On Its New Album, The War On Drugs Searches For 'A Deeper Understanding'

Aug 25, 2017
Originally published on August 25, 2017 7:45 am

Even before Adam Granduciel was a touring rock musician with his band The War On Drugs, he had already seen a good chunk of the country — thanks to the time he and a friend, on a whim, traveled from California to Pennsylvania by train.

"It'd be like nothing for miles, and then just the train station," he says. "[There were] great moments where we were on the dining car... going around a bend, and you see the front of the train out the side window. I think the third or fourth stop was in Reno. It was just hot and dusty, and kind of late at night, and people piled on who maybe had some good luck, maybe had some bad luck that night."

When you listen to the music of The War On Drugs — including its new album, A Deeper Understanding — you can hear evidence of these journeys in the vast soundscapes that slowly burn an image of the American heartland in your mind.

But while the music can sound wide open and bright, there was a period back in 2013 when Granduciel was closing himself off, spending days at a time alone in his dark house. He was working on an album, but things were going slowly — partly because he was suffering from heavy anxiety.

"It was just consuming my day-to-day life," he says, "because every waking second, [I] was wondering whether or not I was about to go into a full-blown panic attack."

He started seeing a therapist, and he realized that doubts about his career in music were one major source of his stress.

"I had dedicated myself to this craft," he says, "that maybe I wasn't 100 percent sure if I was capable of, or if I was any good at — whether or not [it] was all luck getting me up to this point."

But it wasn't all luck — after Granduciel finally finished that album, Lost In The Dream, critical acclaim came pouring in. He toured, and threw himself into work on A Deeper Understanding. His process of writing this new album was deeply introspective.

"[I was] just trying to get a better sense of who I am," he explains, "and what my relationship to music is, and my relationship to my band and my friends and my family and my life."

Granduciel says composing and playing shows helps to keep his anxiety at bay, and makes those panic attacks less frightening.

"For me, it was really identifying the panic before it would spiral into something else," he says. "And once I was able to kind of manage that, you know the sensation: 'Oh, I know what this feeling is — My chest isn't actually caving in.'"

And he's also less frightened by the idea of putting himself out there as a musician.

"I just want to make that my life: recording music and trying to write a good song every day," he says. "Sometimes, the hardest part is pressing record. All day long you write little ideas on the piano and the guitar, but sometimes all you have to do is come in, set up the mic, press record and start the process."

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right - next, we're going to meet a musician known for spending a lot of time crafting and reworking the sound of his music. It's not just artistic obsession. It's also about mental health. Here's NPR's Lindsay Totty.

LINDSAY TOTTY, BYLINE: He goes by the stage name of Adam Granduciel. And even before he was a touring rock musician, he had already seen a good chunk of the country. One time, he and a friend took a long trip, on a whim, from California to Pennsylvania by train.

ADAM GRANDUCIEL: I mean, it'd be, like, nothing for miles and then just the train station. And, you know, those great moments where we were, like, on the dining car and you're kind of going around a bend and you see the front of the train out the side window, you know. I think the third or fourth stop was in Reno. It was just, like, just hot and dusty and kind of late at night. And people piled on who - maybe had some good luck, maybe had some bad luck that night.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAR ON DRUGS SONG, "THINKING OF A PLACE")

TOTTY: When you listen to the music of Adam Granduciel's band, The War On Drugs, you can hear vast soundscapes that slowly burn an image in your mind of the American heartland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINKING OF A PLACE")

THE WAR ON DRUGS: (Singing) I moving through the dark of a long black night, just moving with the moon and the light it shines.

TOTTY: While the music of The War On Drugs can sound wide open and bright, there was a period back in 2013 when Granduciel was closing himself off, spending days at a time alone in his dark house. He was working on an album, but things were going slowly, partly because he was suffering from heavy anxiety.

GRANDUCIEL: It was just consuming my day-to-day life because every waking second was wondering whether or not I was about to go into, like, a full-blown panic attack, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KNOCKED DOWN")

THE WAR ON DRUGS: (Singing) I want to love you, but I get knocked down. I want to shake you 'cause I'm lying in the hold.

TOTTY: He started seeing a therapist. And Granduciel realized that a source of his stress was doubts that he had about his career in music.

GRANDUCIEL: I dedicated myself to this craft that maybe I wasn't a hundred percent sure if I was capable of doing it or what - if I was any good at - whether or not I was just - all luck getting me up to this point.

TOTTY: But it wasn't all luck. After Granduciel finally finished that album, "Lost In The Dream," critical acclaim came pouring in. He toured and threw himself into work on his new album. It's called "A Deeper Understanding."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ALL NIGHT")

THE WAR ON DRUGS: (Singing) I've been through it. I always have paranoia that I would not last.

GRANDUCIEL: Just trying to get a better sense of who I am, you know, and what my relation to music is and my relationship to my band and my friends and my family and my life, you know.

TOTTY: Granduciel says composing and playing shows helps to keep his anxiety at bay and makes those panic attacks less frightening.

GRANDUCIEL: For me, it was really identifying the panic before it would spiral into something else. And once I was able to kind of manage that, like - you know, you, like, know the sensation now. You're like, oh, I know what this feeling is. Like, my chest isn't actually caving in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAIN")

THE WAR ON DRUGS: (Singing) Go to bed now. I can tell pain is on the way out now.

TOTTY: And he's also less frightened by the idea of putting himself out there as a musician.

GRANDUCIEL: I just want to make that my life, you know. Recording music and trying to write a good song every day - sometimes the hardest part is pressing record. All day long, you, like, write little ideas on the piano, with a guitar. But sometimes all you have to do is come in, set up the mic, press record and start the process.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAR ON DRUGS SONG, "PAIN")

THE WAR ON DRUGS: (Singing) I've been pulling on the wire, but it just won't break. I've been turning up the dial, but I hear no sound.

TOTTY: That's Adam Granduciel of the band The War On Drugs. Their new album is called "A Deeper Understanding."

Lindsay Totty, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAR ON DRUGS SONG, "PAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.