On a rare day off, War On Drugs front man Adam Granduciel speaks to me from his Philadelphia home. In the background, clinking kitchen noise can be heard as he prepares his morning coffee ("French Press"). The 35-year-old songwriter hardly needs the caffeine; he's excitedly loquacious as he speaks, a slight northeastern inflection in his java-fired delivery.
Since its release this past March, the band's sensational third album, Lost In the Dream, has delivered a next-level breakthrough for the psych-rock collective, of which Kurt Vile was once a member. Their tour visits Houston this weekend.
"I'd like to think Lost In the Dream's popularity is because the album is more personal or accessible," Granduciel reasons. "But I think it's more like people are experiencing moments with the record -- like listening to it on the rooftop with their best friends at 4 a.m.
"Musically," he continues, "it's less esoteric than [2011 LP] Slave Ambient. It's easier to understand."
Making the 10-track masterpiece was actually the easiest part of the songwriter's year, as Granduciel finally faced down the deep-rooted anxiety that continued resurfacing in his life. Frequent panic attacks grew more extreme as he readied the album, eventually eliciting depression and paranoia. Despite being written within this "dark hole" period, Lost In the Dream, disparately, sounds flawlessly cohesive.
"Essentially, I was writing a record about what it felt like to have a really hard time writing a record," he scoffs. "I was working on music every day, but it was hard, every day.
"I mean, I wouldn't have even left my bedroom, but I don't have any gear in there," admits Granduciel. "So, I'd go downstairs to play piano -- if only for 20 minutes -- then I'd go back upstairs and stay in my room for two days straight. But I was always thinking about the music."
Granduciel facetiously likens this epiphany to life coach Tony Robbins, but then explains how he began dissecting the cause of his recurring apprehension.
"The idea that I was teetering on the brink of mild success made me start feeling like I was a fake or a phony," he recalls. "But it was because I wasn't able to step back and realize why these feelings were happening.
"As I began connecting the dots, getting to the root of what was making my mind freak out, I realized [that] for my whole life, I'd never really seen myself as being good at anything," Granduciel continues. "I wasn't able to step back and realize these feelings were happening because of this instilled schema.
"Instead, I'd think I was having a nervous breakdown, or a heart attack -- when really, I just had heartburn from drinking lots of iced coffee at 6 o'clock at night," he snickers.
The artist's admission is surprising, as the lush LP sounds anything but desolate.
Story continues on the next page.
"The making of the music was easy," he continues. "I was so excited about the songs but I didn't know how to contain that excitement, so I remember going to bed at night after being in the studio, and thinking, 'What if the fucking ceiling fan flies off and chops my fucking face off tonight as I sleep?', or 'What if I get hit by a car tomorrow?' It was crazy," he exhales. "But it was my entire day, every day."
Through regular therapy, Granduciel began recognizing the triggers for his "spiraling swings."
"When you're not self-aware, and thinking so emotionally and catastrophically, your subconscious thinking will try to pound away at the part of you that's psyched about life," he says.
Today, the onetime Violators guitarist is in better mental health, but has journeyed to achieve -- and maintain -- peace of mind.
"I feel good," he chirps. "But the process took a while. Ultimately, I had to figure out what it is that makes me truly happy, and I work to stay in that state."
Granduciel and his band have now toured in support of Lost In the Dream for most of 2014.
"We were busy for Slave Ambient, but this is next level busy," says the singer. "But, I love playing. Even if I have to fucking lug seven pieces of luggage to the airport, spend a bunch of cash to put them on a plane to Holland, just to plug in my pedals and play 'Eyes to the Wind' with my band, then that's what I have -- and want -- to do. This is what makes me happy."
The War On Drugs performs Saturday night at House of Blues with special guests Califone. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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