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The War on Drugs on Difficult Touring, New Members & Making a ‘Very Simple’ New Album

Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with the band’s frontman Adam Granduciel ahead of their return to Australia later this year

The War on Drugs

It’s a rare moment at home for The War On Drugs’ singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel. His band have been busy in recent months touring North America and Europe, and in a rare spell off the road he’s doing interviews about their forthcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand.

For some time now, home for Granduciel has been Los Angeles, but he still has a huge place in his heart for the place where it all started for The War On Drugs, Philadelphia.

 “I miss it all the time in different ways,” he says of his old hometown. “I miss the time, that life, and the coming of age and starting the band, but I love living out here in LA. I’ve been here since 2016, basically. 

“It’s a different place to Philly, but you can be an Eagles fan everywhere,” he says with a loyal laugh for his beloved NFL team. “I’ve got Philadelphia Eagles license plates; I’ve got Eagles flags and Tupperware. I got it all.”

The War On Drugs were one of the few bands to do significant touring once things opened up during the pandemic in 2021-22, and the album tour for their fifth LP, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, was an incredibly complex journey on all fronts. 

“It was weird,” Granduciel recalls. “It was insane because it felt like we’d been in lockdown forever – a year-and-a-half, two years – and then we were out doing the thing that we were so good at doing, but no one knew the rules. We didn’t know what we’d do if someone got COVID… it still felt like we were in lockdown.

“The first couple months – the US and European tours of 2021-22 – were exhausting on every level. It was constantly stressing if somebody caught it at the show last night, because there are thousands of people at it and you’re supposed to get back in your bubble and keep the show on the road. 

“It was just a very stressful, dark period, but we got through it.  We did an amazing job considering the circumstances and we’re a better band for it. No doubt about it. We’re a tighter group of people, a committed group of people… but it was definitely not fun. It was not like, ‘oh everything’s open again and we’re back on the road again, it’s amazing.’ It was definitely not that. It was like, ‘this is fucking stressful.'” 

 Indeed, while touring has now resumed a modicum of normality for the band, the initial run of the I Don’t Live Here Anymore album tour was a travelling mélange of highs and lows on every level. There were restrictions all around but the band were playing some of their most prestigious headlining shows to date.

“We did Madison Square Garden, but between COVID and the blizzard, it’s hard to know how many people would have come,” Granduciel concedes. “We had like 11,000 people there, which is amazing, but it was impossible to judge what the true turnout would have been, because of all these crazy factors.

“Even without COVID, the weather was totally restrictive. The weather in every city we played was terrible. And with the COVID thing it was like, ‘is anybody gonna come to these shows?’ People came but it was just too exhausting to be excited about anything. 

“I don’t mean it was all terrible, but we didn’t know what to do. The business of touring is not based on the theory that if somebody is sick you cancel the show. If that was the way it was in life, no one would ever tour. If it’s a case of ‘someone’s got COVID, let’s cancel,’ well that’s gonna bankrupt the band.

“So we were really straddling this line of trying to enjoy it and trying to be ‘is everyone healthy?’ If we don’t test, it’s very irresponsible for people in the band. So it was very confusing, but it was also fun.” 

Making matters even more complicated is that the band’s longtime guitarist, Anthony LaMarca is immunocompromised.  

 “At the centre of all our thinking was, ‘we’ve got to keep Anthony healthy. We’ve got to keep him free from COVID,‘” Granduciel recalls. “Looking back on it, I don’t think there are many bands who could have pulled it off like we did.

“What with the COVID and the weather and central to our thinking is to protect our friend and our fanbase. We couldn’t really interact with anybody – friends, family, opening acts, labels, publicists.  We couldn’t have anybody backstage. Which was a bummer, you know?”

Perhaps adding some lightness and enjoyment to the proceedings, the tour also marked the recruitment of Eliza Hardy Jones on percussion and keyboards, a new member but an old friend from Philadelphia.

“She was part of our circle anyway, but it’s intense having a new member because you have another set of hands, there’s more gear, there’s more work for you to do,” Granduciel explains. “There’s another dynamic I have to learn as I haven’t toured with her before. 

“But Eliza is an incredibly easygoing person, an amazing touring person and an amazing person in general. That made it a little easier, because we were showing her all our stuff. ‘Look, this is what we do in New York,’ or ‘we’re doing two nights in Minneapolis, check this out.’ It was cool to have her on and show her our crowd and our fans and our community. It was special.” 

 The War On Drugs emerged in 2008 but the trajectory to now really began in 2014 with their breakthrough album, Lost in the Dream. At the time, Granduciel had been going through a period of deep depression, so it’s significant that the band’s third album served as a launchpad for their upward trajectory ever since.

“It’s only been recently that I’ve kind of been able to step back and appreciate it for what it was,” Granduciel notes. “Up ‘til the last couple of years, you don’t put too much emphasis on it, you just want to think that you’re still just gigging, and you don’t want to look back and talk about it. But I’m older now and have been looking through some old photos, video and demos from that time. 

“It’s amazing because not every band has that kind of thing happen. The record came out and it just slowly grew… yet actually quite quickly. The first six months of that record it was like, ‘the venue here needs to be twice as big. The venues in Europe are going to be huge.’ It was crazy. At the time you don’t want to think about it, you don’t want to ask why. There is no answer, but now I’m old enough to say it was cool. 

“There’s not a lot of bands who are given that opportunity where you’re already on your way, but people are just sort of opening the door for you. It was a pretty beautiful thing, honestly, because it allowed me to become something that I really never dreamed of. Which is to be able to do this for a living, given opportunities to make records and then have people talk about them. And tour and put together great groups of people.

“It’s really the most satisfying part – being given the opportunity to design the perfect group of people to tour and play music with.” 

While The War On Drugs are still busy touring on the back of 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, Granduciel says he’s been able to build a vision for their next album, despite the intensity of constant travel. 

“It’s been pretty intense, but in the first couple months of this year, I was able to start kind of chipping away at a bunch of ideas,” he says. “I definitely just want to make something very simple and very to the point. Not like bedroom recording, but just a little different, I think, to the last two records I’ve done which were so much trial and error, where you’re just caring about things you never cared about, sonically. 

“The last two records have been fun to make, although I wouldn’t call them fun. At all. But I’m excited that I was given the opportunity to make them the way we did. But I couldn’t make another record like that… just taking so long.

“Something that I have loved about recording is when you just commit to an idea, you run a rough mix, and you keep the weird thing and don’t overthink it, and say ‘the drums sound weird but they’re cool.’ We were overthinking with the kind of music we were making – maybe it was what those songs needed, but I’m ready to make something that seems more homemade. If not sonically, then just in its intent.”

The War on Drugs 2023 Australia & New Zealand Tour

With special guests Spoon & Indigo Sparke

Ticket information available via livenation.com.au or livenation.co.nz

Friday, December 1st
Anderson Park, Wellington, NZ

Saturday, December 2nd
Spark Arena, Auckland, NZ

Monday, December 4th (SOLD OUT)
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney, NSW

Tuesday, December 5th
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney, NSW

Thursday, December 7th
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, VIC

Saturday, December 9th
Riverstage, Brisbane, QLD

Monday, December 11th
Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Perth, WA