Interview: The War on Drugs 

click to enlarge The War On Drugs

Tuesday, Dec. 6 at Radio Radio

The War On Drugs is working to change the negative connotation associated with the name of an interminable and failed policy by the federal government.

The Philly-based band is doing so through a mix of illusory sonics and loud, bedraggled guitar that somehow manages to sound both timeless and fresh. But singer/songwriter/guitarist Adam Granduciel admits getting there can be a struggle.

“It’s not like (the songs) come quickly and have a clear vision from the start,” he said during a recent phone interview. “I let them evolve over time.”

The process for Slave Ambient, The War on Drugs’ second full-length, was “legendarily chaotic.” Granduciel didn’t think the songs were done when others did.

“I kept trying to move in a particular direction, kept waiting on the songs to feel special to me,” he says. “I was searching for a sound, but for each song to have its own identity too.”

Granduciel isn’t a tyrannical perfectionist either. He knew Slave Ambient, released on Bloomington’s Secretly Canadian, would have layers and samples —reaching grandiose heights at times. Even though he admits to obsessing in the creative process, Granduciel still believes he knows when a song is done.

“I know when I get to a place where I’m happy with everything,” he said. “Sometimes you can only work on something so much.”

The War on Drugs - Come to the City by yvynyl

It’s been enough to elicit comparisons of the quartet to luminaries as disparate as Bruce Springsteen and My Bloody Valentine, and of course Dylan. The latter one is just fine with Granduciel. He was a Dylan acolyte when he moved to Philadelphia from Oakland in the early 2000s and started The War On Drugs with Kurt Vile. He’s also quick to note such comparisons are more likely because of the musical style, its delivery and its verbosity, rather than any overall greatness.

“I don’t think there’s any real comparison there, but I’d like think I sing with a certain level of conviction too,” Granduciel said.

click to enlarge The War On Drugs band

After two albums (beginning with 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues) and a few EPs, The War on Drugs started developing enough of a live reputation that fans started telling Granduciel he sounded different on stage than in recordings. Initially he was offended; he later decided against being so.

“As you grow as a writer and performer, you start to approach all your music like it’s new and fresh instead of just going through the motions. That’s something I’ve learned from watching Dylan’s career. He’s always reinterpreting stuff as he grows as an artist. That’s where I’d like to be.”

Granduciel remains the only original member in the group. Vile left after Wagonwheel Blues to start a solo career; both are still friends. Other wholesale personnel changes didn’t adversely affect the creation of Slave Ambient, Granduciel says, because The War On Drugs has never operated as a proper band outside of touring.

“If anything, that’s given me the ability to do whatever I want to do,” he said, adding that this is the first year the lineup has ever been constant. “We’ve toured a lot since March with the same four people. It’ll be exciting in the future to see how that dynamic changes the next record — everyone working on it together.”

Granduciel also takes credit (or blame) for the group’s moniker, something he suggested before there were any expectations of success. He’s heard numerous complaints that their name can’t be typed into a search engine without pulling up an overkill of government propaganda, though that’s solved by adding the word “band” (“You just have to think harder for one second”).

“Sometimes people will ask if I’m for or against [drugs],” Granduciel says. “I’m hoping the more they hear us, the less they’ll think of the term’s origins.”

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