Johnny Pierce: Hit the Lip

The Drums singer explains, among other things, why he won't sing "Let's Go Surfing" anymore

Hit The Lip // Cristina Black // 11/14/11
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The Drums courtesy of Frenchkiss Records

Last time we talked, it was the day your first EP, Summertime, came out. Your new album, Portamento, seems much darker than the sunny songs you debuted with. Have things maybe gotten a little more complicated since then?
Yeah, I think everything we did up until Portamento had sort of a cinematic flair to it, and this album is really rooted in reality. It’s everything we’ve gone through in the last three years, the good and the bad and everything in between. Real life settled in.

You lost a band member. Was that shocking?
I wouldn’t say it was a shock. We knew Adam wasn’t happy. We were hoping he wouldn’t leave but he did. We jumped right into making Portamento, literally the day after he left the band. Within six months we had a new record. In a way it was a blessing for things to be shaken up like that.

There’s a lot of existential type stuff on this album. It’s quite a jump for a band that started out with songs about beaches and puppy love.
I learned a big lesson. Songs like “Let’s Go Surfing” and “Forever and Ever Amen,” they sound nice, and I’m glad they exist, but to be completely honest, I can’t relate to them anymore. Back then I could, but this band has grown. Towards the end of the last album cycle, when I would sing those songs on stage, I felt empty and insincere.

Sounds like a crisis!
Well, I made a decision that every song we make from now on is going to be something personal, something that I hold dear. Whether the audience realizes it or not, when the artist is living and breathing the material, everyone at the show benefits. I think from now on things will have a more serious tone.

This is a dilemma for a lot of artists. They grow past their material, but then the fans want to hear the old stuff. Are you just not going to play any of your old stuff?
Some of it, yes. There are songs off the EP and first album that we’ll always play. But there are certain ones that we feel like it’s our responsibility to not play.

Why is that?
I feel like any fan who’s pissed off that we don’t play “Let’s Go Surfing” at the show might be more of a fan of that song, and not so much a fan of the Drums. Fans who have taken the time to discover what the Drums are beyond that sunny song, I’ve talked to those fans. They’re glad we don’t play it. They’ve moved on with us. I’m happy to lose fans who are completely obsessed with that one song.

Even if it makes them happy?
Once we start doing things to please other people, we’ll be just like any other band. Our identity won’t be our own. I’d like to turn around in 20 years and not have a long list of regrets.

If I go to a Springsteen show, I always feel bad for him that he has to play “Born to Run,” every night.
But he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t have to do anything. He just wants to make a lot of money. It’s hard to say no, but it’s not impossible.

Portamento is out now on Frenchkiss Records.

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Originally published in December 2011-January 2012

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