Johnny Pierce (The Drums) discusses his Abysmal Thoughts
Behind a tent in the media village, Johnny Pierce and I huddled around a TasCam as the first sets of the weekend poured out from the Grant Park stage behind us. We talked in depth about his new album, how he began making music, and his new boyfriend who loves to dance. Listen to the interview or read it below!
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Morgan: Alright, so I’m Morgan and I’m here with Johnny from The Drums.
Johnny: Hey hey!
M: Let’s start out really basic… How did you first start making music?
J: How did I first start making music? Wow, I’m going way back. I found an analog synthesizer in the basement of my father’s house. He is the pastor of a church and he didn’t use it anymore, he upgraded to a new synthesizer. I asked him if I could have it. One of the few nice things he’s ever done for me was let me use it. I started recording in my bedroom on this weird, old sequencer synthesizer and then I put some songs online and I signed that band to Columbia Records like six months later. It was just a really weird, crazy thing. Then that record came out… total flop. No one cared about it. Then a few years later I started The Drums in Orlando, Florida of all places. I went down there to get away from the city, New York City is where I live. There was just too many distractions.
M: You didn’t think Disney World would be too distracting?
J: Oh my god. You know, I don’t have the Disney World excitement because I didn’t go as a kid. I went for the first time as an adult and they gave us the VIP tour. We had an escort and all of this stuff. I think you have to go as a kid to really feel that.
M: I’m just like “fuck the crowds”.
J: And it’s hot and I don’t like cotton candy.
M: So what inspired you in those early days, what bands or artists?
J: I was listening to mostly Christian music because I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything else. My parents are completely crazy, but every once in awhile I would sneak things. There was a Christian label called Tooth and Nail and they had some cool things like MxPx and this band that I really loved called Joy Electric. It was really weird synth pop, like the bizarres thing you’d ever hear in your life. It’s still so weird. So, I fell in love with that. It had a big influence on me and my songwriting still today. I can hear melodies in my music today that influenced me from then. And the Bjork. Bjork was huge for me growing up. She came out with that record Homogenic in 1997 and it just blew my brain and it still, to me, is my favorite album ever. It’s the record that showed me you can do whatever you want with music. As an artist you have total freedom to do exactly what you want. I think with my latest record, Abysmal Thoughts, it was the first time I really implemented those ideals. You don’t have to hold back and you can really express yourself. With the new record I don’t have Jacob or Connor in the band anymore, so it’s just me so I have a real freedom to really just talk about what I want to talk about. So I’m finally talking about sex, and I’m talking about drug use, and I’m talking about feeling hopeless, not knowing who I am, self-identity crisis, and all this stuff that I think before this record I wouldn’t have been ready to say. It’s all good.
M: I was going to ask you about how it was becoming a one man band. I had read that you said you did a lot of the stuff before, but now you have a lot more freedom. So this new album, I also read that it came after a big heartbreak, a big change in your life and now you’ve been touring with it, playing it, how has it grown? As you’re starting to move on with your life, how has the album changed for you or has it changed for you?
J: It’s kind of like every song was therapy for me. As I opened up my heart and really just vomited out whatever I needed to say, I felt myself feeling less and less sad and I was learning about myself. I was writing these songs and finally I stopped pointing a finger at other people and this is a record where I’m kind of blaming myself for a lot of the issues that I deal with instead of always delegating that to someone else. It was a real learning experience and when the album was finished I could label it Abysmal Thoughts: these are my abysmal thoughts and they’re there and I don’t really hold them right now, so I feel like I really grew as a person. It’s the first time that’s happened when I’ve made an album and it’s because I’m honoring my heart. I’m actually listening to my heart instead of generalizing things.
M: That’s really special.
J: It was amazing. I’ve played a lot of strings in my life, but making this record was bigger for me than any of that.
M: Sometimes shit like that is. The album art for that, is a little funky.. Where did that come from?
J: That’s my boyfriend, Keon. He’s super cool. He’s actually going to be here soon. He was a Mormon when I met him.
M: Oh really?
J: Yeah, he was wearing his undergarments and everything. I was there when he cut them up and threw them away. It was a big moment for us. I came from a strict religious background, same with him, so we have all these things to talk about. He’s an encouragement to me and I can be an encouragement to him. Anyway, that was the first week he and I were hanging out and I was working on the album artwork and I was like “Oh god, if you smell my Adidas sneaker that could be super sexy”, and that’s part of what the album is about. Part of my aim with the new me is to sort of de-villianize sex and to be able to talk about it, and experience it, and enjoy it. It’s the most natural thing ever. I wrote a song dealing with when I lost my virginity. It’s called “Instruct Me”. I wrote that in 2009. I wanted it to come out on the first album. Jacob was like “we don’t want to talk about sex”, so we were always leaning towards a more whimsical vibe instead of really just going for it. With this album I wanted to just go for it. I’m exploring my fetishes and all this stuff. Keon is so amazing, he’s very open to it as well. It’s so dope, and he’s super beautiful.
M: I know, I saw the picture and was like “wow”! What can we expect to see from your set today?
J: A lot of crying and screaming, I’m just kidding! Today we’ll probably be pulling out most of the “hits”, and I do that in quotation marks. Songs people want to hear. If it’s a headline show, like we’re playing a show tonight at the SoHo house, and that’s a little more secretive maybe I shouldn’t have said that, that’ll be more album songs and stuff.
M: So is that what the rest of your tour will be like then?
J: Yeah, yeah.
M: We’re from Indiana and you’re playing in Indianapolis this weekend.
J: Yeah! Will you be there?
M: We’ll still be here, but it’s a cool part of the city.
J: I’m excited. I think it’s our last show of the tour, so we’ll give them hell.
M: You better! For me! Last question, what are you currently listening to?
J: I’m just kind of listening to this DJ/producer named Sophie. It’s a trans person. She is making the music that to me is the most fresh, period, of all music being made today.
M: I’l have to look her up.
J: She’s dope. We went dancing to her at PS1 in New York. Keon loves to dance so he’s always dragging me along to house parties and stuff.
M: I think Keon and I would get along well!
J: I think we would get along well!
M: Me too. Thank you, it’s been fun!