For anyone who has followed the storied career of The Drums, they should be used to highs and lows. With a lineup that's changed several times, singer and founder Johnny Pierce has had to reinvent what the group looks and sounds like multiple times.
On their latest release Abysmal Thoughts, Pierce wrote all of the songs and played all of the instruments to craft and hone the sound of the band's most personal and revelatory album to date. Now, with this album in the can and the subsequent tour with band members, Pierce sat down with the Houston Press to talk about the history of the group, the polarizing childhood Pierce endured, and the crafting of this newest album ahead of their show at White Oak Music Hall.
"I started writing music for The Drums in 2008 and then curated a band around me, and over the years and with each album, I've lost a band member," Pierce says. "There's a pain that comes with that that then that pain tends to slow time down. With this new found freedom, I'm reaching people at a heart level, and through that I'm teaching myself life lessons through the creative process.
Pierce's father was a Christian minister who had his own church and the church had two radio stations that his father sometimes had shows on. Pierce says his father was a "shadowy figure" in the household growing up, but he did allow both Pierce and his sister a chance to curate their own radio program.
"The station typically played shows like Pat Robertson and, you know, other hateful, fearful people like that. I was 12 or 13 and I jumped at the chance to play music I deemed worthy of the airwaves. Back then I was really only allowed to listen to Christian music, and there were a few reliable "Christian" labels that went to as far left of what I was raised on that housed many bands that I still listen to today. Labels like Tooth and Nail, Burnt Toast Vinyl, and Velvet Blue Music that were putting out bands like Starflyer 59, Joy Electric, Havelina Rail Co. and more. So that's the type of stuff that I played," Pierce recalls.
Pierce recently stated that about 90 percent of what people heard on The Drums' albums was all him; so it's not hard to see why this new album was a solo effort. "I had considered dropping the name The Drums for this release and releasing it as a solo effort, but after some consideration, I felt that I owed it to the public to prove that I could do a "Drums" album and that it would not only be just as good, but a step forward as well. I'll admit that there was ego in this decision, but I think with all the bowing of my head and being silent throughout the years, it was maybe time to balance things out a little."
It's not hard to immediately notice the darker tone in Abysmal Thoughts. Song titles like "Are U Fucked," "If We All Share (Means Nothing)," and "Shoot The Sun Down," don't evoke imagery of someone who is in a happy place.
"I started writing this album just as I started to go through a difficult divorce, and a month before Jacob had just left the band. Losing these two people was really tough on some level, because they both provided support for me over the years, and just like that they were both out of my life. I found myself swirling in circles and more alone than ever, and when the spinning finally slowed to a stop, I started writing. The record came together so quickly and easily because I had so much I wanted to say and express. I was going places lyrically and sonically that I'd never gone before. I stopped blaming others for my problems and started to look in the mirror, which can be a very dark place to be," says Pierce.
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"I do love synthesizers, not as much as I used to, but I still love getting that analog tome from those older machines. When I was a kid I would collect them, and you could get them relatively cheap because no one wanted analog. When I started the band I couldn't afford a bass guitar so I had to get creative with an MS-10 sub bass and blend it with a regular electric guitar to get my "home spun" bass sound," Pierce says. "When I was making Abysmal Thoughts, I was really just trying to listen to my previous released albums. I wanted fans to lean on it as an important album, a strong pillar of the band's career. I worked within many of the same limitations as I did when I was a poor new artist in 2008, because I wanted people to put the album on and sink into it."
When it comes to live performance, The Drums have always brought new elements to their shows. According to Pierce, "we're a full live band, guitar, bass, drums and electronics. When I hear synth-pop, I think of bands like YAZ, Erasure, or Anything Box, and maybe CHVRCHES if we are talking modern day. We're more guitar based than any of that really, and I only use synthesizers when I don't know what else to do.
"With this tour, we have decided to play all of the big songs, and I have decided to really be myself on stage. I dance around like a maniac sometimes, and other times I am very still. I am trying to listen to my heart and listen to my body and do what they tell me to do. It's all about honoring how I feel and putting that into the art, and in turn, the audience feels closer to it."
You can stream Abysmal Thoughts as well as the rest of The Drums catalog in all of the usual places, or order albums directly from Anti Records. You can catch The Drums in person this Wednesday December 6 downstairs at White Oak Music Hall. The all-ages show has a support set from Hoops as well. Doors at 7 p.m.; tickets $18 to $22.