Adam Granduciel and his band, the War on Drugs, came into the making of their latest album, I'm Not Here Anymore, having reached a whole new level with their career.
The band's previous album, A Deeper Understanding, won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2018 and the acclaimed album had topped 200,000 copies sold and charted higher than any of the group's three previous albums.
For some musicians, such achievements (and the expectations that follow) would generate a fair amount of pressure and expectation for the next album. But for Granduciel, making I'm Not Here Anymore was more like business as usual. Any pressure just comes from wanting to achieve a fundamental goal with each album.
"Even after our first record, which was basically a hodgepodge, but it had a release on a label and we did touring, and some people bought it, I was like 'Oh man, what the hell is the next album going to be?'" Granduciel said in a recent phone interview with Orlando Weekly.
"So I just had to kind of put my head down and find out what I loved about, at that time, music, songwriting and making music. Then after Slave Ambient [their second album], I kind of did the same and with Lost in the Dream, I had to follow that up with something because that one obviously brought us new fans. So I feel like it's always been, like, put your head down and do the work. Put your head down and write some songs and explore melodies and collaborate with people and see where you end up."
Where the War on Drugs have ended up so far is enviable enough. The band's current tour finds the group headlining theaters, large clubs and even some outdoor amphitheaters — a sure sign that the band's audience continues to grow.
Granduciel's journey with the War on Drugs started out around 2005 in Philadelphia, when he teamed up with Kurt Vile and the duo emerged a few years later with Wagonwheel Blues, the first War on Drugs album.
Vile stepped away not long after that to focus on what has since become a successful solo career. The War on Drugs became Granduciel's own project.
A key point came with the third album, 2014's Lost in the Dream. It landed on more than 50 year-end best album lists and continues to sell, having currently moved more than 350,000 copies.
Just as significantly, a more stable band lineup came together during this period, with Hartley and keyboardist Robbie Bennett (who came on board in 2010) joined by the other current members of the band: drummer Charlie Hall, sax/keyboard player Jon Natchez and guitarist/keyboardist Anthony LaMarca.
With A Deeper Understanding the War on Drugs took another step forward, having signed with major label Atlantic Records and then earning the Grammy award. A concert album, Live Drugs, followed in 2020, as work was well under way on I Don't Live Here Anymore.
Like the other War on Drugs albums, "I Don't Live Here Anymore" involved extensive studio work, especially from Granduciel (along with producer Shawn Everett).
After completing early versions of a number of songs, Granduciel and Everett spent the next three years doing what they always do to complete an album — taking apart the original versions of the songs and rebuilding them piece by piece into finished studio tracks.
Granduciel says he loves this process as he (with assistance from Everett, some guest musicians and the other members of the War on Drugs) seeks to create the best treatment for each song.
"It's just like everything is in a state of flux," Granduciel says. "Like some songs, you never have a day where you're confused. You're just always building. It makes sense. And those are satisfying. Sometimes you're just exploring like the sonics. Sometimes you know, the song is there, but you know it can be taken somewhere sonically. Really the main thing is just having fun with it. It's just peeling stuff apart, running stuff through other stuff, making cool sounds and seeing what mistakes might happen along the way and embracing those."
The result of this approach on I Don't Live Here Anymore is a set of 10 strong songs encompassing Americana, pop and classic rock, but with a modern sonic edge. On "Change," "Harmonia's Dream" and "Victim," Granduciel and Everett apply shimmering tones that add sparkle to the engaging pop melodies of the songs.
The airy synthetic sounds and percussion of "I Don't Wanna Wait" bring to mind Peter Gabriel, while "Living Proof" recalls Wilco's more pensive material. "Old Skin" is rootsier, with some Dylan-esque harmonica added for good measure, while "Wasted" has some synth-pop overtones added to its driving tempo.
The War on Drugs began touring in January, and as with his studio work, Granduciel views playing shows as an ongoing opportunity to improve as a live band and deliver better and better shows.
"I'm just never satisfied with anything," he says. "Having that mentality is cool because you're kind of just always searching for something cool, whether it's a guitar tone, an arrangement or something, you know, something new, something to keep the excitement level up."