Scared you didn’t we, pothead? Don’t worry, the DEA is probably only slightly more internet savvy than John McCain (he’s “getting on” soon), but we are speaking of Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs, the band, anyway. We have spoken about them before which you may not remember (you are a pothead), and put them in the Gen F section of the magazine. And now they have a new video, directed by Mark Shonenveld, for “Needle In Your Eye” off their excellent debut Wagonwheel Blues that makes us oddly wistful for childhood road trips through the expansive American West, though it is presumably a statement in visuals about the white man’s desecration of sacred lands. Either way, read the Gen F from FADER 54 after the jump.
LOSING IT: The War On Drugs Is Almost Too Much
Story Eric Ducker Photography Dominic Nahr
The War on Drugs is a righteous band. Their debut Wagonwheel Blues burns with all-night ramblers and mind wanderers. In their universe, diamonds exist at the bottom of the sea and god’s will is compared to a catapult without aim. Songs end with hey!s and whoo!s that come with a mixture of triumph and relief. Their name was chosen after a friend who was co-authoring his own dictionary wrote a two-page, Gregory Corso-style ramble/rant on the subject. It’s all almost too major to handle.
Over the phone, singer Adam Granduciel explains how they formed after he took a cross-country Amtrak journey that started in Oakland and ended in Philadelphia. There he met Kurt Vile, and they began playing guitar and jamming together. Over the years the formations of the War on Drugs have included just the two of them and a drum machine, an epic situation of three guitarists and two drummers, and the current more traditional lineup that also features Charlie Hall, Dave Hartley and Kyle Lloyd. And though their music will have you reaching for references from four decades of rock, they speak through the past because it’s the language that best suits what they have to say, not because they want to play dress up. “We don’t go shopping together,” says Granduciel. “Me and Kurt might trade clothes occasionally. He’s got some of my tees, I’ve got a couple of his long sleeve Levi’s.”
Even after the interview, armed with the knowledge that Granduciel doesn’t speak in the wizardy voice he sings in and that the band arrived at the texture of their sound through a love of vintage equipment, I was still unsatisfied with my understanding of the War on Drugs. So I listened to Wagonwheel Blues again and again as I drove up the 101 to Sherman Oaks to pick up some patio furniture my wife found on Craig’s List for a very reasonable price. On the ride I thought about the gay meth dealer who stole my uncle-in-law’s watch collection, blood clots, and a white dragon on a purple T-shirt. And I realized that no matter how you try to make sense of them, the War on Drugs is modern music for modern times and that old stories turn new every day. Then I almost missed my exit and ended up by the Galleria.