Psy­che­delic sol­diers

A rock band from Philadel­phia with the song­writ­ing brio of Tom Petty and the mu­si­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties of Sonic Youth, a love of vin­tage record­ing equip­ment and a pas­sion for synths, loops and sam­plers, The War on Drugs are a three-piece of con­tra­dic­tions, wr

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

SOME of us are old enough to re­mem­ber the War on Drugs. Not the band – they’ve only been to­gether a cou­ple of years, and our short-term me­mory hasn’t com­pletely gone yet. No, we’re talk­ing about the so-called War on Drugs in­sti­gated by the US gov­ern­ment to, er, crack down on potsmok­ing, coke-snort­ing, glue-sniff­ing, com­mie, pinko hip­pies.

Adam Gran­duciel was only a whip­per­snap­per in his na­tive Philadel­phia when the War on Drugs was in full swing dur­ing the 1980s, so he prob­a­bly wasn’t too con­cerned about any threat to his civil lib­er­ties. Th­ese days, the War on Drugs has mor­phed into the War on Ter­ror, but Gran­duciel has res­ur­rected the name for his band, a psy­che­delic, rootsy combo that con­jures up the spirit of such 1980s acts as Sonic Youth, The Re­place­ments and Tom Petty.

“With the name The War on Drugs, I al­ways thought I could record dif­fer­ent kinds of mu­sic un­der that name,” ex­plains Gran­duciel. “I didn’t feel it could be pi­geon­holed. Whether we recorded a stripped-down album, or an in­stru­men­tal album, the name could al­ways work. Ever since I first heard it, there was some­thing about it that ap­pealed to me.”

Iron­i­cally, the mu­sic on The War On Drugs’ de­but album, Wagonwheel Blues, is the per­fect sound­track for rolling up. Gran­duciel’s song­writ­ing evokes the wide ex­panses of the Amer­i­can fron­tier, but also the tripped-out sound of the West Coast cou­pled with the kind of loose at­ti­tude that can only come from liv­ing in the city of funk and soul.

In true Philly style, the band evolved nat­u­rally, says Gran­duciel, mov­ing smoothly through a num­ber of line-up changes be­fore set­tling into its gui­tar groove. “We were just shak­ing things up, play­ing around in clubs,” he re­calls. “But the whole time, re­gard­less of the live line-up, I was work­ing on a lot of songs and do­ing record­ings, and by early last year I had a good, solid band to­gether.”

Wagonwheel Blues sounds like a quintessen­tially south­ern album, but it’s in­formed by a deeply ex­per­i­men­tal approach to clas­sic Amer­i­can rock and coun­try, and an old-fash- ioned jam­ming men­tal­ity that sees many of the songs break out into long, psy­che­delic gui­tar wig-outs.

Such tunes as Arms Like Boul­ders, Tak­ing the Farm and Re­verse the Charges didn’t sim­ply emerge fully formed from the re­hearsal room, says Gran­duciel; they’re the re­sult of many record­ing ses­sions and live shows where ideas and riffs would get tossed around un­til they be­gan to take song shape.

“Yeah, I think it def­i­nitely evolved, like the song­writ­ing has evolved too – maybe I’d write it at home on an acous­tic, and then I’d bring it in and we’d get a dif­fer­ent feel to it live. And when we went to friends’ stu­dios to record – they were still home stu­dios, but you could turn the amps up real loud and ex­per­i­ment a lot more – a lot of that stuff kind of started to hap­pen.”

One el­e­ment there from the be­gin­ning, how­ever, was Gran­duciel’s ring­ing voice, which bears more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to the sharp, saw-blade tones of Tom Petty. For Gran­duciel, there’s no di­chotomy be­tween his pas­sion for Sonic Youth and the hard­core bands of Wash­ing­ton DC and his ad­mi­ra­tion for an all-Amer­i­can rock hero such as Petty.

“I feel an affin­ity with both. Grow­ing up, I lis­tened to Sonic Youth all the time, and

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