Adam Granduciel refused to move to Los Angeles for years because he didn’t want to be seen as the villain in a Bruce Springsteen song.
“You know that part of ‘Racing in the Street’ where he talks about knocking the LA guy off the track?” asks the front man and creative thought leader of War on Drugs, referring to Springsteen’s drag racing epic from “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. “There’s this live version that I love, where he does that line and everyone at Giants Stadium is cheering – like, ‘Yeah, (expletive) that guy!'”
Granduciel, 42, a proud East Coast resident whose band appeared on Philadelphia’s gruff, tight-knit indie rock scene, feared that moving west would mean a career reorganization of his priorities – “a detachment from something I was unwilling to do appear “as he puts it.
But the family waved: In 2019 his son was born with the actress Krysten Ritter, and so after a long commute between Philly and LA – not to mention a Grammy win, which already said a lot about his career path – Granduciel settled in the Valley, not far from a driving range where he would spend a lot of time outdoors after the COVID-19 pandemic. (The child’s name, in case his father’s loyalty to the boss was not clear, is Bruce.)
Now The War on Drugs has released a shiny new album, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”, which, despite Granduciel’s fears, reflects something of his adopted home. The 2017 follow-up to “A Deeper Understanding,” which received rave reviews and beat LPs from Metallica and Queens of the Stone Age for its rock album Grammy, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” still draws on the eternal dad – Rock wellspring – think Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty – that inspired Granduciel to start the band in 2005.
But where War on Drugs ‘earlier albums stretched those influences to trippy psychedelic extremes, this one is catchier and more compact, with a glossy’ 80s throwback production job and an emphasis on Granduciel’s parched vocals, reminiscent of the days when grown white boys could Wear stylish trench coats and play in atmospheric black and white videos on MTV.
“I think the first thing anyone would notice about the album is that it has a lot less lengthy guitar solos,” says Steve Ralbovsky, the veteran A&R manager who signed War on Drugs with Atlantic Records (and previously the Strokes and Kings identified). von Leon as unkempt rock acts with potential crossover appeal).
The band even did one of those old school videos for the LP’s shimmering title track, in which Granduciel strolls down the beach with narrowed eyes before putting on sunglasses to watch the LA skyline with his bandmates on a windy rooftop Jam back.
“‘The End of the Innocence’,” he says of Don Henley’s perfectly airbrushed ballad, “is definitely mine.”
One wouldn’t say the music threatens to transform the happily wrinkled Granduciel from a cult favorite to a pop idol. After years in which rock moved further and further away from the mainstream, the vintage sounds that have long fascinated him have come into fashion with some high-profile guys: Last year the Killers asked Granduciel to play on their album “Imploding the Mirage” ; This year John Mayer took up a Clapton-discovered-the-synthesizer vibe for his obsessively detailed “Sob Rock”. (“John Mayer’s new song sounds like the war on drugs,” read the headline of a Stereogum post.)
Granduciel gently dismisses the comparison as he reclines in a worn leather armchair in his rehearsal room in Burbank while drinking a diet Coke. “His things are so clear and deliberate, which is totally cute,” he says of Mayer, from whose album he heard “a few songs”. Clad in a t-shirt, basketball shorts, and a 76ers hat, Granduciel is a little sweaty from storming his home after trying to bring Bruce over for a nap and failing. “But I don’t see how to get a recording that dials in.”
With its intricate grooves and beautifully rendered textures, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” – which Granduciel co-produced with Shawn Everett, who also worked with Kacey Musgraves and Haim – suggests otherwise. So does this room, which is filled with dozens of guitars, keyboards, amps, and pedals, each of which Granduciel can identify with a litany of statistics. He just signed the lease on the place in March, but it “already looks like the inside of Adam’s head,” says Dave Hartley, bassist for War on Drugs. (The other members of the band, who live across the country, include guitarist Anthony LaMarca, drummer Charlie Hall, keyboardist Robbie Bennett, and saxophonist Jon Natchez.)
Last year the Rolling Stones hired Granduciel to remix “Scarlet,” an unreleased 1974 cut with Jimmy Page on guitar and, as Granduciel was told, Creams Ginger Baker on drums. It found Baker wasn’t on the line, as Mick Jagger later clarified on the phone, which made Granduciel feel better since he’d replaced the drums with his own. “I laughed about that with Mick,” he says. “Broadened my horizons.”
The War on Drugs recorded much of the new album before the pandemic at renowned LA studios such as Electro-Vox, EastWest and Sound City. “Studio B at Sound City”, Granduciel specifies with characteristic precision. But during the pandemic-related shutdown, the frontman – widely understood as some kind of benevolent dictator since the band’s inception – began soliciting remotely related contributions from his bandmates; he often loved what they put down without looking over their shoulders.
“I think he realized that his creative powers weren’t diminished by people seeing a little of his process,” says Hartley.
Lyrically, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” is influenced by Granduciel’s parenting; The album carries vivid, if vaguely worded, thoughts on time, connection, and memory. However, he points out that he wrote many of the songs before Bruce was born, including the stormy opening track “Living Proof,” which is “all about the promises you make to yourself about how to get into this next phase.” of your life a different, more grounded person.
“Sometimes I listen to it and pretend I wrote it about a child,” he adds with a laugh.
Granduciel, who is generally warm and talkative, prefers not to speak publicly about his relationship with Ritter. After our conversation, tabloid reports surfaced saying the couple broke up, although Granduciel denied this to the New York Times.
He is more open about how family life could affect his career in the future. Before the pandemic, the War on Drugs had built a reputation for being a live knockout act; it’s slowly venturing back on the streets with a headlining gig at next month’s Desert Daze Festival in Riverside County ahead of a tour in early 2022 that stops at New York’s Madison Square Garden.