A casual observer could accuse the Drums of stretching the truth, if not of outright fabrication. The band's first single, "Let's Go Surfing," with its buoyant, Factory Records—pilfering riff, offers a seductive invitation to get wet — just don't bother asking Jonathan Pierce or Jacob Graham, who founded the Drums in late 2008, for any boarding tips; neither surfs. And although they claim Brooklyn as home, Pierce and Graham actually began writing together, and recorded the Drums' debut EP, while living in the Orlando area. They even named themselves after an instrument that neither of them play (both play guitar and Graham doubles on synth).
Yet it's easy to see why Pierce uses the Drums as a means of escape. The son of evangelical ministers, Pierce had to shield his record collection from the prying eyes of his parents as a kid. If they found one they deemed inappropriate, he was often forced to break it in front of them.
"They had a problem with instrumental music if it wasn't made by someone Christian," says Pierce, calling in the day following the Drums' first-ever London show, "and even music that was made by Christians that didn't necessarily talk about Jesus or God. It was very, very severe. Did you ever see `the documentary` Jesus Camp? That was my childhood to a T."
To make matters worse, Elkland, a group Pierce formed after leaving home that was quickly snapped up by Columbia in the post-Killers craze for all things synth-driven, was unceremoniously dropped following the release of their debut album in 2005.
It helps to view the Drums as a carefully constructed fantasy. True to form, Pierce and Graham, who first met at camp as teenagers, even began the project in virtual space.
"Jacob and I started a photo blog together," says Pierce. "It was a private photo blog to inspire each other, and one of the things we did was to imagine this band — the coolest band in the world. We found these pictures of these cool guys and we named their band the Drums."
When Pierce agreed to come down to Kissimmee to write and record with Graham in December of 2008, they decided, rather than start from scratch, they would instead engage in a bit of role-playing and become the living incarnation of their imaginary band. Pierce and Graham wrote 15 songs in rapid succession and threw six of them together for an EP called Summertime! The record sounds strikingly professional — all the more jarring since it was actually recorded on vintage analog equipment in the Kissimmee apartment that Pierce and Graham shared, located right next to an airport for crop dusters.
Aside from the summer theme, the songs on Summertime! are also united by aesthetic. As exemplified by the single "Let's Go Surfing," the Drums straddle '50s girl groups like the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes and Mancunian post-punk outfits like New Order and the Wake. Although their success can partly be attributed to Pierce and Graham's Method-like commitment, it's their ability to identify and accentuate the pop elements the musical genres share, and downplay everything else, that really makes Summertime! a seamless exercise.
"We don't bother with frills," says Pierce. "We just go for it. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-end, every time. But that's what good pop is. We play by our rules, and we only have two of them."
Since completing the EP as relative unknowns in Florida, the band has relocated to New York, where they have enjoyed a meteoric ascent. The Drums have added two more members to flesh out their lineup, and received a "best new music" mention on Pitchfork.com to go along with their glowing spread in NME.
Not everything has been surf and summer for the band, however. The EP release of Summertime! through Twentyseven Records that earned them so much advance praise was canceled at some point in September, thanks to a falling-out between the band and the label. As of this writing, Twentyseven's website carries only the following message: "I will be back. Searching for more sincere music." (The band did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Twentyseven Records has no comment.) In the meantime, the Summertime! EP has been self-released by the band on iTunes.firstname.lastname@example.org