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NUNN ON ONE: MUSIC Jonny Pierce: Marching to the beat of his own Drum
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2017-11-08

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The indie band The Drums have an all-American sound that continues to be smooth and catchy.

Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham formed the band through a longtime friendship. After releasing a self-titled album, the group gained a great deal of attention and was the most Shazam-ed band of 2009, and has supported such groups as Florence and the Machine and Kings of Leon on tour.

While the other members have since dropped off, Pierce has remained to carry on the name.

The new record, called Abysmal Thoughts, was released this year; it brings Pierce back to town to play at the iconic Metro. Windy City Times talked with the out frontman before arriving for the gig.

Windy City Times: I interviewed you back in 2010 for your self-titled album. I still go back and listen to that record.

Jonny Pierce: I wrote that album to have a timeless quality. I know it sounds big headed of me, but it's true. That was the aim to make something that didn't have a stamp of a time on it. It was its own thing.

I have built a weird world for myself and stuck to it. I can always fall back on that. The world is still spinning, but I have a safe space musically to go to. I don't really check in with what is going on around me.

WCT: I remember you telling me the band doesn't listen to a lot of outside music.

JP: Yes, when we are recording. That is true.

WCT: Where are you originally from?

JP: Upstate New York

WCT: Is your family religious?

JP: My parents are both pastors of a Pentecostal, born-again, gay-hating church. They lead townwide boycotts on a bookstore that is downtown where they sell a few books about being gay. They lead rallies against gay people. They are complete wackos.

WCT: How is your relationship with them?

JP: It is really sad because I can't have a real relationship with them. They have always known me as "sick" or a "sinner." The tricky part of the whole thing is they genuinely think they are doing their best as parents. They think for them to say, "Jonny, it's okay that you are gay" is somehow enabling me to burn in hell. That is always the wall that they hit. They go as far as they can. My mom thinks she is a bad mother if she accepts it. They drank the Kool-Aid and are greatly deceived.

WCT: My mom is the same way.

JP: I am done doing the son/parent thing. I put that aside, because I am an adult now. I try to be the best adult I can be. I need to respect myself and do all I can to help enlighten them or empathize with them. I'm no longer a 10 year old boy. I am a grown up man.

I found the best thing is to pull away and make room in my life for people who do fully embrace me.

There's another side. I am a firm believer in checking in. I will let some time go by, two to three years, then I check back in with her. I will ask them what their thoughts are on me being gay. So far they have not progressed.

We all get one shot before we die and I want a rich, beautiful life. To spend a third of it trying to get their approval is a real disservice to who I am.

It is different for everyone and we all have to navigate that.

WCT: Are you able to vent about this in your music?

JP: In the record I talk about that a little bit. There is a song called "Head of the Horse." It is explicit about my memories of growing up in the town called Horseheads.

Making this record was like therapy for me. Now that I didn't have Jacob Graham or Connor Hanwick in the band, it was just me for this record. I was able to really open up. I think Jacob always wanted to generalize the things I wanted to say. He didn't want to hit any nerves. That is all I want to do! I want to make a difference. I don't care about putting out a record every two years, unless the record means something. That is my new aim now to connect with people.

I have people writing me every single day talking about how they are contemplating suicide or their parents kicked them out of the house. I find the more I open up, the more my fans open up to me. It literally feels like a church scenario. I am my father's son. It feels pastoral almost.

But my message is the opposite. It is of real love—not just some silly, weird love.

WCT: With the title of record being Abysmal Thoughts is this a negative album?

JP: No, it is a truthful and vulnerable album. It is laying it out on the table. It has everything from sex to drugs with some politics in there. I was really going for it.

WCT: Describe the song "Blood Under My Belt."

JP: It is the first single. It is super-bouncy.

I was married and went through a divorce. I married a really cool Dutch guy. We were really excited about each other, but there wasn't a lot of real love there. I think we were infatuated, but it was just a shell of a relationship. We had to come to terms with it. It was really sad because we wanted it to work.

That song is about looking for restitution and forgiveness. It is admitting that some of the things I did were wrong.

This is the first album where I blame myself for things, instead of pointing the finger at other people! On the past records I said things like, "YOU broke my heart" and "YOU left me." This album has a song called "Mirror" and it is about me looking at yourself. It asked questions like, "Who am I and what do I want?" "What is my purpose?"

WCT: It sounds like you are taking some responsibility these days.

JP: That is what I was saying when we first started talking. You might be talking to a different guy now because back then I was floating with the wind. I really lacked purpose. I took pride in that at the time thinking, "I'm a crazy artist that goes where the wind takes me!" What happened was the wind took me to places I don't really want to go.

WCT: It sounds like you have grown up. I heard you are a big Bjork fan. Have you ever met her?

JP: I have been around Bjork so many times in intimate settings. I could have met her, but chose not to. She is the one artist on the planet that I want to be dreamlike forever. I want her to always be an alien to me.

WCT: What are you working on for the rest of the year?

JP: I am working on writing the next record. You have to with the internet. We used to wait around, but people don't have time to anticipate anything anymore. You really have to stay on top of things.

The trick is to write something meaningful. You don't want to just put out music for the sake of music. I call that art pollution!

The Drums bang at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St. on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. with tickets at MetroChicago.com .


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