the war on drugs: craft comes first

THE WAR ON DRUGS:
CRAFT COMES FIRST

By Erin Bromhead

If you’re looking for someone to add to the Christmas card list this year, consider Jeff. Yup… Jeff. A childhood friend of Adam Granduciel—principle songwriter and visionary behind The War on Drugs—Jeff is responsible for introducing Adam to the guitar back in the early 90s: “His dad had a guitar, and I remember the first time I hit the low note on it through some distortion chorus reverb setting that was like shock, y’know? It was the coolest moment of my life. It really was.”

A year later, after insistently begging his parents, Adam scored his first guitar. “Regardless of ever having a band, or recording a song, or going on tour, or making a record, or getting a label, all I wanted to do was play.” In the early years, Granduciel dedicated his time to learning every Nick Drake tuning and getting the Siamese Dream tablature book before shifting his focus to collaboration and learning how to communicate through music. “It was always based around wanting to be a better player and wanting to be better at expressing myself through the instrument.”

In a way, this drive to better himself musically has become the gift that keeps on giving to the rest of us. As guitarist and vocalist of The War on Drugs, Granduciel has released four incredible albums, each more evolved and commercially successful than the last. Yet, he’s notably modest when addressing his band’s success. “We’re very fortunate we get to play as much as we do, and have people listen. But I still feel like I have so much to learn and that there’s still so many possibilities that I haven’t touched on yet, y’know?”

In an age of instant gratification, reality tv, and people being famous for posting photos of their breakfast, Granduciel’s dedication to his craft is absolutely refreshing. He plays music to play music; his commercial success is merely a byproduct of the countless hours he’s dedicated to songwriting and sonic experimentation. In fact, no matter how many times I bring up his recent Grammy for their 2017 release, A Deeper Understanding, or upcoming headlining slot at The Hollywood Bowl (one of the most iconic venues in the world), Adam refuses to indulge. To be honest, he seems a bit uncomfortable, as if the whole idea of fame weirds him out. (Self-obsessed, pompous rockstar, he is not.)

Now, back in the studio again, Granduciel isn’t letting the post-Grammy pressure get to his head. He’s not changing his sound, hiring hit songwriters, or incessantly toiling over his band’s social media marketing strategy.

Rather, he’s approaching these sessions as he always does: “We try to take it one step at a time and get better at the craft really—try to write better songs, get better sounds out of my guitar, try to learn the process of recording in the easiest way to get an idea from your amps to your tape.”

On top of that, he says that not really knowing where a song is going to end up is key. “That’s really all it’s about, when you pick up a guitar, plug it into an amp or choose an amp off the wall, or put a mic on a drum set it’s just like, I don’t know what, but I just want to get something that surprises me.” It’s this attraction to the unknown that led him to using Jazzmasters, too. “With the Jazzmaster, it’s that balance of knowing what it can do, and knowing that it can take me anywhere I want to go.”

And though a short tour of the country’s current radio stations might suggest otherwise, he’s optimistic about the future of guitar-based music. “People just want to find ways to express themselves. And music’s not going anywhere, and the guitar isn’t going anywhere, it’s just always evolving… the tradition of the guitar is still very much alive and well.” And plus, nothing makes a better sound upon impact. “If you throw a laptop against the wall, it’s not gonna make a cool sound, y’know?” Your move, Apple.

the rise of the anti-hero

Originally released in 1958, the Jazzmaster® was overlooked by the artists it was designed for and eventually discontinued. Left to dwell in pawn shops and dusty stock rooms, it was discovered and embraced by musicians who used it to create entirely new sounds and genres, from surf and noise rock to shoegaze and alt-country. 60 years after its introduction, the Jazzmaster remains the go-to for the misfits and anti-heroes looking for new ways to push the creative boundaries of music.