For most New York City rockers, a glowing write-up on a prominent music blog is something to work toward through a series of grueling gigs in crappy venues with just a few bar staffers as an ersatz audience. Yet the Drums had the honor before they even understood what an honor it was: “We’d never even heard of Brooklyn Vegan,” says lead singer Jonathan Pierce, of the gushing review that the tastemaking site gave the band’s very first show at Cake Shop this past May, accelerating their hype trajectory considerably.
Sitting outside Don Hill’s just before their EP release show, Pierce and bandmate Jacob Graham, old buddies from summer camp, explain their cluelessness. They made the six-track Summertime! while isolated in Central Florida last winter, before migrating to Brooklyn just in time to pull a full band together for that triumphant debut performance, and then rush the disc out the door before its title expired. “We just cut ourselves off from the world for six months,” says Graham. “We made a selfish record that the rest of the world just happens to like.” So far, “the rest of the world” only includes a few hundred Brooklynites and Lower East Siders, but that’ll do, as they make new friends (Coldplay’s management group just snatched them up) and craft a full-length planned for early next year on an unnamed label.
Next question: Why this band? The easy answer, of course, lies in their catchy songs and blond, babyfaced frontman. But there’s more to it than that. Citing both the Beach Boys and the Smiths as influences, the Drums combine sugary puppy-love pop with dour English post-punk. “It’s almost like we’re reveling in misery,” says Pierce. “And that’s something everyone can relate to.” On one hand, the Drums are all about whistling and clapping along to peppy beats—the quartet has two part-time chirpy female backup singers who wear matching ’60s-style dresses they make in their spare time at the Williamsburg apartment where all but one band member live in communal bliss. But onstage, while Graham bounces like a pinball and beats a tambourine maniacally, Pierce evokes Morrissey, an effeminate arm-flailer singing yearningly of heartbreak and loneliness: “You used to be so pretty/But now you’re just tragic,” he wails on “Don’t Be a Jerk, Jonny.”
The Drums have also tapped into a strange, possibly inadvertent board-sport revival; armed with an exhilarating single called “Let’s Go Surfing,” they could be Brooklyn’s answer to the new wave of California bands kowtowing to both Brian Wilson and fuzz-punk. Costa Mesa’s Japanese Motors, for instance, are taking songs about girls, cars, and beach parties in a neo-garage direction, while in San Diego, the noisy Crocodiles share those inclinations with the infamous, slacktastic Wavves, whose mastermind, Nathan Williams, is a lo-fi doofus unparalleled.
Of course, Pierce and Graham might not be aware of any of this. They don’t surf (neither does Williams, of course, seeing as, like Wilson, he’s afraid of the ocean), and they didn’t particularly set out to make a nautical-themed record. The EP’s beachy character just comes from the permanent-vacation lifestyle they luxuriated in while working on it. “We were walking around in Adidas shorts and T-shirts all the time,” Pierce recalls. “We forgot to be cool or care what people thought of us.”
The Drums play Mercury Lounge September 22
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2009