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'It brought us together': The War on Drugs talk making their most collaborative album yet

·7 min read

Adam Granduciel isn't just the voice behind the accomplished Philly rock band the War on Drugs — he's the man with the vision for all their music, from the birth of a song's idea to its final product. But for their fifth studio album, I Don't Live Here Anymore (their first since winning the Best Rock Album Grammy in 2017 for A Deeper Understanding), Granduciel decided to try something new: open up his creative process to the rest of the group.

"Any friendship over time gets stronger," Granduciel, 42, tells EW. "So collaborating this time around felt like more of a deeper connection than it had before. We understood each other more, what we like, what we're trying to do."

The concise yet transcendent 10-song project (out Oct. 29) began its journey in March 2018. Though they were on tour for their fourth record, still new at the time, Granduciel was already looking toward the future, having recorded fragments of fresh song ideas on his iPhone. So he booked time at the Outlier Inn studio in New York with bassist Dave Hartley and multi-instrumentalist Anthony LaMarca to "just have fun."

"I like to keep the ideas going and I wanted to be with those two guys, who are unafraid in the studio," Granduciel says. "The point was to just have no rules, and if we finished something, that would be cool, if we wrote something, that would be cool, but there was no big agenda. We pretty much sat in a circle — guitar, bass, drums — and I would show them an idea for a song, like 'I Don't Wanna Wait,' and we kind of worked it out a little bit. That's what we did for five days, and came out with early versions of [songs for the record]."

The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs

SHAWN BRACKBILL The War on Drugs

Though the initial sessions were instrumental in kickstarting I Don't Live Here Anymore, it was the rest of the year that Granduciel spent "just crafting, writing, demoing, putting stuff together, doing cool s‑‑‑" that changed everything, with each band member helping shape the final tracks.

Adds Hartley, "This was like, 'Let's make something that we haven't made before. Let's make something bigger, and with better song composition.'" While Hartley is quick to clarify that Granduciel is never "exclusive or anti-collaborative," his openness to new ideas on this record blew the rest of the band away. "Adam was being really inclusive, which is not something that is normally his forte. He's just such a force of creativity that he's not often looking for help. But this time there was co-writing and arranging."

Like Hartley, keyboardist Robbie Bennett loved getting "to participate more on the ground floor." "The longer you make music with Adam, the more he knows what your strengths are, and I think the more he trusts your sensibilities about certain things," he says. "In his producer brain, he now knows how to aim us at where we're going to succeed, so making music together collaboratively became easier. I think he felt comfortable with us in a way he hasn't before to do our thing."

LaMarca also praises how generous Granduciel was as a collaborator on Anymore, and how his confidence in each of their abilities helped push them further. "It's like, 'If you're here, I want you to do your thing. If I brought you in to play on this, the reason I brought you in is because you could do something that I can't do, and only you can do it.'"

The War on Drugs began back in 2005, co-founded by Granduciel and Kurt Vile, and three years later the band — at the time consisting of Granduciel, Vile, Kyle Lloyd, current drummer Charlie Hall, and Hartley — released the debut LP Wagonwheel Blues. Shortly after, Vile departed to pursue his own solo career, and thus began a steady stream of changes to the band's lineup, with only Granduciel and Hartley remaining constant fixtures. Granduciel's love for Bob Dylan always shines through his work, but the band found success with deeply layered, intricate, and sweeping yet intimate arrangements that eventually won them a Grammy, beating out the likes of Metallica and Queens of the Stone Age. Their legendary live performances made even the smallest of venues feel grand in the beginning, in turn propelling the band to bigger stages more suitable to the music. The War on Drugs recently released Live Drugs, a compilation of performances pulled from more than 40 hard drives of recorded shows throughout years of touring multiple albums, to showcase how the band comes alive in the live setting.

That's why getting the band together to create and record so much of this album live allowed Granduciel to capture everyone playing to their greatest strengths. But he was pleasantly surprised to hear what the guys came up with on their own time too. "I had the demo for 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' that I'd recorded in my little studio at home, and I sent it to Robbie," Granduciel recalls. "It was around Thanksgiving, and three days later as I was walking into a Sur La Table to buy a f‑‑‑ing roasting pan for Thanksgiving, I get an email from Robbie with a Dropbox link. I had my headphones, I put them on in Sur La Table browsing, and he just wrote the most beautiful perfect thing to my song, in a way that it sounded like something I would have written; like it's in the spirit of our band, but I didn't come up with that. It was that collaboration, the second I heard it, it totally defined the song for me. 'That's it right there.'"

"That one was special to me," Bennett adds. "Adam had sent me a demo: 'Just working on this, do you have any ideas?' This is what he often does, and sometimes I send Adam like 80 ideas and I never hear back from him." He laughs before continuing: "So I played a little guitar for it in my basement and I sent it back to him. And that guitar ended up sticking on the record, and it was exciting for me because I've been the piano player in the band for a very long time but I've always been like, 'Put me in coach! I can play, let me do it!' It was a proud moment for me to get a little guitar on the record."

The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs

Atlantic Records 'I Don't Live Here Anymore,' by the War on Drugs

As more moments like that happened organically, Granduciel began to rely on his bandmates more. "They're confident that I respect their input, and I like to think it just keeps growing because the more you do it, the more everyone feels like a part of this thing," he says. "That stuff only comes with time and friendship and trust. We couldn't have been doing that on the last record or the record before because everyone's just significantly closer each day that passes."

Hall says he still can't believe some of the shenanigans the band got up to while making this album — including what actually made it onto the record. "It was a very productive time. It was really special," he says. "I remember working on the song 'Victim,' we were throwing stuff at the wall, playing frickin' bongos, everything, like trash cans, 99 percent of which would get erased, justifiably, but for every 99 things there was this one really crucial element that would happen. And Dave locked in on this vocoder thing that's a rhythmically really important part sonically that just took things to another level."

After touring the world many times over, Hartley says the band was always going to get closer. But getting closer to the actual creative process of making this album was the true surprise for them all. "We have this long shared history, and it's fun to put that on the record," he says. "It's still very much Adam's vehicle and his vision, but the band is a part of it more now than ever. It's just so fun to play when you have complete faith that the songs are great and that you have this leader who you just believe in so much, it just makes you more powerful as a musician."

Hall agrees, and says he'll always appreciate how much the new album brought the guys together. "We're all so spread out geographically, and when we're together, we're together to work and to be creative and to make music," he says. "Music can be a solitary experience, but I hope this album inspires togetherness, and that it brings people together like it brought us together."

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