The War on Drugs front­man Adam Gran­duciel talks to JOHN MEAGHER about the band’s slow rise to the top, tak­ing his fa­ther on tour and why he re­grets not show­cas­ing their lat­est al­bum in Ire­land sooner

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

The ben­e­fits to be­ing in a crit­i­cally adored, glo­be­trot­ting, Grammy-win­ning band have been ex­haus­tively chron­i­cled, but it’s prob­a­bly fair to say that get­ting to take your oc­to­ge­nar­ian fa­ther on the ad­ven­ture of a life­time isn’t one of them.

For Adam Gran­duciel, front­man and chief song­writer of The War on Drugs, the band’s hard-earned suc­cess means that his 85-year-old dad gets to live like a young man again, and travel all over the US, tour­ing with his son and get­ting to bask in the glory of be­ing with the band.

“It’s been great,” he says, chat­ting on the phone while driv­ing through the streets of his newly adopted home of Los An­ge­les, “and he re­ally likes the guys in the band. But for me, be­ing able to spend time with my fa­ther on the road, and for him to see us in con­cert so of­ten has been one of the re­ally lovely and un­ex­pected as­pects of all of this.”

Gran­duciel Snr wasn’t al­ways a fan of The War on Drugs.

“He hadn’t much in­ter­est in rock mu­sic, es­pe­cially when we were start­ing out, but as we started to get bet­ter known — and bet­ter at what we were do­ing — he took an in­ter­est and re­ally got into it — and some of those mu­si­cians that peo­ple say we sound like.” Names like Bruce Spring­steen and Tom Petty have been bandied about for sev­eral years now and that’s mainly be­cause The War on Drugs do a bril­liant line in heart­land rock. There’s much more to their sound than that, not least a thrilling psy­che­delic strain, but theirs is deeply per­sonal, af­fect­ing mu­sic that sounds like it could only have been made by Amer­i­can mu­si­cians.

In an age where rock seems to have been pushed out of the lime­light, they’re a re­minder of how com­pelling the best gui­tar mu­sic can be and their last two al­bums, Lost in the Dream (2014) and A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing (2017) are among the finest rock al­bums of the decade. The lat­ter was this critic’s best al­bum of last year.

But their rise to the top was a long time com­ing. Their story be­gan in 2003 when Gran­duciel moved to Philadel­phia and met an­other as­pir­ing mu­si­cian, Kurt Vile. They formed an in­stant bond and quickly set about record­ing songs to­gether. But their early live shows, the front­man says with a chuckle, would not have im­pressed au­di­ences.

“When it came to play­ing live,” he says, “we just weren’t very good. I can look back now and see that and, to be hon­est, I knew it at the time, too. But when your con­fi­dence grows and you play more and more shows, and big­ger shows, you start get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter to the point where you go, ‘You know what? We’re ac­tu­ally good at this’.”

Af­ter a promis­ing de­but and a hand­ful of EPs, Vile quit to pur­sue mu­sic out­side the band — and his solo work has en­joyed con­sid­er­able crit­i­cal ac­claim. The loss of such a piv­otal mem­ber could have ham­pered the growth of many bands, but it seems to have gal­vanised Gran­duciel. The sec­ond full-length The War on Drugs al­bum, Slave Am­bi­ent (2011), cap­ti­vated the at­ten­tion of many, in­clud­ing The Na­tional who used one of its key tracks, ‘Broth­ers’, as the in­tro mu­sic on their Trou­ble Will Find Me tour.

But it wasn’t un­til Lost in the Dream that The War on Drugs moved on to the next level. “We were proud of the work we had done on that al­bum but had no idea that it would have a con­nec­tion with so many peo­ple,” he says. “I still can’t tell you why it has res­onated so much, that and A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing, too.”

The lat­ter al­bum has been their most ac­claimed of all and won the Grammy for Best Rock Al­bum. “Is there any mu­si­cian who doesn’t dream about such an ac­co­lade when they start their band?”

He be­lieves that a slow, steady build is ul­ti­mately health­ier that in­stant suc­cess. “We’re cer­tainly old enough now to take it in our strides,” the 39-year-old says. “And it’s a good thing for other bands to see. It’s not just about mak­ing a first great al­bum. You can de­velop in a more old-fash­ioned way. That’s how I like it.”

Gran­duciel has spo­ken in the past about be­ing crip­pled by anx­i­ety and panic at­tacks, in­clud­ing when it came to play­ing live shows, and it’s dif­fi­cult not to sus­pect that many of their most cel­e­brated tracks, such as ‘Un­der the Pres­sure’ and ‘Pain’ are con­cerned with his fight to man­age that anx­i­ety.

“I put a lot of my­self into my songs, but not ev­ery­thing,” he says. “And I like to write about char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions they might find them­selves in. It’s 50-50, I guess.”

Much of that anx­i­ety stemmed from tour­ing Slave Am­bi­ent re­lent­lessly and then feel­ing dis­ori­en­tated when com­ing off the road. A split with a girl­friend at the time didn’t help, ei­ther, but to­day Gran­duciel says he has be­come ac­cus­tomed to the de­mands of be­ing away from fam­ily and friends for long pe­ri­ods.

The War on Drugs have been on the road al­most con­stantly since A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing came out last Au­gust and they’re set to head­line the Bul­mers For­bid­den Fruit fes­ti­val

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