Photos by ASHLEY CHOZAS
EU Jacksonville recently had the chance to chat with Jonny Pierce of the Drums, who stopped by Florida on tour in support of their recent release, “Abysmal Thoughts.” Pierce talks about his time living in Florida, the new album, and his love for dogs. After a few difficult times with breakups in both the band and a personal relationship, he has managed to create the Drums’ most vulnerable and authentic album yet. Pierce has truly perfected a beautiful style of melancholy retro pop that is beyond reproach. The Drums recently played in Tallahassee, FL, and had sold out shows in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. The band has primarily always been Johnny Pierce, with Pierce writing and recording the majority of material for their previous albums yet staying very humble about it. But the creation of “Abysmal Thoughts” gave him his first chance to really take creative control of an album as a whole, projecting and conveying some of Pierce’s most personal feelings and recent moments in life. Jonny Pierce has opened up his heart on the new record and this is also reflected in the band’s live shows. He was kind enough to share a few words with EU Jacksonville during his travels through the land of oranges.
EU Jacksonville: Jonny, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. We really enjoy the new record, “Abysmal Thoughts,” so kudos to you for another great piece of work as always. How has the tour in support for this album been going?
Jonny Pierce: Thank you so much. I’m proud of the record and always happy to discuss it.
I can say with all honesty that I have never been on tour and felt so good at the same time – so at peace. Tour can often be grueling for me and feel quite heavy. It’s very easy for me to become depressed when I’m on the road. However, this tour feels almost blissful and I’ve never felt more confidence on stage than I do now. When I started this new album, there was some big changes happening in my life. I had just gone through a difficult divorce and then my lifetime friend and bandmate, Jacob, left the band. I felt lonely as hell and lost as hell, and so I began harming my life with bad decisions, decisions I would make out of self-hate and a big lack of confidence in myself. I found that I was isolating myself even more and really getting near rock bottom. And then I made a decision, one to stop blindly hurting my life, and instead to look inside of myself and ask myself a lot of hard questions and to be really honest with myself. All of this made it’s way onto to the album and so what we have now is the most honest and daring album to date and that honesty has spilled over to the stage and I feel more myself onstage than I ever have before. I used to just blow through my live show and close my eyes for a lot of it and not connect the way I should have. Now I can recall all these shows we’ve been playing with vivid accuracy – and it’s because I want to be there. I’m grateful to be there and I have real things to sing about. Living in reality and owning up to who you are and then trying to love who you are is the new reality of The Drums.
EU: “Abysmal Thoughts” is obviously a very genuine record that you have put a lot of time into. Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process? What part of song do you usually write first?
JP: Sure. Well I’ve never been trained professionally on how to make an album, much less a song. I never took guitar lessons or drum lessons – more than 1 or two sessions. I used music as a springboard to get myself out of a pretty rocky childhood. I just kind of made it up as I went along. My first synthesizer was a weird Sequential Circuits Multi-Trak Synthesizer and I had no manual so just by guessing and a lot of trial and error, I would be able to construct full songs on it’s onboard sequencer. I would force these ideas to come alive and I think It’s because I knew that I couldn’t stay in the small town I was in – being gay in the 80’s in upstate New York is not a good thing. Years later, when I had moved to Florida to start The Drums, I picked up a guitar and just started plucking away – one string at a time – and suddenly I had formed a full song that I called “Best Friend”. There were no chords. Just notes badly plucked one at a time and then layered – much like how I would play with my mono synths. One note at a time. I still use this process. I like to remain childlike in my approach to creativity. There are some thing I dontt ever want to know. There is power and beauty and enjoyment in limitations.
EU: What is the first song you learned to play?
JP: I have only ever taught myself one song. It was in 1997 and I was a kid and I was playing with my mom’s acoustic guitar. Sugar Rush by Joy Electric.
EU: We’ve read you weren’t a fan of the sun in L.A., can you tell us about the time you spent here in Florida, the Sunshine State, before moving to NYC?
JP: Yes, I grew up in Upstate New York and so having too much sun feels quite unnatural for me. When I moved to Florida, I didn’t really factor in the weather. I just thought that I would be making music and I didn’t really think about anything else. Then, I arrive here, and all of the sun and the warmth and the humidity at times had me feeling very nostalgic for something that I had never even experienced – endless summer. I remember Jacob and I put our selves into this sort of dream world. We once bought an inflatable boat and paddled down a small creek into an orange orchard and we climbed the trees and ate oranges and laid in the shade together. It was really beautiful and maybe one of my favorite memories with Jacob. It was sort of these types of moments that really pushed me to write about the sun or the beach or beautiful summers. Florida never annoyed me. It gave me a gift. So glad to be back here giving back – and as generously as I can.
EU: Could you describe your cabin in New York where you worked on material for “Abysmal Thoughts”? How does it make for a good creative atmosphere?
JP: Oh it’s just a tiny little place to be alone. It sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking a glacial lake. It’s surrounded by wild nature and some farmland. The place feels so pure and I feel connected to nature when I am there. Nature is the only thing on this planet that still carries a real innocence in it. I try to let that fill me and then I start writing. I can’t ever write well when I am on the road or when I am in a big city. I am easily distracted. I have a very hard time focusing – I always have – so this place provides some much needed stillness. I wrote much of “Abysmal Thoughts” and also Encyclopedia there.
EU: Bass lines always seem to be a driving force in many of your songs, what are some of the most iconic bass lines you enjoy? Who are some of your favorite 90’s house/pop artists?
JP: Blue Boy, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Wake, and also some reggae stuff I used to listen to for a little. Great bass lines. I like bass that has a bounce to it. Something sad but danceable.
I was really into 90’s electronica. I don’t even know if we use that term anymore for anything, but the stuff I was listening to was mainly from the UK. Roni Size, The Orb, Underworld, Early Björk, Daft Punk – the Homework album, Basement Jaxx, Goldie, Tricky, and all of that stuff was really big with me. I tried to implement a little bot of those influences on the new album – many with the rhythms.
EU: What do you do in your free time when you are not writing music or touring?
JP: I google trails and go hiking as much as possible. I also try to find people with dogs to hang out with. I can’t get a dog till I’m done touring so vigorously. It is truly the biggest downside to all this touring
EU: What would you be the patron saint of?
JP: I’d like to say Animals. I do a lot to try to help them, protect them, and rescue them. When I was young, My dog was my best friend. I talked to my dog about everything and my dog seemed to get what I was saying or at least understand my sadness. His name was Ninja and I found him on the street one day, took him in, and saw him through to his last breath.
EU: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and musicians?
JP: Shut everything out and listen to yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are creating. Don’t even look around. Stay pure and make great art.