The War on Drugs Profile (Boston Globe, 4.06.12)

Posted on February 10, 2013




“There are a lot of ideas of how those chords can sound together. . . . It’s all part of making music and doing different things,” says Adam Granduciel.

One consistent bit of praise for “Slave Ambient,” last year’s album from the War on Drugs, is that it makes great driving music. It pulses and builds through motoric drums and fluttering synth and guitar loops that hum like road and engine noise while sparse melodies cruise along over the top of them. Massachusetts-raised singer, arranger, guitarist, and engineer Adam Granduciel has a full catalog of ghostly guitar lines and vocal lines that bend and crow in the recognizably Dylanesque sweep of his voice. It all blurs together nicely like trees and cornfields outside a car window.

Granduciel, who grew up in Dover (his band returns Saturday night to play at the Middle East) and spent his 20s bouncing around the country in cars, vans, and trains, shrugs off any literal connection between his travels and one of the best road trip soundtracks in recent memory.

“More than the idea of traveling state to state or wondering where I’m living, it’s more figuring out a craft,” he says. “It’s weeding out the things about it you don’t like and trying to find a voice.”

It’s true — the album (and 2010’s “Future Weather” EP) works not only as a delicately layered consumable experience, but throws all sorts of variations and tweaked alternates out on the dashboard to ponder as well. There are early versions of songs sped up and missing leads, and loops haunting the shadows of multiple songs. The album is both final version and marked-up blueprint, and it’s what makes the thing great.

The key is Granduciel’s love of the process. The songs were pieced together gradually on tape machines mostly in his and friend Jeff Zeigler’s basements. Granduciel has spent almost as much time explaining the process to blogs, zines, and papers as he has playing shows over the past year. It was careful and maybe a bit convoluted — spending months adding layers to songs only to get rid of them completely after sudden inspiration hit — but the end result is a lovingly crafted and life-sized document.

It also hedges some bets. As styles got thrown into the mix, the songs ended up growing Krautrock legs and synth-pop tentacles. The biggest anthem on the album is probably “Baby Missiles,” which almost jarringly introduces an E Street Band keyboard part to the caravan. It somehow falls right in stride, but even Granduciel seems a bit self-conscious about it.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I like showing that ‘Baby Missiles’ wasn’t intended to be some kind of Bruce Springsteen rip-off song,” he says. A reprise showed up on the last EP to prove this point. “There are a lot of ideas of how those chords can sound together and if it can be slowed down and have the drums taken out or whatever. It’s all part of making music and doing different things.”

It’s a scrappy, transparent approach not far from the old Massachusetts bands he grew up on, particularly lo-fi savant Lou Barlow.

“I went to all kinds of shows at the Middle East and T.T.’s and I remember it all,” he says. “I went to see Sebadoh a bunch of times and Smog and J. Mascis. There were all kinds of random local bands like Cherry 2000 I saw a lot. I bought my first Spaceman 3 at [the record store] Mystery Train when I was 14 or 15. I went back recently and it’s a boutique sweater shop!”

Granduciel left Massachusetts when he was 16 and went to school in Pennsylvania before moving to Oakland for a few years. He moved to Philadelphia on a whim and dug in with friends there. He slowly became part of a scene and worked quietly at home on recordings of his own while forming artistic alliances with like-minded souls — modern day garage figurehead Kurt Vile was a founding member of the War on Drugs and still collaborates frequently (he played guitar on two of the record’s tracks).

His basement served as a headquarters for an obsessive editing and revising process, but Granduciel got out on the road plenty and even booked several sessions with his band in pro studios in far-flung places like Asheville, N.C., and Dallas. “We’ve been visiting all these awesome studios all over the country,” he says. “They have all this great gear and these beautiful rooms and I’m always thinking, ‘I never want to be there again.’ ”

“Yeah, OK, it’s a beautiful place,” he adds, “but I could never imagine making a record that felt the right way in a place like that.”


Original article at the Boston Globe here.