The War on Drugs is not quite almost famous
How the War on Drugs became one of the break out acts of 2014 and crossed over into a better tour bus and bigger shows
It’s one of the weird things about the music industry: A band or artist toils for years, building up a small but loyal fan base when, suddenly, the universe shifts.
That’s what happened earlier this year after Rolling Stone declared the War on Drugs one of the “breakout acts of 2014”—alongside newcomers such as Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett and Seattle pop-punk quartet Tacocat.
That the Philadelphia-based band actually formed nearly a decade ago and has, to date, released three albums, including this year’s Lost in the Dream, is apparently just a minor detail in the story of its new-found success.
The band will continue to build on that success when it performs Saturday, October 4, as part of the TBD Fest in West Sacramento.
Singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel laughs about the attention—but it’s not a snotty, cynical laugh, but rather one of amusement and even gratitude.
“I’ve never been one to be snobbish about music. … I understand that it’s a big world out there and ’breakout’ means ’crossing over,’” he said during a recent call from his Philly home.
And in this case, crossing over doesn’t necessarily mean big-time famous (yet), but it has translated to bigger sales and more opportunities. Lost in the Dream, released in March, debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 album chart and received critical acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork (the online music bible gave it an 8.8 out 10 rating), NME (a 9 out 10 rating) and the Guardian (four out of five stars). Now, the members of the War on Drugs suddenly find themselves playing bigger clubs and festivals, all while traveling in a tour bus that’s decidedly nicer than its old utility van.
“It’s been cool to see how a little success with a song or a record can really shape who you’re reaching,” Granduciel said.
Still, he adds, those are all just bonus perks.
“We have a record that’s doing well and I think it’s great—but we’d be doing this either way. We didn’t get into this to be a huge band.”
Rather, the indie band formed in 2005 after Granduciel met singer-songwriter Kurt Vile and the two bonded over record collections. Soon, Granduciel joined Vile’s band the Violators. Eventually, the pair founded the War on Drugs and released an EP (2007’s Barrel of Batteries) and a studio album (2008’s Wagonwheel Blues) before Vile left to focus on the Violators. There were no hard feelings, however, between the two. Vile appeared on the War on Drug’s second album, 2011’s Slave Ambient, and is, incidentally, also scheduled to perform at TBD Fest.
Lost in the Dream picks up sonically where Slave Ambient drifted off; the 10 songs here are richly ambient—spacey even—rock jams grounded with persistently catchy melodies. Over the years, the War on Drug’s earned numerous comparisons to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. All apt descriptions, maybe, if those artists got stoned and wrote songs while listening to a steady diet of Sonic Youth, Unwound, and My Bloody Valentine.
The band recorded over the course of the two years, popping in and out of various studios from Philadelphia to New York, New Jersey to North Carolina. The chance to leave Philly, Granduciel said, ultimately meant fewer distractions.
“I just like the idea of getting out and going somewhere else to record,” Granduciel said. “If you can [do that], then everyone’s just living and breathing music.”
The making of the record came on the heels of a break-up—something, Granduciel said, that found its way into the music, naturally.
“I found myself confused about what I wanted out of my own life and what it meant to be someone who puts something out into the world,” he said. “The record I ended up with was a journey of [answering] those questions and following my gut.”