When local promoter Jaclyn Brandt began organizing what could become Boise's biggest annual music festival, she hoped to have at least one or two big-name acts in the list of nearly 150 scheduled to play. Getting poppy buzz band The Drums on the bill--which may go a long way in putting the Promenade Music Festival on the national map--was a fluke, but one she was more than happy to accept.
"The Drums were booking their tour," Brandt says. "They happened to be looking at playing Neurolux that night anyway, so they agreed to play as part of the festival."
Jonathan Pierce, The Drums' charismatically understated 26-year-old frontman, doesn't measure the success of a pop song by its commitment to classic chord changes but by how quickly it can make you feel like a teenager in the '90s wishing you were in the '80s.
By that standard, The Drums' self-titled debut album, released this past spring, is an unparalleled triumph.
"I realized that after writing most of the album, I was writing the songs and imagining myself 10 years younger in all these situations," Pierce says. "Like that song 'Best Friend.' I was imagining myself 10 years younger than I actually was and didn't take note that I was sort of writing this album as a teenager, even though I wasn't a teenager."
Even the band's name is intended to evoke, as Pierce put it in an interview with Huck Magazine, "a faux history. It feels like 'The Drums' is a band that's been around for 20 years."
"I've never really been drawn to a specific era so much as I've been drawn to specific songs, and lots of the greatest songs I've ever heard and that have influenced me just so happen to have been written in the '80s," Pierce says. "I'm not really sure why that is but there were some incredible bands then and some incredible songs. There was a lot of awful music as well, but also some really great moments in pop music. I mean, obviously, bands like The Smiths," who can be heard throughout The Drums' entire oeuvre.
As bloggers roll their eyes at certain genres for wallowing in nostalgia for warped New Order cassettes, Pierce reveals a sincere sense of duty to the good ol' days--real or imagined. That makes Pierce, whom pitchfork.com (in a 7.5 out of 10 review of the band's LP) describes as "bearing a passing resemblance to Ralph Macchio's Karate Kid nemesis William Zabka," come across as a sentimental badass.
"We draw from other eras as well," he says. "We're influenced by anything, from the Shangri-Las to the Ramones to even some modern influences."
"Down By the Water," the band's latest single, is a decidedly '50s throwback. The song's self-produced video (they're all self-produced, actually) is an almost exact move-for-move, angle-for-angle replica of a Youtube-able Shangri-Las performance on an episode of Shindig!, the early '60s ABC variety show.
If it ain't broke, Pierce says, don't fix it.
"There's a tried-and-true recipe for a pop song, but what makes a great pop song is a nostalgic feeling and classic pop sincerity," he says. "I think people want to feel comforted with nostalgia whether they want to admit it or not. Whatever gives them that feeling. I think that's why I'm drawn to writing pop songs that have that nostalgic feeling and this whole thing of your youth. That's what I do."
Judging by reaching him at his hotel while waiting to play for 50,000 people at the Flow Festival in Helsinki, Finland, things are going pretty well.
Though born in Florida and currently based in Brooklyn, The Drums are riotously big in Europe, having charmed the pants off a schizophrenic British press that recognizes recycled New Wave when it hears it. But that doesn't stop them singing along to the incredibly poppy "Let's Go Surfing"--whose bridge includes the root of '80s playground anthem "Down Down, Baby"--or "Best Friend," the album's first track.
Listening to hipsters flash chillwave gang signs with Ebay-purchased Power Gloves may no longer achieve the 88 mpg required to get back to what Pierce calls "those moments you wish would never end." But Pierce is positive that people want to get back there. And that The Drums can take them. And that there's nothing wrong with that.
"We have a friend who flew to Helsinki to hang out with us, and we were talking and he said 'escapism is awful,' and I thought he was just crazy," Pierce says. "Why should we spend our lives worried with reality? I'd rather live a delusional, overly romantic life instead of what was dealt me. That's why the songs are a bit dramatic and romanticized. That's what makes pop music great--that sense of escape. It takes you away."