The War on Drugs talks gear, songwriting and Asheville as a second home

INTROSPECTION: “I didn’t want to cloud the musicality of the record in a story,” Adam Granduciel says of writing The War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream. “It wasn’t really about anything other than my relationship to music and my relationship, at the time, to myself.” Photo by Dusdin Condren

It was gear that brought singer-songwriter and guitarist Adam Granduciel to Echo Mountain Recording Studios, one of five studios in five different states where he recorded The War on Drugs’ latest effort, Lost in the Dream. (The band also recorded parts of 2011’s Slave Ambient there.)

Granduciel wanted to use Echo Mountain’s Fairchild 670 stereo compressor — a famous piece of recording studio gear that bestows a silky, creamy, almost liquid sound to the mix. (Granduciel ran keyboards through it.) Echo Mountain also owns a rare prototype Marshall amplifier, which was used to track the bass guitar. And there’s an old Sony microphone that the musician is particularly fond of: “I feel like it’s a part of me.”

Similarly, Asheville is a part of of The War on Drugs, according to Granduciel. It’s a “second home” that served as a critical stop on the band’s earliest tours. The group returns on Wednesday, Oct. 15, to headline The Orange Peel.

“We just have really good memories of being [in Asheville] and traveling through there,” Granduciel says. “It’s become this great little haven that latched on to our music. We’d go on a big U.S. tour and play a bunch of empty rooms, but we’d say, ‘Oh, when we get to Asheville, we’ll have a great show.’”

Nowadays, The War on Drugs doesn’t play to many empty rooms. Since the release of Slave Ambient, the band’s profile has grown considerably. Pitchfork not only bestowed a Best New Music Award on Lost in the Dream, but named it the 21st-best record of the decade so far. The increased critical acclaim’s gone hand-in-hand with bigger stages and myriad festival circuit appearances. But almost two years of near-constant touring and increasingly high-profile gigs took a toll on Granduciel. Beset by sleep problems and anxiety attacks, he suffered a mental collapse that led to bouts of depression and paranoia — which, in true songwriter form, he mined for the tracks on Lost in the Dream.

“I had a bunch of different titles for the record that were way more depressing,” Granduciel says. “But I just kind of felt like [Lost in the Dream] was sort of hinting at the fact that everything was a little bit … off. The record is not about depression or being lonely. It was made with a lot of that stuff in mind, but it’s not about that stuff.”

So while song titles like “Suffering,” “Burning” and “Under the Pressure” hint at Granduciel’s inner turmoil, and gloomy reverb and icy synths amplify his big hooks and bigger emotions, Lost in the Dream finds the musician on the other side — awake and found.

“I didn’t want to cloud the musicality of the record in a story,” he says. “It wasn’t really about anything other than my relationship to music and my relationship, at the time, to myself. [The title] just sounded like, you know, what the record was about, which is just being a little unsure about stuff, but also at the same time enjoying life, well, trying to enjoy it.”

Midway through talking about Lost in the Dream — not seconds after he mentions Echo Mountain’s Gibson GA73 amplifier — Granduciel is interrupted by a knock at his door. A delivery truck drops off a new Fender Princeton, a single-speaker, low-wattage amplifier that’s especially valued in recording studios. Granduciel gets particularly psyched when talking about gear — whether it’s the array of amps and outboard gear he uses in studios or his own collection of modified guitars and effects boxes, all of which he employs to sculpt the rich and beautifully sweeping arrangements that embellish The War on Drugs’ folk-by-way-of-classic-rock, which draws liberally from the sacred marrows of Dylan, Springsteen and Petty.

“I love going to different studios and geeking out over the gear,” he says. “I like getting different drum sounds so that all the drums on the record don’t sound the same, song to song. Really, I think it’s just about using the studio to play into that. It’s like, ‘Oh, what do they have at Echo Mountain that I really want to take advantage of?’”

WHAT: The War on Drugs with Peter Matthew Bauer (of The Walkmen)
WHERE: The Orange Peel, theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 15, 9 p.m. $20 advance or $23 day of show

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About Patrick Wall
Patrick Wall lives and writes in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is carbon-based.

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