The Drums bring blips of joy to Orpheum in Tampa on Saturday

CL’s interview with Jonny Pierce.

click to enlarge The Drums bring blips of joy to Orpheum in Tampa on Saturday
Nicholas Moore


Fans could probably look at Jonny Pierce and notice the change, but the 37-year-old songwriter is happy to explain.

“My body’s changing and my mind is rejuvenated; even my skin feels and looks more fresh. It’s really remarkable,” he told CL. Pierce wasn’t bragging, but detailing a much-needed clear headedness that’s emerged as a result of a new, extreme nutrition regime. The haze of a seemingly eternal sadness has begun to lift out of his life, and new habits, including exercise and a commitment to party less, have allowed Pierce to better articulate his feelings, too.

“There are days where I don’t feel depressed at all,” he said, “and that’s a completely new thing for me.”

The sentiment of starting fresh should be stamped all over a set that his band, The Drums, will deliver to Ybor City on Saturday. Everything about this tour supporting a new album, Brutalism, is unprecedented.

The lineup features former Hoops guitarist Drew Auscherman and Caitlin Frame who handles both guitar and bass. On drums is Pierce’s close friend, Bryan de Leon, who is listed in credits for eight of nine tracks on an LP that feels like a reset for a pop outfit that made its name on an often melancholy cocktail of jangly surf-rock, post-punk and new wave. Even the all-female road crew is a first for The Drums; the payroll is a result of Pierce looking back on his career and realizing that he’s only ever worked with straight white guys.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, I talk so much about being inclusive, about the power of variety and how wonderful that is,’” he explained. “Then look at me traveling the world for 10 years with a bunch of straight dudes…. I want to put my money where my mouth is.”

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Pierce is also betting that his fans will wade with him into the next phase of the band’s evolution. Drums co-founder Jacob Graham quit in 2016, leaving Pierce to create 2017’s “Abysmal Thoughts” — the band’s most confessional album — by himself. Lyrically, the cutting narrative on Brutalism is the next logical step, but as nearly every critic has mentioned, the sounds on the 35-minute effort are a stark departure from The Drums of yore. There are breakbeats (“Loner”), vocal samples (“Pretty Cloud”) and a synth-heavy, slacker vibe reminiscent of a band called Whale.

Pierce bought a CD by the Swedish rock outfit at a dollar store in Horsehead, New York. That small town has a population of 6,460 people according to 2017 census data, and it’s where Pierce grew up writing songs on a keyboard gifted to him by his father. Horsehead is also where Pierce grew estranged from his Pentecostal pastor parents and five siblings who chastised him for being gay.

So much has changed for him since “Abysmal Thoughts” — and Brutalism boasts a new aesthetic for The Drums — but Pierce still connects to an element of old material by asking lots of hard questions.

On “Body Chemistry,” he wonders if DNA is to blame for his depression. He longs for human touch on “Kiss It Away” and even hints at retreating towards to a shit relationship on “I Wanna Go Back.” Pierce, a true romantic, is quick to point out that even joy comes wrapped in a sash made of sadness; the doldrums are never that far away.

“You can try to exist in other spaces, find some happiness, joy, or at least some peace,” he said. “[But] if you need to tap into sadness, it’s right there, ready, willing and able.”

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It’s hard to pick up on any of that heartbreak when Pierce explains the way he tried to have a relationship with his family, but there is a sense of finality when he mentions how his values and his family’s faith won’t ever align. Pierce believes in being yourself and in loving people for exactly who they are. His blood family does not.

“That was a big fundamental difference,” he said, adding that their votes for — and continued support of — the president is a line in the sand. To his family, Trump is God’s gift to America. But for Pierce, Trump is the guy ripping children from parents at the border. Trump is the person who’s vowed to come after trans-rights and anti-discrimination laws that protect the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is a bad person,” Pierce said, adding the he doesn’t know if members of his family have ever listened to any of The Drums’ five full-lengths to get insight into who their son and brother might really be.

“Frankly, I don’t care,” Pierce said.

A big about face from his family could facilitate a conversation, but in the meantime, Pierce has found his own amazing family thanks to a group of people who love him for who he is. The care he gets from those friends is consistent. It doesn’t waiver based on what he does, says, or even screws up. True affection is the impetus behind a Brutalism highlight where Pierce sings about a long journey to a mountaintop where a kiss allowed him forget to hate himself for just a second.

“Oh, let me sink into the blip of joy,” he begs on the tune. “It’s just a little blip of joy.”

By definition, a blip is diminutive, but on a Holter monitor — which records cardiac activity using small electrodes touching the skin — a blip can be a sign of life. At least what the romantics think. Pierce, for his part, is happy to hold on to the hope that a blip can bring.

“There’s real beauty out there. There’s a real family out there,” he said. “Sometimes takes a little digging and a little patience. But it happens.”

The Drums w/Tanukichan. Sat. May 18, 7 p.m. $18-$20. Orpheum, 1915 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City. aestheticized.comRead a full Q&A with Pierce here.

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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