Latest album is self-examination in its rawest form
Jonny Pierce stands alone. The bandleader of one-time Brooklyn-based indie darlings The Drums has served as the sole member of the act since longtime collaborator and childhood friend Jacob Graham left before making 2017’s Abysmal Thoughts.
That 12-song collection not only saw Pierce use the same guitar, synthesizer, drum machine and reverb unit he’s used since the band’s inception to create a Drums album entirely by himself, it allowed him to make it unflinchingly autobiographical.
But with the release of April’s Brutalism, The Drums’ fifth studio album, Pierce realizes he still has a long way to go in fully realizing his singular artistic vision.
“I saw Abysmal Thoughts as a really important stepping stone,” he said recently during a two-night tour stop in San Francisco. “It was a very therapeutic album to make. It was the first time I really started looking inward. It was the start of me focusing on my heart and my mind, what makes me happy and, really, what doesn’t. But it didn’t come with a lot of answers.”
Pierce admits that Brutalism didn’t serve as some kind of magic pill either, something that completely put him at ease as essentially a solo artist. But it did significantly move him along in that process and get him closer to some core truths.
And a lot of that growth came away from the recording studio. Pierce started taking himself a lot more seriously, changing a lot of his habits — from self-discipline to healthy eating — and really threw himself into therapy.
Not surprisingly, the effort yielded positive results in every facet of his life.
“I’d always sort of romanticized pain,” said Pierce. “I looked at my life as this poetic, romantic, chaotic, blurry thing. I love that idea. And as a teenager, it served me well. But as I got into my 20s, it also f*cked me up a bit. I want to de-mess my life now. And I think Brutalism is a reflection of that.”The new album unabashedly embraces pop, a somewhat significant realignment for a band that has long operated under the umbrella of surf rock. It’s also the first Drums album to feature live drumming (instead of Pierce’s programming) and a slew of other components that the front man and bandleader otherwise always took on himself.
“I couldn’t have made Brutalism by myself,” Pierce said. “It was refreshing and took a lot of weight off of me. I spent a lot less time freaking out about every little detail. And most importantly, it gave me more space to focus on what I wanted to say.”
If Abysmal Thoughts was Pierce’s lyrical coming out party, Brutalism is an official public statement from a completely unencumbered solo artist — a candid, undiluted, refined and unapologetic self-examination in its rawest form.
And while the album doesn’t tell the whole story, it’s the closest Pierce has come to it thus far.
“It’s a pretty direct album,” he said. “I wanted to talk about my truths in a very honest and noble type of way. I wanted it to be less flowery than any of the others records — something more direct and less ‘indie-schmindie.’”
Mission accomplished. And perhaps even more importantly, Pierce’s artistic growth has gone hand-in-hand with his growth and maturation as a person.
“I’ve always appreciated the struggle in art,” he said. “I just don’t want to soak in it anymore.”
The solo artist already has begun work on a follow-up to Brutalism and promises it will take things even farther down the path that started when he inherited sole control of the band. But after a decade of making music, he also realizes that taking care of himself is the best way to get there.
“I’m riding this creative wave,” said Pierce. “A bunch of people helped me out with this record and it gave me such a lift. But there won’t ever be a day when I don’t have to make a conscious effort to take a deep breath and say, ‘Let’s try to make today a better day.’ I’m just far too sensitive. I’m affected by everything. And that’s just who I am.”
When: 8 p.m. July 30
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave., North Park