As he drops his new record Brutalism, we meet Jonny Pierce of The Drums to discuss travel addiction, anxiety and the process behind his new, emotively charged bouncy beats.
Jonny Pierce has been on quite a journey the past few years. He’s had to handle his band members leaving The Drums, he’s undergone a painful divorce, found love again and started on a new path as a “solo artist”, so to speak. In spite of the many changes he’s endured, one thing has remained consistent; his near faultless musical output. There’s no one quite like Pierce when it comes to putting out an emotionally charged record. From the lyrics to the production, you can tell t hat Pierce has torn away a little piece his soul and stuffed it into his work. Even his totally self-made album Abysmal Thoughts was masterful and majestic, with an unmatchable level of heartbreak at its foundations. I’d have described it as his magnum opus – at least until today.
For his newest album Brutalism, he’s exploring feelings loneliness and the “invisible wall” which seems to be holding him back. It’s complex and collected It’s also a slightly different venture for The Drums, with lots of energetic bursts layered over powerful vocals; pop perfection in all its guises. Describing it as “a modern sound adventure with a whole heap of heart,”, this is the one that Pierce has been most excited about. With a clear sense of direction and assuredness about Brutalism, the LA-based dreamer is on a path, to where, he’s not sure, but for now it’s the right one.
As he returns from a blissful holiday to decompress before the release, we sit down with Jonny to talk travel addiction, battling anxiety and the thought process behind his latest masterpiece.
What do you consider to be the key themes of the new album?
There are two main themes or messages shall we call them, that are important to me and I hope translate to people who are listening to the record. One is this idea that I feel separated from the rest of the world and when I try to connect, I still feel disconnected through this invisible wall which is holding me back. In my life, it has made me feel very lonely, hopeless and fearful of my future.
On the other hand, this loneliness has fuelled my fire and made me re-think about the angles I’m taking on a path to creativity, not just with music, but with my daily lifestyle. My awareness of social situations has been heightened too, so I feel like good things have come out of it and its something I deal with every day, so I really wanted to convey this sense of not fitting in and loneliness in my music. Vulnerability is a big part of this record, just being able to express how I felt in the moment and that’s the type of world that I want to live in; where people drop their act and express their purest emotions. I really do believe this is why I don’t connect with people because of their unwillingness to just be vulnerable. People are so scared to be anything but sexy, confident and portray that their lives are amazing, when in reality they are none of these things; we are just us. I don’t want to compromise, I don’t want to chit chat until I die, and only true joy comes from human connection. I really wanted to start this record off strong by conveying not only my strengths, but my weaknesses.
Do you think this album differs from your previous album and ventures?
I think I’ve been in a secure mode for the last couple of years. Going through an awful divorce really rocked me at my core and I started diving deeper into drugs and partying the pain away more than I ever have. I really was self-sabotaging myself, and I ended up looking like a wreck for a long time – feeling like I deserved it. I naturally started pulling myself together and taking myself seriously. I went hard on therapy an I decided to change my lifestyle and be more conscious about what I was doing, who I was allowing myself to share energies with, all of that matters towards your mental health.
So all of that led me to approach the new album in a different type of way. I took a moment and got practical with it. I then realised making a whole album by yourself is very hard and very stressful. Also, when you don’t have people around you to bounce energy and ideas off, it’s even harder and it can become a very lonely situation. The last record I made by myself [was] almost for an ego purpose, to show I could do it alone; but that was not the right method or intention.
I decided to bring in a drummer, sound engineer and other talented creatives into this album because I feel the group effort was a lot stronger because it’s not something I have felt for a good few years. That clear mental space to develop more and spreading the workload really helped me says exactly what I wanted to say.
Do you feel like it’s hard to go back to your last record, because obviously. Does it conjure up negative emotions?
Yeah of course! But I have a habit of trying not to listen back for the feels of nostalgia. I like to keep moving forward. The idea of putting on that record doesn’t seem exciting to me and hopefully one day it will be different, but not right now.
How are you feeling now to the run up of the release?
You know I’ve never finished an album and felt so confident about it! I don’t think I could have made any other album. It just oozed out of me, it didn’t feel like hard labour or anything unnatural to me. Whenever that happens, where it happens effortlessly, its like the songs give birth to themselves. In my last album I was thinking “OK, this is me as The Drums” and for Brutalism, this album feels like “this is me for me”. A modern sound adventure with a whole heap of heart, it feels like a different animal for sure.
What do you hope people who are listening to the album will take from it?
I grew up listening to a lot of albums based around sadness and I think those are the times in my life when I felt the most joy and most connected to the human experience. There is joy all around this album, to uplift souls. I do want to talk about all the sad elements like depression, fear, loneliness but also bring a hope and light to them, not just leave these feelings in the dark. I want people to listen to this and not feel so alone, I feel like my purpose is to be as honest as I can about how I feel and connect it to the audience.
My recipe of success is to be as honest as you can, but somedays just want to shutdown and chill. People listen to The Drums for a very specific reason, I’m a writer that people go to when they want to express and explore those types of feelings.
I saw a particular caption on your Instagram that describes your travel addiction and it says that it hinders your creative purpose. I thought that was interesting for someone who is constantly travelling and on tour.
Part of my daily struggle is staying out and existing in stillness, I grew up as a gay kid who had two religious parents who put me in conversion therapy. I ran for freedom my whole life and there is a part of me that never stopped running, it felt like running equals survival. I don’t think it means really truly living, so when The Drums first started that really put me on the highest pedestal for me as we really were exploring the lands, with my heart turned off. Those first 6 years of being in a band, I genuinely have small memories of it. It’s like I was just living as a ghost. I found stillness in LA and I had space and time to listen to myself, but as soon as I get that stillness I go on tour again and my musical life re-bounces.
You’ve have been performing as The Drums for over a decade now, how does it feel looking back and seeing how far you’ve come? Do you appreciate that you have been on a journey?
Looking back, there is a bunch of things I would have done differently, with conducting myself and the years where I was inconsiderate and a mess that I would love to change. I barely knew anyone in the band at first, and I feel like we were ill-prepared to spend a lot of time together. The hardest part was losing band members and at the same time, it’s given us a new narrative to keep checking out what’s going on next. It’s just me now, and I’m exposed to the world. It’s been really hard but it’s growing pains!
Do you feel like you have reached a point of contentment with yourself personally and professionally?
No, I feel crazy every day. I do feel like I’m in one of the best positions I’ve ever been in, but it’s not where I want to end my journey. I can do much better professionally. I’m really interested in the people who live every day with curiosity, growth and freedom. I want to be that person, be more open-minded and keep my life fresh to preserve and improve not just myself but my art too.