Battle hymns

The War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel keeps his finger on America's pulse

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Adam Granduciel ponders new recording processes
PHOTO BY GRAHAM TOLBERT

MUSIC On the winding beach roads of Central California, in the cool coastal stillness of midnight, I remembered what the music hive mind spewed forth when it came to recently released record (and previous albums) from Philadelphia's the War on Drugs: road trip music.

I pushed play on Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian) — the band's first full-length since the departure of Kurt Vile — and was greeted by Tom Petty. Well, not actually Petty, but the milieu in which an album of his might exist. It was the War on Drug's charismatic leader Adam Granduciel, a vocalist, guitarist, and harmonica playing samplerphile, and friends, pouring out of the speakers, wooing me with layer upon layer of crunchy rock.

The next week, I spoke with Granduciel while he cleaned dirty dishes in preparation for another tour away from his home base in Philadelphia.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You used to live in the East Bay.

Adam Granduciel I had a friend who was living there [in 2001], and I was like 'maybe I'll go see what California is all about.' I actually had never been there so I flew out with a bag and my guitars. I loved living there. It's just, I was so young and so restless that I stayed for two years...then moved back to the East Coast via train. I'd like to hopefully one day go back up there.

SFBG Tell me about making Slave Ambient.

AG Eighty-five percent of it started at my house. We had informal sessions where we would record, maybe just drums — or two drummers at once — and I'd record everything to tape and then spend days dubbing it out, sampling, resampling, then I'd transfer all the tapes at my friend Jeff Zeigler's studio.

We also did some stuff in Dallas, Texas for a week...in December 2009. A lot of people say that stuff was scrapped — it was really never scrapped, I would keep like, a vocal chorus, or some guitar or drums.

[Zeigler's] got a great collection of synthesizers, effects, and mics. A lot of the crazy sounds are just myself at home off the tape machine. I think the record is the journey in my growth as someone who is constantly recording at home and learning new ways to do things. Like all the stuff that's under "Come to the City," without that beat in the background — the electronic pulse — that song would be super straight-forward. I wasn't always working on a song, I was working on a tone. It was about a year of doing that, then finally I was like, 'alright, I'm now ready to focus on the record.'

SFBG Sounds like a lengthy process.

AG There are 12 songs on the record, I probably had ideas for 30 and they all ended up being thrown in through various ways to songs on the record. Like, "Baby Missiles" we worked on for almost three years, just trying to get the right feel. I mixed it like, 50 times.

SFBG What's your take on the whole road trip/driving music thing?

AG I think it's cool. I'm definitely sometimes just like, 'really?' But I think it's cool because when you're driving and a great song comes on you're like, 'this is the fucking life.' But at the same time, driving music sometimes means that it's music you don't have to think about, you just cruise like "Boys of Summer" or "Take it Easy" — I guess those are both Don Henley — but I think maybe it's just that freedom or spirit in the songs that people relate to. Or it's just something people write without having experienced it.

SFBG I'd read it enough times that I made a point to listen to it on a road trip.

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