Thursday, February 29, 2024

The pressure of musicmaking: Adam Granduciel talks War On Drugs career, latest album

The War on Drugs will play Live Oak Bank Pavilion on Thursday. (Photo by Shawn Brackbill)

Adam Granduciel and his band, The War on Drugs, came into the making of their latest album, “I’m Not Here Anymore,” after reaching a new level in their 17-year career.

The band’s previous album, “A Deeper Understanding,” won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2018. The acclaim came after 200,000 copies sold and charted higher than any of the group’s former three releases. 

For some musicians, such achievements and the expectations that follow would create a new level of pressure. But for Granduciel, making “I’m Not Here Anymore” was basically business as usual; he said he always felt the burden to improve upon every piece of music created.

“Even after our first record, which was basically a hodgepodge,” he said, “I was like ‘Oh man, what the hell is the next album going to be?’ So I just had to put my head down and find out what I loved about music, songwriting and making music.”

After 2008’s “Slave Ambient” and 2013’s “Lost in the Dream,” the same sentiment mounted, as new fans were collected along the way.

“It’s always been, put your head down and do the work,” he added, “write some songs and explore melodies and collaborate with people and see where you end up.”

This summer’s tour has the group headlining theaters, large clubs and even some outdoor amphitheaters — a sure sign the band’s audience continues to grow.

Granduciel’s journey with the seven-piece began around 2005 in Philadelphia. He teamed up with Kurt Vile and the duo emerged a few years later with “Wagonwheel Blues,” the first War on Drugs album.

Vile stepped away not long after to focus on what has become a successful solo career. The War on Drugs became Granduciel’s own project.

A key point in the group’s trajectory landed with the release of the third album, “Lost in the Dream.” It was listed on a few 50 year-end best album trackers and since has moved more than 350,000 copies.

Just as significantly, a more stable lineup came together during this period, with bassist David Hartley and keyboardist Robbie Bennett (who came on board in 2010) joined by the other current members, drummer Charlie Hall, saxophonist and keyboard player Jon Natchez and guitarist and keyboardist Anthony LaMarca.

With “A Deeper Understanding,” the War on Drugs took another step forward, having signed with major label Atlantic Records and winning a Grammy. In 2020, a concert album, “Live Drugs,” followed and work was well under way on 2021’s “I Don’t Live Here Anymore.”

Like the other War on Drugs’ albums, the latter involved extensive and intensive studio work, especially from Granduciel and producer Shawn Everett. 

After completing early versions of a number of songs, Granduciel and Everett spent the next three years doing what they always do to complete an album: taking apart the original versions and rebuilding piece by piece into finished studio tracks.

Granduciel said he loves this process as he (with assistance from Everett, some guest musicians and the other members of The War on Drugs) seeks to create the best treatment for each song.

“It’s just like everything is in a state of flux,” Granduciel said. “Like some songs, you never have a day where you’re confused. You’re just always building. It makes sense and those are satisfying. Sometimes, you know, the song is there, but you know it can be taken somewhere else sonically. Really, the main thing is just having fun with it … making cool sounds and seeing what mistakes might happen along the way and embracing those.”

The result is a set of 10 strong songs encompassing Americana, pop and classic rock, but with a modern edge. On “Change,” “Harmonia’s Dream” and “Victim,” Granduciel and Everett apply shimmery tones to add sparkle over the engaging pop melodies.

The airy synthetic tones and percussion of “I Don’t Wanna Wait” bring to mind Peter Gabriel, while “Living Proof” recalls Wilco’s more pensive material.

“Old Skin” is rootsier, with some Dylan-esque harmonica added for good measure, while “Wasted” has some synth-pop overtones added to its driving tempo.  

The War on Drugs began touring in January, and as with the band’s studio work, Granduciel views playing shows as an ongoing opportunity to improve as a live act and deliver better shows at each stop.

“I’m just never satisfied with anything,” he said. “Having that mentality is cool because you’re kind of just always searching for something cool, whether it’s a guitar tone, an arrangement or something, you know, something new, something to keep the excitement level up.” 

The War on Drugs will play Live Oak Bank Pavilion on Thursday, Sept. 29. Tickets start at $26.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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