Over the past seven years, The War On Drugs have released two wonderful studio albums (“Lost In The Dream” in 2014 and “A Deeper Understanding” in 2017) and one great live album (“Live Drugs” in 2020). Anticipation was high in Hassocks as their new studio album landed on the doormat on Friday. How could they follow up such great albums? The answer is that they have polished their sound to produce a cleaner, slightly poppier sound, whilst simultaneously managing to retain the beauty of their previous work. Although nothing here matches the majestic beauty of “A Deeper Understanding”‘s 11 minute centrepiece, “Thinking Of A Place”, every song on the new album sounds wonderful, whilst close perusal of the lyrics reveals sadness and confusion. Adam Granduciel described the overarching theme of the album to be about attempting to navigate your way through life’s many changes. “I found myself writing about trying to take control of your destiny so that you can move into new chapters of your life with grace.” The photo on the front of the album is a picture of Adam Granducial walking in a blizzard, with a mug of coffee in one hand and his guitar in the other. However, his head cannot be seen and the picture is an attempt to show someone alone, on his own path, but not sure where he’s going. He is coming to realise that he doesn’t know where he lives anymore.
The album took three years to complete and the band used seven different studios in Los Angeles and New York. Although previous albums have been the result of leader Adam Granduciel’s obsessive attention to detail and determination to leave his imprint on every note, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” is much more of a band effort.
Adam Granduciel was born Adam Granofsky on 15 February 1979 in Massachusetts. His French teacher once translated his surname for him – “Gran of sky” would be “Gran du ciel” in French. In 2019, he turned 40 and a few months later, his partner, actress Krysten Ritter (“Breaking Bad” and “Jessica Jones”), gave birth to a son. The previous year, both of them had met Bruce Springsteen backstage after one of The Boss’ theater shows so it was easy for them to decide to call their son Bruce.
Living Proof 4:53 “I know the path. I know it’s changing. I know the pain.”
The first instrument to be heard on the album is an early-60s Martin D-18 acoustic guitar. Adam Granduciel tells the story of this guitar: “It’s beat up and looks really cool. The previous owner shaved the neck, so it’s really skinny and doesn’t sound like a classic Martin, it doesn’t sound huge. I picked it up at the store and it was so comfortable and sounded really woody and sweet. The guy was like, ‘You know Joni Mitchell played that guitar…’ I was like ‘What?!’. “The guy that owned it lived in Marin County and built a dulcimer that Joni used. He’d have these parties, and Joni came over a couple of times and played that guitar around the campfire.“
Harmonia’s Dream 6:26 “I was lost in a light that can’t be seen”
Adam Granduciel and Krysten Ritter’s son Bruce, likes to sit in their car and pretend that he’s driving. “He likes to sit in the car as if he’s driving, and I put on Harmonia and he was the happiest I’ve ever seen him—fake-driving to Harmonia‘s Dream.”
Change 6:04 “There are so many ways our love could make it through but it’s so damn hard to make the change”
The first recording sessions for the album were for “Change” and “I Don’t Wanna Wait”. The collaborative approach that permeated through the gestation of the whole album was established here. “I wanted to show Dave Hartley (bass) and Anthony LaMarca (keyboards, horns etc) the snippets I had and see if we could sit in a circle and hash up some of these ideas and see if there were any songs in there. We had a really productive five days, it was super-fun, there were no rules, no deadline and no expectation to finish it. It was really collaborative, throwing ideas at the wall.”
I Don’t Wanna Wait 5:13 “I don’t wanna change but I’m running out of time”
The ideas for “I Don’t Wanna Wait” came to Adam Granduciel as he walked around the streets of an unfamiliar city. He feels that the final recorded song is unlike anything that he has produced before. “I’ve been trying to write a song like that forever.” Whereas his guitar solos have, in the past been carefully scripted rather than improvised, here “the solo was from the original demo session, it was so loose that I kept it because I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if I tried to compose something.”
Victim 6:00 “I surrender baby. Help me understand”
“The song “Victim” I feel like was a song we were trying to write for ten years, it had this hypnotic drone and these three chords. The solo was an improvised moment, it wasn’t worth overthinking.” Drummer Charlie Hall says he still can’t believe some of the complexities that the band endured while making this album: “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 Hartley locked in on this vocoder thing that’s a rhythmically really important part sonically that just took things to another level.”
I Don’t Live Here Any More 5:27 “Is life just dying in slow motion?”
After recording “Change” and “I Don’t Wanna Wait”, drummer Charlie Hall and saxophonist Jon Natchez joined the recording sessions. James Elkington, Michael Bloch and Robbie Bennett also contributed extra guitar parts. Vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Brooklyn band Lucius add background vocals for the title track. “I sent a demo of the song to Robbie Bennett. It was like nine verses at the time, and he sent it back with the amazing arpeggio hook that he wrote on guitar. I got the email from him and couldn’t believe it, it was immediately the perfect thing, a classic riff. I couldn’t believe he’d pulled that off. It was exciting to have a song like that and it be so collaborative.”
As the title track of the album, Adam Granduciel explains its significance. “If you say ‘I don’t live here anymore’ it means you’re still standing where you’re saying you’re not. It’s almost like you know where you don’t want to be. You know exactly what you’re not, but that doesn’t mean you know where you’re going.”
Old Skin 4:52 “Oh my god. Where do I belong? Can I make it day to day?”
“I tend to write from the place that gives me the most inspiration, which is just feeling melancholy. For the most part, I’m still in the process of learning how to be happy.”
Wasted 4:10 “I’m in a dream I can’t escape”
“Well, the drums on “Wasted” were done remotely. Those songs were developing but I couldn’t sing to them yet; the drums that were on all three of those songs were, well, there was just something missing. The songs were progressing past where the drums were. So in both instances I sent them to my friend Pat Berkery, and we got really spirited performances out of Pat. He was going through some personal stuff that day, and coupled with the pandemic, and playing drums as his ultimate release in life, he just gave all of himself that day and it shows.”
Rings Around My Father’s Eyes 4:17 “No one really knows which way they’re facing ’till they’re coming back down”
“My dad is basically 90 years old, and he didn’t really get into rock music until he was like 86. So now he’s the band’s biggest fan—and he’s the star of the band, really. Everyone loves my dad, and he just loves the community around the band. He’s a very gregarious guy. He’s come on the road with us. He’s come to Europe. And this is all pretty much starting in his late 80s. He just flew out here to L.A. when the band was rehearsing: He wanted to see the guys and he wanted to see Bruce. It’s an inspiring thing. It wasn’t like the 1950s where rock and roll tore us apart or anything, but when I was growing up and was so into music, it was so important to me that I had a guitar. I couldn’t explain why I wanted a guitar so bad, or why I was obsessed with music. I don’t think he understood, really. So having built this family with our band, to have my dad welcomed into that means a lot in the context of our music.”
Occasional Rain 4:54 “I feel a storm coming on. I feel a darkness at my gates.”
“Up until the last minute, there was a line in “Occasional Rain” about a fir tree—and Dave loved it. Then one night, I was driving to this par three near our house to smoke and watch people golf, and I was listening to the demo, and I changed the line to “par 3.” Dave was like, ‘What the fuck did you do?’ And I was like, ‘Dude, this is more real. I couldn’t even tell you what a fir tree looks like if I walked by one. I actually go to a par 3.’ Having a context on the record as being the last song kinda helped me finish it, and helped me see the song for what it could be. So just trying to tune in to what I felt was important and what I was going through – frustration, time, hope, loss and everything, and incorporate it into music I had already been.“