Band of the Week: The War on Drugs
Hometown: Philadelphia, Penn.
Fun Fact: While singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel treats the feel and ideas of his songwriting on the band’s debut very seriously, he’s careful on certain compositions to not finish his lyrics in advance of recording, in order to allow for improvisation.
Why It’s Worth Watching: Granduciel's plainspoken voice and his band's dreamily textured, ambient sound are alluringly compatible, lush and dreamy with a familiar rock 'n' roll bite.
For Fans Of: Tom Petty, Willie Nile, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth
The War On Drugs is a tough band to Google. Type “War On Drugs” into the search engine, and you’ll eventually find the band's website, though not before an endless number of entries, most of them critical, about the United States' struggling attempt to prohibit the use of illegal drugs. Or, a song by the Barenaked Ladies called “War on Drugs.” There’s even, weirdly, The Drug Law Blog, a site about drug policies in California that also has a rave about the band’s debut full-length on Secretly Canadian, Wagonwheel Blues.
This problem doesn’t much bother Adam Granduciel, the band’s singer/songwriter/guitarist. “I remember back when we started, I Googled the name and realized it was pretty time-consuming for me to sift through things,” he says. “I like it better that way, actually, because you can’t obsess over your press. And I don’t have a computer, anyway.”
Granduciel moved to Philadelphia from Oakland in 2003, met guitarist Kurt Vile and started making music with him. He and Vile especially delved into their interest in Dylan-engendered wordy folk-rock, with its yin-yang mix of tender acoustic and rousing electric guitars. But they also liked the transcendent grandeur of textured soundscapes as created by musicians/producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, with some Sonic Youth guitar rush thrown in. In 2005, the band was formed, later releasing an EP containing demos of several songs. (Granduciel and currently-on-leave drummer Kyle Lloyd did stints with Philadelphia’s pop-progressives The Capitol Years.)
Produced by Granduciel, Vile and Jeff Zeigler, Wagonwheel Blues uses samples of Granduciel’s own early-rough-mix recordings for its finished tracks. That helps give the music its dense, mysterious, haunting sound. But live, the band goes for a more immediate impact. “Sometimes we’ll get into a groove on a jam and just keep going,” Granduciel says. “Every night feels real fresh, real nice.”