Photo: Shawn Brackbill
The War On Drugs: Adam Granduciel On New Album, Guitar & Tom Petty
The low-key frontman talks shop on recording his band's latest release, 'A Deeper Understanding,' guitar candy and traveling the world
Music is inextricably tied to location. From the Bakersfield sound and Seattle grunge to New York hardcore punk and West Coast rap, a city and its culture can shape a scene. For psychedelic-rock band The War On Drugs, the soulful and experimental musical mecca of Philadelphia has been home since their formation in 2005.
So when it came time for frontman Adam Granduciel to start creating what would become the band's fourth studio album, A Deeper Understanding, the choice to record in Los Angeles was truly a musical one. Rock albums by Granduciel's heroes, including Neil Young and Warren Zevon, captured a different sentiment that drew him in and ultimately helped shape the band's most inventive album to date, which Rolling Stone described as "an abstract-expressionist mural of synth-pop and heartland rock colored by bruised optimism and some of [Granduciel's] most generous, incandescent guitar ever."
We sat down with Granduciel recently at Recording Academy headquarters to talk about L.A.'s influence on A Deeper Understanding, how he likes to see the world on tour, what he'd ask Jimmy Iovine, and his parting thoughts on the loss of Tom Petty.
A Deeper Understanding's sonic layers are lush and mesmerizing but the songs they're built on are crafty, beautiful and dark. What was the biggest difference in the songwriting process between this album and 2013's Lost In The Dream?
I just wanted to be more prepared on my end so that if I was writing more and demoing stuff more, I could present [ideas] to the band and the spontaneity in the recording could be of a different sort.
I rented out my own studio in Los Angeles and tried to go every day, whether it [was] writing on the piano or guitar or work on demos. I started eight months before [while] on the road. I just ended up having more songs than I ever had in the past.
There's so much guitar candy on this record. What were the specific guitar influences for this album?
We did this benefit where Neil Young played as well. He was playing his classic Gretsch White Falcon guitar with the Bigsby [tremolo]. We were watching the dress rehearsal from the side stage. I was actually sitting on his amp rig and watching him rehearse. He was just going off with [the] bar. I was like, "Oh, it's so expressive." I have the same guitar but mine didn't have the bar. After that show, I put the Bigsby on that Gretsch of mine. Then, two nights later, we recorded three songs that are on the record. A lot of the inspiration [came] from that expressive quality of that Bigsby but I was [also] just thinking about all my favorite players, whether it was Neil or Mike Campbell — guys that use that bar and just try to find another way to connect with the guitar.
Speaking of Neil Young, in a Pitchfork interview you name-checked him and Warren Zevon for making "L.A. records." What effect do you think recording in L.A. had on A Deeper Understanding?
Well, I think a few things. First, I would always think of an L.A. record as "sunny" or something, but then I started thinking, "Well, my favorite records that were made here are dark and sad and lonely." I never really lived here before, so I didn't really think I understood. I think from an East Coast point of view, you'd be like, "Oh, a California record's a sunny record." It's like you spend three hours in the studio because the rest of the time you must be at the beach.
[But] the cool thing was that, unlike any other city, there [are] all these places in L.A. There are so many resources for a recording musician, like studios of all levels, you know? [There are] so many world-class studios, but I would never have been able to have rented the place that I rented out anywhere else. It was just this mid-level studio that is pretty much a stand-alone building on the East side with a really great mic collection, Pro Tools and two rooms. It wasn't fancy, but it was perfect for what I needed. I was able to bring my own stuff in. The ability to work every day was a big part of L.A.'s effect on my process and the band coming out from Philly once a month.
You have a fan in Jimmy Iovine. Have you met the man before? What would you ask him if you could?
Actually, I have, but in the moment I wasn't prepared to ask him anything. I guess I'm just a huge fan of all the records he made in the 70's. … Now, he's [a] larger-than-life figure but back then he was just like a kid who loved music and was probably just like all of us — trying to find out how to make a record. There's no formula for it. I guess I [would ask him about working with] Bruce [Springsteen] making Darkness [On The Edge Of Town].
You're on the road now, going across the U.S. and then heading to Europe. When you get to a town, what do you like to do to get a sense of the culture?
I like going out to find a local coffee shop. It's embarrassing to admit that I have an app called Beanhunter, which tells me the closest single-origin coffee I can get. Last tour, I really got into the whole sub-culture. I had the hand grinder and the single origin — then the Aeropress [coffee maker] and the scale.
I also love trying to find an awesome guitar shop because I just like to go in and play guitar for an hour or two. [And] record stores. Now, we actually have a backstage record player we tour with in its own case, so it makes buying records on the road a little easier because you actually can be like, "Oh, I want something to pump me up for tonight's show," or "tomorrow when we load in, I want to chill out to this."
One last question: We lost the great Tom Petty recently. How important was he to you as a songwriter and as an artist?
[He's] one of my favorites. ... He had a catalog of hits before I was of age. Then, when I was in my teens, Wildflowers came out [in 1994] — maybe to some it was like a new kind of Tom Petty, but it hit me so intensely when that record came out. It was like a reintroduction to a lot of different kinds of music for me. His band was so important to him. The Heartbreakers were what you imagine being in a band would be like — best buddies and great players and guys who took it all really seriously.
