This week The War On Drugs celebrate the release of their brand new long-player Slave Ambient. It's a truly great record; it’s rich tapestry is finely woven by the dense musical history the States has on offer, whilst loudly poised in the present with a stark gaze cast towards the future. We caught up with lead singer Adam Granduciel and asked him a few questions about how it came together.

 

Moving to Philly in 2003, a move triggered by "a hunger to make something happen," Adam ditched the California sun in favour of the state of independence: "Obviously music was of most importance, but it didn’t have too much to do with me moving there. [I moved on] just kind of a whim. I didn’t know how long I’d stay...". It was after this move that he met the infamous Kurt Vile and the band was formed by the two shortly afterwards. The name came about long before meeting Kurt though, and a quick search on Google will bring up some rather tedious content on how America is going to solve its illegal substance problems. Did Adam know at the time that Google would become such a prominent method of finding bands online? "Nah, I was never concerned about that. I actually had the name in 2002 before 'Google' was our main source of information. Or maybe it was popular then but I didn’t use the internet that often…seems strange to say that."

 

Formally playing under ‘The War On Drugs’ for the first time in 2005, it wasn’t until 2008 that the band released their debut LP ‘Wagonwheel Blues’ through Secretly Canadian. Four years later and they’re back, via a slight line-up change (Kurt departed the band to focus on his solo career), with album number two. Sonically it’s radically different to their last LP, but a logical progression for anyone who listened to last year’s Future Weather EP (3 of the tracks, of sorts, feature on the new album). Four years though; it’s a long time, so why the wait?

"Haha, yeah, some people think I’ve been on the couch for 4 years – really though I’ve been touring with the Drugs and with Kurt for the last 4 years. And then I'd be working on the album in that stretch of time when I’ve been home. Touring hasn't been non-stop though so there was a period in 2010 when I worked on the record for 8 months straight, and then the first 3 months of this year, a chunk of 2009 as well....it's good though cuz when I go on the road I come back with fresh chops or a new idea or a new chemistry within the band. I definitely never felt like it was taking too long to make the record though...I knew what I wanted it to be and the intense process it was gonna be to get there."

Has Kurt’s departure from the band affected your latest LP?

Well even though Wagonwheel Blues was a collection of all my songs, Kurt definitely had a big hand in that record and helped make it great, no doubt. I think it definitely became more of my own band though, obviously with the help of Dave and Robbie and Mike and Steven (our current drummer) over the years. I don’t think it really affected the recordings or direction too much though – he still played on a few tunes in the same way he did on the first record and I’m real happy with what he contributed to the new songs.

How influenced are you by other artists from the area? For example, some of ‘Slave Ambient’ is, if you don’t me saying, rather Springsteen-esque.

Really? I don’t see it as that indebted to ‘The Boss’ anymore than anyone else. 'Baby Missiles' has that feel to it for sure, but I was probably more inspired by 'Tombstone Blues' and 'Computer Love' than 'Prove It All Night'. Regardless, if you're making guitar and vocal based music today, you're probably influenced by Bruce or Dylan or Petty or any of the legends whether you like them or not. Slave Ambient is influenced by everything I grew up on, got turned on to, or heard in the van. Little ideas coming from all over the place – it’s also influenced by the history of recording as well...it’s really a testament and grand salute to the endless possibilities of modern recording.

A lot of the lyrics in early teasers ‘Baby Missiles’ and ‘Come To The City’ reference drifting; generally trying to move on, yet being unable to. Is this a theme that runs through the album?

Yeah I think so.... restlessness, inspiration, love...all the good shit.

Are these themes self-reflective on your current feelings or are the lyrics in reference to people you know; constructs perhaps drawn from an amalgamation of people, places and previous experiences?

The lyrics come from a lot of different places and even though I may have something or someone in particular in mind it’s never really just about that certain thing. It’s also important for me that the words sound good together--the sounds are as important as the narrative in a lot of cases.

Is there any meaning behind the title ‘Slave Ambient’?

Not really any significant meaning - it was a working title for one of the songs and I just felt like it tied all the songs together in a nice way.... bviously there are references to the process, the sound, recording techniques etc. I also especially liked how the two words sounded together. That’s really why I chose it.

 

You’ve stated in the past that the album was recorded in various places yet it flows remarkably well. Was this a case of paying meticulous attention during the mixing process?

Yeah the mixing was intense but it definitely wasn’t the final step. We mixed as we went which is the reason the songs would constantly be moving in different directions. By the end, once we had all the arrangements down and the tracking done, the mixing was just a matter of finding a nice place for all the sounds we had committed to and giving the song its final identity. I love the mixing though--for my kind of music its essential to be 100% involved in it and just let it happen naturally, taking the time to make sure it feels right.

Has the transition between the recorded songs and playing the songs live been difficult?

Well we don’t try and replicate anything - just try and recreate the general feeling of the recorded work or interpret it differently. Obviously live we'll be a bit more rockin’ which is good and I think it just takes on a different kind of experience.

Do you enjoy touring?

Yeah it's great--the band gets tighter and tighter, the songs take on a life of their own. America is a huge fuckin' place though so it definitely gets gruelling at times! Intense emotions in the van!  

What are you hoping to achieve with the new album?

Yeah just gettin' the music out there and hopefully it sets the bar pretty high for other War On Drugs records. I want people to hear the whole thing and really feel like they've been taken somewhere. Hopefully it’s inspiring for both musicians and listeners alike.

 

What would you say to potential listeners hearing you for the first time with this LP?

Get ready!

Finally, there’s obviously a heavy influence from Dylan on the album; how do you feel about his recent output (particularly the gravelly voice)?

Bob Dylan is the master and everything he does now is just as good, if not better, than the hip mid-60s stuff. Lyrically they're so intense and true and painful and inspiring you can never count that guy out. The true fuckin’ master.



Slave Ambient was released via Secretly Canadian on August 22nd, and they will be touring in the UK in September on the following dates:

  • Tue. Sep. 13 – London, UK @ Cargo
  • Wed. Sep. 14 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
  • Thu. Sep. 15 – Sheffield, UK @ Drowned In Sound presents at The Harley
  • Fri. Sep. 16 – Brighton, UK @ Green Door Store