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Song and Sound: The War on Drugs, April 21 at The Rozz Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 13:50

The War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel

Wagonwheel Blues, The War on Drugs’ 2008 full-length, starts with two seconds of something before launching into the harmonica-fueled “Arms Like Boulders,” on which band mastermind Adam Granduciel sounds shockingly like Bob Dylan.

Those two seconds – perhaps filtered guitar noise, a light layer of percussion, and a single hit on a glockenspiel – aren’t essential to the song, but they are essential to The War on Drugs, which will perform on Thursday at The Rozz Tox in Rock Island. It’s a tease for the band’s atmospheric side that’s combined with straightforward Americana to create something unusual but right – Dylan and Springsteen fused with the experimentation of the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, and Sonic Youth. Listening to Wagonwheel Blues and the band’s 2010 EP, Future Weather, it seems amazing that this alchemic formula hasn’t been tried more often.

In a phone interview this week, Granduciel said the aesthetic emphasizes “two worlds”: “normal song structure and sounds.” As Pitchfork.com said in its review of Wagonwheel Blues, the band “emphasize[s] sound and song equally, showing a wide musical range despite the limited elements. ... [T]he War on Drugs’ approach comes across as not only natural, but imminently worthwhile, as if these revered sources needed to be roughed up a bit to sound new.”

While The War on Drugs often builds a wall of sound, it’s also capable of simplicity. Future Weather’s “A Pile of Tires” is little more than guitar and vocals, and that speaks to the songwriting and recording processes of addition and subtraction. Granduciel said the home-recorded demos are the backbone of most songs, and then the band builds on them before stripping elements out.

“You can still work off that original, bare-bones demo without ever really re-recording over anything,” he explained. “So you can put a ton of stuff on it, and at the end of the day, you can erase 95 percent of the tracks, and then you’re left with ... what you started with two years ago.” (Of Future Weather’s “Baby Missiles” – which will also appear on Slave Ambient, a double album due in August – he said: “We spent like three and a half years recording that song ... . I’m not kidding.”)

Band members are encouraged to contribute whatever they want in the studio, and Granduciel stressed that refining – and finding – the songs involves adding and removing layers, not splicing together different versions. “It’s just about what stays and what goes,” he said.

“Every song is just about the moment, and the place where it comes from,” he added, with “the goal of ending up with a set of songs that make you feel something when you listen to them. ... The reason the recording process is sometimes pretty involved or takes a long time or might in the end sound a little messed up is just because we’re searching for those little moments.” He said a scratch vocal sometimes ends up in the finished song because “it’s the one that has the most feeling.”

In a live setting, The War on Drugs doesn’t try to mimic its recordings – which might be impossible given its studio process. The quartet, Granduciel said, plays the songs “the way it feels best with the band in the moment, ... trying to re-create the mood rather than re-create the structure.”

The War on Drugs will perform on Thursday, April 21, at The Rozz Tox (2108 Third Avenue in Rock Island). The show starts at 8 p.m., and the bill also includes Shenandoah Davis. Admission is $8.

For more information on The War on Drugs, visit TheWarOnDrugs.net.

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