As he grew older, his material was just as relevant and just as exciting and the band's just as killer. … It seems surreal that there's no more Tom Petty, in person. It's true that the music lives on because [with] a guy like that, [there are] centuries of information there.
Universal language: Why humans need music
Learn why music is truly a common language that is key to human development and evolution
There's no doubt music finds a way into nearly every moment of our daily lives, whether it's marking milestones such as a first dance at a wedding, the soundtrack to our favorite movie or singing in the shower for fun. In fact, it's hard to imagine times when we are more than an ear-length away from hearing another song.
But why does music mean so much to us? A powerful form of communication that transcends all barriers — music is our common language, but why?
A composer and educator with a lifelong fascination for music, Adam Ockelford has traced our connection with music back to infants and caregivers. Infants are unable to follow words, but they are developmentally primed to trace patterns in sound, such as through the songs a caretaker sings to them. Therefore, understanding music is intuitive for humans, even at a very young age, and it encourages healthy development.
In addition, there may be another evolutionary purpose for music. Music provides a sense of sameness between humans — if you can copy the sounds someone else makes, you must be an ally. This synergy plays a role in human survival because it evokes empathy and understanding, a lesson we still learn from music in today's culture.
"Music is central to the notion of what it is to be human, and spans cultures, continents and centuries," writes Ockelford. "My music, your music, our music can bind us together as families, as tribes and as societies in a way that nothing else can."
Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show
Dark punk legends to play first show with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only since last year's Riot Fest reunion
There's big news today for punk-rock fans aware that the Misfits made much more than just T-shirts.
The massively influential punk band announced a special show touted as the "only 2017 performance in this world… or any world" and billed as "The Original Misfits" in Los Angeles at the Forum on Dec. 30.
This will be the first Misfits show featuring original singer Glenn Danzig and original bassist Jerry Only with long-time guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein since the band reunited for a pair of Riot Fest appearances in Chicago and Denver in 2016. Last year's Riot Fest gigs, which featured drummer Dave Lombardo, marked the first time in 33 years the original Misfits members played together.
"OK Los Angeles, you've waited almost 35 years for this, here's your chance to see the "Original Misfits" in this Exclusive L.A. only performance." said Glenn Danzig. "No Tour, No BS, just one night of dark metal-punk hardcore brutality that will go down in the history books. See you there."
Tickets for this "one night only" show go on sale Friday, August 25.
Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images
Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes
GRAMMY winner pledges support for those impacted by hurricanes this year through Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program
On Oct. 10 Lady Gaga announced she is devoting her $1 million donation in support of those impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquakes in Mexico, to a specific cause — the mental and emotional well being of children and youth.
Gaga announced on her Born This Way Foundation website she will support Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program, which uses a variety of tools to help young people deal with trauma in the wake of natural disasters.
"Through a curriculum that includes cooperative play, discussion, art, meditation, and mindfulness practices, young people learn to recognize and understand their emotions and develop healthy coping skills," Gaga wrote. "Tens of thousands of youth have benefited from the program since it’s development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Save the Children is working to bring it to hundreds of thousands more in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."
The announcement came on World Mental Health Day, and the Fame Monster has invited all of us to step up and consider making a contribution to the Journey of Hope program to support to mental and emotional needs of children.
"Mental health is just as vital to our wellbeing as physical health. That’s true for each of us, everyday, but it’s especially important for those coping with disaster and recovering from trauma," wrote Lady Gaga. "We must do everything within our power to support the full, vibrant recovery of these communities, from meeting their immediate needs to helping them to rebuild sustainably."
Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images
Mixcloud Signs Warner Music For Subscriptions Remix
There is more to the Mixcloud difference than just electronic dance music, and now the listening service has signed its first major label deal
Among the 1 million curators who have helped build British-based listening service Mixcloud into a destination visited by 17 million listeners each month are GRAMMY winners Erykah Badu, David Byrne, and Tiësto. Limited to streaming-only since its founding in 2008, Mixcloud announced a direct licensing agreement with Warner Music Group this morning, opening the door to offering downloads and new kinds of subscriptions.
Perhaps the standout statistic that describes the Mixcloud difference is that the average length of its user-uploaded programs is 45 minutes. Within the service's general emphasis on DJing, EDM and remix culture, the tendency to drill down and explore narrower listening topics in depth distinguishes the service from competitors such as Spotify or SoundCloud.
Warner Music Group Executive VP for Business Development & Chief Digital Officer Ole Obermann said, "Mixcloud's success is driven by the curiosity and passion of its community, as they engage with new music and rediscover timeless older songs."
Being able to listen to downloads offline seems a natural follow-up to direct licensing deals, but the service hints there's more in store. Mixcloud still hopes to sign indies and the other majors, as its fans have speculated. And with its own proprietary Content ID in place and established relationships with royalty collecting societies, the company has the tech infrastructure to explore new monetization strategies, paying artists and curators in new ways. Launching a new business model for its upcoming approach to paid content and subscriptions is a remix many are anticipating. Not knowing what to expect is part of the excitement.