight into that a lot. I also have this in­cred­i­ble homemade fuzz pedal that my friend Jesse [Tr­bovich], who plays in Kurt Vile and The Vi­o­la­tors, built for me. It’s a sil­i­con-based Fuzz Face and I just usu­ally plug the gui­tar right into that and then into what­ever pedal’s next in the chain. That just al­ways has this great thick sound. I bought this 70s (or 80s) blue [Elec­troHar­monix Deluxe] Mem­ory Man with mono in and mono out and the cho­rus on it is ridicu­lously beau­ti­ful, so I used that a lot. I also used dif­fer­ent tremolo ped­als – like the Stry­mon Flint. You can do a lot with that pedal. I’ve used it on synths, I’ve used it on gui­tar, I’ve used it on piano and I’ve used it on an aux­il­iary send. I also used my [Elec­troHar­monix] Deluxe Elec­tric Mis­tress for flanger ef­fects. Ac­tu­ally, I don’t re­ally do a lot of over­drive stuff. If I want an over­driven sound, I just turn the amp up and go to the bridge pick-up on my gui­tar or some­thing.”

The War On Drugs will be hit­ting the road again in Septem­ber and com­ing to UK shores at the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber. Have you fig­ured out your live rig yet for de­liv­er­ing the new songs?

“Well, I usu­ally have about 13 or 14 ped­als on my board and to­day I’m ac­tu­ally driv­ing out to see Bob Brad­shaw [Cus­tom Au­dio Elec­tron­ics], who’s the guy that builds my boards. We’re go­ing to work out what I’m go­ing to need for this next tour. I think I’m go­ing to use my vin­tage Su­per Re­verb and my Hi­watt 50-watt head go­ing into a Marshall 2x12 cab­i­net. Last cy­cle, I had two Fender Twins con­trol­ling my Les­lie sim­u­la­tor and a cou­ple of other ped­als but this time my friend’s build­ing this stereo amp for me, which is go­ing to take those ped­als. That set-up just kind of blasts things up at my back and it al­ways sounds re­ally good. It’s es­sen­tially like an over­sized dis­tor­tion pedal - if I want a boost, I’ll just turn on that ex­tra amp!”

A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing is re­leased on 25 Au­gust via At­lantic. The band play two nights each in Glas­gow, Manch­ester and Lon­don be­tween 9 and 14 Novem­ber

“i play my ’72 les paul deluxe a lot. That’s my main gui­tar and I love it”

Top left: The War On Drugs with Adam’s gui­tarist band­mate An­thony LaMarca pic­tured se­cond left

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