Catching up with Jonny Pierce.EXPAND
Catching up with Jonny Pierce.
Moni Haworth

Why The Drums' Jonny Pierce Took Creative Control

The Drums formed in 2008, the result of a concept between two longtime friends and sometime musical collaborators, Jonathan “Jonny” Pierce and Jacob Graham. Previously, they had released one album in 2005 with their project Elkland.

To kick The Drums into gear, Pierce moved to Florida, where Graham was living. A year later, the pair relocated to Brooklyn, and the project evolved into a four-piece band, with Adam Kessler and Connor Hanwick.

Fast-forward nearly 10 years, and a few amicable separations later, and Pierce remains the last man standing.
Kessler and Hanwick dropped off a few years back. And the Pierce-Graham duo came to an end, officially, early this year when Graham announced it to the public, with a “no hard feelings” statement that highlighted his desire to work on other projects.

Pierce moved forward with The Drums’ latest release, Abysmal Thoughts, which he wrote and played all himself. It’s loaded with jumpy, surf-y, driving indie-pop tunes full of sweet hooks and melancholic twists. For the live shows, he has a touring band that he says synchronizes with him perfectly to execute his tracks.

It’s a natural progression for Pierce, who says he always knew he wanted to run The Drums his way. “I always wanted to make music where I was at the head of it, singing and creating,” Pierce says. “I wanted to be very involved. I think, subconsciously, I pushed myself to be the face of the music.”

He doesn’t even like to refer to himself as a singer. That’s just one integral component of each song. “I really view The Drums as an art project,” Pierce says. “And the signing is a part of what needs to get done to make things complete.”

Using the changes in band dynamics as a jumping-off point to get introspective, Pierce has uncovered new personal strengths.

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“I think I used to be more controlling, and certainly that was part of what led to the change in members,” he says. “But that was a dynamic I wanted to change.” He sees the trait as inherent, having grown up with a father who was idealistically very different, but tended to dominate.

Now, though, Pierce can explore these things not only with himself, but in the music. The track “Under the Ice” from Abysmal Thoughts is so bright, quick, and poppy as it explores feelings of isolation that have been a lifetime partner for Pierce. “I’m under the ice / My whole life / If you see me gently smiling baby / You should know I’m trying not to cry.”

The sweeping and swirling, dreamy, and rollicking surf sounds that made many people into fans of The Drums have not gone away on this record. But they carry a different weight, a pride and comfort that feels like an inspirational hug.

Pierce attributes the difference to his own growth. “I made some real hearty decisions to change my approach — not so much with the sound, but with the approach.” He doesn’t want to candy-coat his feelings.

“In the past, I’ve written about sadness and tragedy and laced it with a cinematic dressing,” Pierce says. “Part of that was Jacob wanting the band to lean toward innocence over adult themes. For me, right now, all I want to do is explore adult themes.”

Bringing that vulnerability into the live show was daunting, Pierce says, but has seemed to resonate very well. “It has been powerful,” he says. “Turns out that what I was most afraid of doing was what everyone has been waiting for. And it really shows in the connections with the audiences, consistently.”

The Drums are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, December 13, at The Van Buren, 401 West Van Buren Street. Hoops are slated to open. Tickets are $20 to $37 via thevanburenphx.com.

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