On August 16th, The War on Drugs will release Slave Ambient, their latest album of hazy, slack (but somehow still epic) rock jams. It’s a formula the band has down—a sort of blue collar Philadelphia update of classic rock tropes set against a constant ambient thrum. It’s a beautiful record that worms its way into your brain before you even realize it. We spoke to Adam Granduciel about ambient music and the importance of place while he was touring in Belgium far from his Philadelphia home. Listen to “Baby Missles,” the first single from Slave Ambient, right here, and catch the band on any of the tour dates listed at the end of the post.
War on Drugs has always had a lot of ambient passages. Where does that come from?I think when I started getting really into home recording is when I got a little more interested in that stuff. It’s a just a whole approach. A lot of that just comes from stuff that I’ll end up just building and building at home. So it ends up with really intense textures. I get a lot of enjoyment out of recording as well. So I always find a way to mix some of that in with a song. Or some of that stuff becomes the backbone of the song if it’s rhythmic.
It also makes for a pretty cohesive record. There’s a general hum under almost every song. Yeah that’s actually where the title came from. Because I had a bunch of tapes, like slave tapes, you know, when you have multiple machines. And I’d have certain tapes that were just all the ambient stuff, so I’d just fly them in behind. Like slave them to the other machine, behind other songs.
So you’d record the ambient stuff separately and then weave it in later? Not always. A lot of it would take it’s own shape, but sometimes I would randomly fly it to other song ideas I had. And either re-sample stuff from there or think about it in a different way.
There’s always been an underlying blue-collar working man narrative through all the War on Drugs records. Is that the background you come from? I’ve lived in the same house in Fishtown, which is now pretty up and coming. But I’ve lived there about nine years now. When I moved, there wasn’t anything going on, that neighborhood was real shitty, really kind of backwoods. It’s kind of like a run-down house. I think that kind of mentality, just working a lot and also trying to do music—just trying to find time to do both.
So War on Drugs is pretty tied to a Philadelphia-centric identity. Do you think the band could exist if you’d never lived there? I don’t think so, no. Because so many things set the stage for where future albums will go too. The kind of stuff I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, actually really the place I’ve lived has been a huge part of it. I’ve had my studio there. In my house, we had the freedom to experiment all the time. We didn’t have any noise issues with neighbors or anything. So we could always just learn what it sounds like to run everything through amps or just all sorts of experiments. You don’t even realize at the moment that you’re learning, you’re just kind of playing around. Playing music all the time… I think that definitely had a huge impact on the sound.
Can you ever see yourself leaving that house? Oh yeah, I have to move. My girlfriend’s going to break up with me if I don’t. It’s a three-story house, it’s really big and it’s fairly run down. But I also have this huge backyard, which is obviously strange for a city. Its maybe 100 feet long by 25-30 feet wide. When I moved in it was pretty much a landfill, but over the years I’ve cleaned it out. I have an awesome English garden back there. So usually in the winter time, when the house is super freezing and drafty and the bills are pretty high I’m like “I gotta get out.” But then in summer, when I’m in the backyard and its gorgeous I always have this vision of buying the house and building a studio in it. It’s also pretty cheap, so I’d end up moving into a smaller place for more dough. And have to get a practice space and all that bullshit. But yeah I think the house itself has had a huge impact on the band and the recordings. Just having the freedom to do whatever with no time constraints.