The Drums’ Jonny Pierce is Ready for Some Serious Self-Care
The term “self-care” has been pillaged by capitalism over the last few years — so much so that it can now be applied to everything from to buying oneself an expensive pair of shoes to indulging in a decedent dinner. The Drums’ Jonny Pierce, however, has been practicing self-care as it was initially intended: getting out of toxic situations, seeking solace in others and, ultimately, channeling all of that into something productive. The culmination of all that, Brutalism, drops April 5 via Epitaph.
The Drums’ fifth album sees its frontman breaking out of the “abysmal thoughts” that inspired the title of the band’s 2017 release. Two years ago, Pierce was cocooned in a kind of despair, and he wrote and recorded The Drums’ fourth album in a kind of tortured solitude.
“On the last record, I had to play the bass, I had to play the drums, I had to write the lyrics, I had to do the vocals, I had to mix. It all had to be me,” Pierce tells TIDAL. “But I can be honest and transparent and say that the main reason that I wanted it to be all me is so that people might think, ‘Wow, he’s a great artist! How impressive.’”
Brutalism is a full-band effort born out of the aftermath of Abysmal Thoughts. Over the last few years, Pierce got divorced and moved from Brooklyn to L.A., opting to stay at home and work in lieu of constant, almost addictive traveling. There, he crafted a poppier album than the Drums’ previous fare, churning out dance-y electro-pop tracks like “Body Chemistry” (in which he touts the power of “good luck and a good fuck, a nice glass of wine and some quality time”) and odes to the intoxicating danger of love (“Brutalism”) — all tempered with just a “Blip of Joy.”
We spoke with Pierce about the new album, bad dates and self-care.
So it seems like a lot has happened since the last record. Can we parse that out a bit?
When I was making the previous album, I had gone through a divorce, actually. So that sort of shook the world that I knew. I remember talking about the last album and how it was sort of the tip of the iceberg as far as starting to focus inward on myself instead of looking outward for approval, for help, to understand myself. Maybe to ultimately find myself in some way.
There’s a song called ‘Mirror’ on the last album that was sort of signifying a pivot internally with me. But with that album, I was really grazing the surface. So I sort of stayed on that path and when it came time to start writing for Brutalism, I was kind of waist-deep or maybe even neck-deep in diving into self-care, taking myself seriously on this giant quest to figure out who I was. I really wanted, mostly, to figure out a way to be OK with myself. I also felt that that would influence who I was as an artist.
I grew up in a situation where my parents were both born-again Christians: Trump-loving, anti-gay, conditioning. I was gay and I was artistic and I was confusing to them. They still believe that being gay is a sin and that it’s gross and unnatural. Most of my efforts as a child were to win their approval, to get them to say, ‘He’s actually a great son.’ It’s something I wanted more than anything else.
I carried a pattern of seeking approval throughout my life. Yes, I would do things that I wanted, and, yes, I was outspoken, but there was always a big part of me that wanted to be liked by everyone. When I was making Brutalism, I was really exploring all of that. A big key to why this new album sounds a bit different is because, I think, for the first time I was able to really step into who I am as an artist because I was really stepping into who I was as a human. If you belong as an alternate version of yourself, you don’t really belong.
How did that mindset affect the making of the album?
With this album, I started to delegate the musical part of the Drums. I brought in a guitar player, I brought in my drummer, I brought in engineers. I wanted to make an album that had a real message and I wanted that message to be vulnerability and talking about who you are in your innermost core. I think I was able to do that because I was willing to let go and let other people help me. I feel like a different person that I was two years ago. I really feel that the choices I’ve been making lean toward self-care.
I’m finding some joy in this new life, too. There’s a song on this album called ‘Blip of Joy.’ I wanted to honor these moments of joy that I’m discovering as well. I’m a firm believer now that if you’re looking for sadness and you’re looking despair, you’ll always find it. It’s everywhere. But if you’re looking for joy and human connection you can also find it. Because it’s also there.
So you finally let go of the romantic ideal of the sad artist?
I was dating this idea that I remain ‘an artist,’ which meant that I had to go where the wind took me and all these old-fashioned ideas of what an artist is. With the Drums, and with me as a human, I want to be modern. The whole band culture thing as we all know it traditionally — whiskey backstage! Everyone’s doing coke and having sex! — to me, that feels a little bit like MAGA. It just feels a little bit ‘80s. It doesn’t feel modern. It doesn’t feel curious.
It’s a far cry from what I would say in interviews during the making of the first couple of records that I put out. I used to say, ‘Oh, every record, I want it to sound exactly the same.’ I would sort of preach that I knew who I was and I was unshakable, but that was really just a front. I believe that everything we do or say comes from one of two things, fear or love. And that was a fearful statement.
This record also sounds happier — despite the subject matter.
It is bouncy, yeah! I have a real love for dance music. To be honest, techno and house and drum and bass, synthpop and even that six months of electroclash we had in the early 2000s, all of that stuff was really big for me. I’ve always been a sucker for pop music.
I love the new Ariana Grande album; I think it’s stunning. A lot of other pop stars don’t make themselves vulnerable, but I feel like we’re right there with Ariana Grande, hearing her story. There’s something so fresh and beautiful about that and I think it’s partly why it’s connecting to so many people.
I think this new album has that kind of vulnerable, sensitive content, but I’m also allowing room for these musical influences that I’ve had over the years. It feels like a really nice marriage of sound and ideas.
So what’s at ‘626 Bedford Avenue’?
I made that address up, but it’s very close to a real address in Brooklyn where I had a bad date. I was just really smitten with this guy. He invited me to his house, which I’ve never done before, but I thought, ‘Oh, I want to do things that are courageous because I’m needy for that self-help stuff.’ So I go to his house and it wasn’t so bad and we ended up having a beautiful time and made plans to do for dinner the next night and all this stuff. Then there were crickets after that.
I really like ‘626 Bedford Avenue.’ I think it’s a cool song for me, personally, because it’s the first song where I’m not taking someone else’s shit and making it my own. On this song, I’m pointing my finger and this guy and saying, ‘I think you’re really insecure and you have your head up your ass and you’re kind of an asshole.’
Traditionally, in my life, when someone treats me like shit, I’ve been known to sit there and think all day, ‘What did I do? What did I say? How did I screw up? What’s wrong with me?’ I’m just kind of moving past that and realizing that sometimes when someone treats you like an asshole, it’s because they’re an asshole. And that’s it.
You deal a lot with depression and anxiety on this album as well, right?
In ‘Body Chemistry,’ I’m coming to terms, or at least asking myself to try to explore this depression that I’ve dealt with in my life. Asking if it was something I was born with, something I accumulated, something I’ll carry to my grave? Is it something that’s curable?
That song, along with ‘Loner,’ are the cornerstone tracks of this album. Every album that I have, there’s a song that sums up what I want to say. I think those two work well together explaining how, despite all the work I’m doing on myself trying to be as fully aware as possible, I know that I’m still going to deal with this very real reality of not really connecting as much as I want to with other people in the world.
We all have these giant issues that we all deal with. As an artist and as a human, I can only talk about mine in a way that’s genuine. That’s what I’m trying to do.
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