Two years after 2017’s Abysmal Thoughts, New York surf-rock act The Drums are back with their fifth LP, Brutalism, which is slated for a release on April 5. Brutalism, which is the second LP Jonny Pierce has released since taking on The Drums as a solo project, was written while bouncing between New York and California. It followed a difficult time in Pierce’s life, where he went through a divorce and lived alone in Los Angeles, the album deals with themes of self-care.
Ahead of the album’s release and supporting tour, L’Officiel USA caught up with Pierce, to discuss the recording process, and how it has evolved since becoming a solo artist, his motivations behind creating this album, his inspirations and what he’s looking forward to on the road.
This is the second record you’ve released since The Drums became a solo project. How has the writing and recording process changed for you?
I think my level of openness has increased and not just in my personal life, but in my work as an artist. I’ve spent the last ten years working elbows-out for the most part. I think I was afraid to let down my guard and collaborate for fear that my sound would be altered too much and that the music would lose all sense of identity. My sound is delicate, and I was worried about disrupting that, but I’ve learned that we operate out of two things: fear and love. I realized that guarding my sound was less about loving my it, but rather a reaction to a fear of change. Because I’ve been riding on a big self-help wave, I decided to operate out of love this time around.
I worked with people I trust to help me write, record, mix and engineer the album. That breathed new life into every aspect of the sound, and I still believe we maintained the heart of The Drums. Collaborating relieved me of some of the workload and created space for me to focus on messaging, so my lyrics are more on point with what I was feeling. It’s funny, sometimes the things you fear most in life become the greatest gift. I think the key is remaining open and curious. Sometimes that takes courage because being open involves risk, but any other path seemed to be winding towards an artistic graveyard.
Brutalism explores self-care. What pushed you to focus on that theme?
Today, I’m a firm believer in reflecting your life in your art. I don’t really see the point of art if there is no real message in it. When I started work on Brutalism, I was already knee deep in the self-care world. I had been going to therapy, changing my nutritional habits, exercising, and trying very hard to travel less. All of these things were new to me and they helped me create a space to confront my innermost demons - depression, anxiety, loneliness, and insecurity. Rather than push through life with a blind eye towards my woundedness, I was finally looking at my challenges in the face, and I needed to write about all of it.
When you write, do you mostly draw from personal experiences?
Both Abysmal Thoughts and Brutalism are based on my personal experiences and feelings. I was brought up with pastors for parents and they homeschooled me, so my science books were all sourced from the Bible. We were taught that the earth is only 6,000 years old.. My parents didn't put us through college or even mention it, so I grew up street smart but not necessarily book smart. Because of that, I’ve had a constant yearning for non-fiction in art and in real life.
Additionally, I’ve always wanted to be more matter-of-factly in my writing, but I felt I wasn’t allowed to be when I wasn’t a solo act. I always felt pressure to write more whimsically. On the first records, I mention things like watching an icicle melt in my hand or wanting to go surfing, which was all fictional. Those songs were sad, and the sadness was real, but I was adding extra poetic fluff to liven up the narrative. But I’m a solo act now. I don't need to answer to anyone and I don’t want to liven anything up now. Life is lively enough and it's full of difficulties and some blissful moments. I want to talk about them as they are and as they happen. I feel it’s my responsibility.
Do you ever have writer’s block? What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
I don’t really have traditional writer's block. There is always plenty to talk about. I do, however, keep myself from writing sometimes for fear that I won’t do a good enough job, which is out of insecurity. I can spend all day pacing back and forth in my studio space knowing I have something good to commit to tape, but there is something that holds me back. I always get around to it though, and it’s usually better than I had imagined once I start. I have to remember those moments and when I’m afraid, tell myself that I was afraid before, but that I tackled it and triumphed.
Are there any artists or records you were listening to during the making of Brutalism that you would say served as inspiration?
When I was growing up, I was always sneaking secular music into my house and listening to it on Discman under my blankets. I used to browse the “Electronica” section of the local record store at the mall and would select things based off album art. I discovered drum and bass like Goldie and Roni-Size and fell in love with experimental electronic groups like Mouse of Mars, Add N to X, and Broadcast. Then I found beautiful pop records that sort of fused experimentation with traditional pop songwriting, like Bjork’s Homogenic. I’ve carried those influences with me throughout my career with The Drums, but never got to play with them.
To be fully transparent, when I started The Drums, it was meant to be an electronic group. The only music I had ever made was fully electronic, and I have an electronic version of the first song I ever wrote for the band called “Best Friend.” I had been doing electronic music since I was 12 or 13, so I decided to try to re-do the electronic version of Best Friend with a guitar that was sitting in the corner. I had never played guitar but thought it could be interesting. Six months later, I had a full album and EP of guitar-driven pop music. I formed a band that played guitars, bass, and drums. It was all new to me and it took on a life of its own, so I had to put my love for electronic music on the back burner. I feel like Brutalism is me vomiting up all the ideas and influences I’ve been keeping inside me for the greater part of a decade.
This album was recorded in upstate New York and Stinson Beach. What made you gravitate away from recording in a big city, as you’ve done in the past?
I needed stillness. I needed to be with people I love in a calm setting. I love nature. I feel like nature has been there for me when I’ve been at my loneliness, like an old friend.
How did you find the process of working with Chris Coady on this record?
He was the mixing engineer, but he brought so much richness to the record, that I almost feel he’s worthy of a producer credit. I love Chris. We barely see each other, but when we do, I always feel like we get each other. We understand the absurd and we play with it. I think it’s key to find someone as weird as you are to make something good.
You’re heading on the road soon to promote Brutalism. Any cities you’re particularly excited about playing in?
I love LA shows, Paris shows, Berlin shows and any show in Texas. My fans show up and really give their all, so honestly, I’m happy to play anywhere.
Any songs from the records that you’re really looking forward to playing live?
Well, we have five albums out now, and so we don’t have much time at all to play anything other than the singles. So, if you come out for a show this spring and summer, get ready for all the big songs.
Brutalism is out everywhere April 5th.