Adding to the list of bands with socially relevant names that lack actual political advocacy (Anthrax, Beirut, etc.), The War On Drugs makes fairly listenable music that has the potential to be pretty revalent in its own time, and potentially beyond it. Their self proclaimed, “spaced out, psychedelic,” music is very much within the lo-fi movement, but has a little something in it that prevents it from becoming trite. The band started when Adam Granduciel and his friend Julian were having "a wine and typewriter night" in Oakland, CA. Ganduciel offered up answers to some of questions regarding The War On Drugs.
The Daily Texan: How do you think Philadelphia shaped your identity as musicians? Although it is definitely an important city musically, it doesn't seem to be as central to the indie music scene as New York or LA is.
Adam Ganduciel: There's a lot of great bands coming out of Philadelphia right now. Lots of bands that are touring constantly and people who are really digging their heels into the turf. Kurt Vile, Bleeding In Rainbow, are dominating it. There are all these bands from Philly. I can name a few bands from New York, The Who, but I don't even know if they're still touring. I can't think of any other of any other bands from New York really. Maybe The Stones. The Stones out of Toronto.
DT: You were really influenced by the mistakes on Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. Do you take steps in your music to make sure that small flaws or anything make their way onto your records?
Ganduciel: I guess, so I don't know. You just go with the moment. If it's appealing and it works in the moment then I go with it. That's kind of the most important thing in recording. To make sure everything feels good. It's not a matter of it being perfect. It's just those moments that happen without you planning them or writing them or whatever.
DT: You guys run into a serious problem when people Google your name. War On Drugs yields a lot of results that aren't really relevant to your band. Did you think about that at all when you were coming up with the name?
Ganduciel: Nah, I just thought it was a good name. Two nights ago some guy who actually works in Columbia on the War On Drugs. He came up to me and was like, "Dude, I'd love to meet up and talk." I was just like, "I have no idea what the hell you're talking about." Just because a band is called the Grizzly Bears doesn't mean like... you know what I mean? It's kind of a shitty analogy, but you get the point. I don't know how he could have sat through our spaced out psychedelic set, and then thought that for some reason we were gonna fly to Bogota with him.
Dickens and Tolkien, Fassbender, Tupac, Arrested Development, Magic Mike, Pulitzer's Snub of Fiction
At The Drive-In’s performance Tuesday at venue Red 7 marked their first performance in 11 years. Torn apart by musical differences and drug use, the band broke up in 2001. Afro-headed members Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would go on to form progressive rock group The Mars Volta, while remaining members guitarist Jim Ward, bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar, created alternative rock group Sparta.
Fast-forward to earlier this year, and news broke that At The Drive-In would finally be reuniting. From the revamping of their website, and announcement about headlining this year’s Coachella Music Festival, and more recently, scheduling a slew of shows in the Texas area, including Marfa, Dallas and home-city El Paso, At The Drive-In’s comeback has been long-awaited by fans throughout the world.
It’s not surprising that At The Drive-In would warm up here in Austin. As Bixler-Zavala tweeted a few days prior to their performance, Austin has been showing the group love since their beginnings back in 1995. And that statement still holds true today, with old and new faces. Throughout the cheers and rants you could tell the difference from those that grew up with At The Drive-In, and those late-bloomers (like myself), who only had YouTube videos and bootleg DVDs to refer to.
“I remember back in the day they would sell the clothes off of their back just to find a place to stay at for the night;” “I really hope Cedric does that awesome jump like he does in this one video.” We were all learning about the mystique behind a band that, nowadays, is associated with other Texas groups that have put the state on the map for music.
When At The Drive-In took the stage and busted right into “Arcarsenal,” all we could do was cheer jubilantly. Those shaking, yellow maracas in the beginning, and Omar and Ward’s guitars playing a game of musical tag--it was just like those videos I used to watch, amazed with each member’s charisma and in-your-face attitude.
Bixler-Zavala has still got it. One moment he would be swinging his microphone around in such a manner that most vocalists would fear to imitate; the next, he would be hanging from rafters, showing spectators that age has nothing on the charismatic showman. And the lyrics--cryptic metaphors such as, “Beacon shined a light, from the faulty tower,” from “Sleepwalk Capsules,” or “They kept a close eye on your get-well incentive,” from “Enfilade,” seemed to come out of Bixler-Zavala instinctively.
The real beauty of the group’s performance lied in the fact that band actually seemed to enjoy one another’s company. I remember being hit the hardest when, during the group’s performance of “Napoleon Solo,” Ward closing his eyes, and smiling the biggest smile I have ever witnessed. It was as if in that moment he had been taken aback to the group’s younger days--of playing venues with only 10 people watching; of selling just about everything they had on tour, so that they could get a bite to eat, or find a place to sleep. And now, playing to sold-out crowds of fans who know their music like the back of their hands.
The only real displeasure with the show was the lack of enthusiasm in Omar. Maybe it was the crowd-surfing or the throwing of beer cans which set him off, but throughout the set the only real movement he provided would be an occasional look at Hajjar to remain in sync with the music. It was unsettling--a guy who, in his early days, was renowned for flipping his guitar behind his back and shaking his slender physique like a wild soul-man, was not present that night. Hopefully as the band treads on, Omar will tap his inner youth and take the stage like he used to back in the day.
Show-ender “One-Armed Scissor” embodied every fan’s excitement and happiness. It was sweaty, messy and clustered--and we would not have wanted it any other way. Bixler-Zavala led us on until the end, riling us up for the big finish. The guitars strummed, the cymbals splashed and the vocals screeched; our journey was complete.
“This is forever,” sang Bixler-Zavala during “Napoleon Solo.” At The Drive-In is truly forever, and such words will leave resonance in our hearts, for years to come.