“Whenever we play in Ireland, people always say to me that we sound like The Waterboys”
indie rock kid when I was in high school. I’ve been listening to people like Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and John Mellencamp all my life.
“There are definitely things about Springsteen which I’ve loved and enjoyed since I was little, like Born in the USA and The River and the synth sounds on My Hometown, and I want to try to get some of that in some capacity in my music.
“Techniques have broadened. If you’re making guitar-based rock music in 2012, you probably grew up listening to a bunch of stuff from new wave to classic rock. Your frame of reference is very broad compared to what used to be the case. Nowadays, you’re looking back at so much stuff so it’s inevitable that the references informing your music will be varied.”
Putting the album together took three or four years. “It took so long because I was searching for a certain sound which I wasn’t able to locate for a long time because I didn’t know exactly what I was after,” laughs Granduciel.
“The musicians and the engineers must have thought I was lost because they thought the album was done, but I was just so unsure. I had images in my head of how the songs should sound and I just couldn’t find a way through. In the end, I went back to earlier mixes and drafts to find the feeling I was after to blow people’s minds. I know it’s a little crazy to realise I probably spent all those extra weeks in the studio recording to then go back to the first recording, but what are you going to do? Hey, at least I could pay for the studios.”
Granduciel also learned to trust others during the Slave Ambient process. “I’ve realised I can never express what I want in the way I really want to the people I work with. I’ll say to someone ‘more blue’ and they’ll go ‘what the fuck are you on about? I’m playing a piano here’. What I’ve learned is to just get people to play what they want to play and see what happens. Instead of trying to explain what I wanted from the songs, we just played them and these little things and sounds and worlds opened up. It’s exciting to relinquish control now and then to see what happens.”
For Granduciel himself, the success of Slave Ambient means he can continue to make a living from music. “This wasn’t the case for a long time,” he says.
“I used to go to work and when I’d come home, I’d jam with friends and record. But once I got my feet in the water and released records and started to tour, the music took over. I think it becomes serious when touring becomes serious. Your confidence and ability as a player improves. You feel this connection to what you’re doing and it comes through when you’re working on new songs. If I hadn’t spent so much time playing guitar and writing songs, I don’t think we’d have made the record we made.”
Thoughts have already turned to the next record, and Granduciel promises it won’t take as long this time around. “We went into studio a few days ago and recorded some incredible songs. Slave Ambient took me so long to do that I missed so many deadlines and so many people were concerned about if I’d ever get it finished. I don’t think I could make another record like Slave Ambient because it was just too much time and too intense. But the lessons I learned about myself as amusician and recording techniques will always be there. The songs we’re recording sound great, they sound like War on Drugs songs already.”
Those who go to see The War On Drugs in Dublin this weekend can look forward to some special cover versions. “Whenever we play in Ireland or the UK, people always say to me that we sound like The Waterboys, so about six months ago, I bought every Waterboys record I came across and just played them non-stop. A Pagan Place is one of the best records I’ve ever heard. I want to cover A Pagan Place and maybe The Thrill is Gone live in Dublin.”