Surf’s up: The Drums @ Vega, Copenhagen, 09/12/2010

Copenhagen doesn’t appear to be suffering as badly as other parts of Europe as the seasonal cold snap prompts the majority of the continent to don arctic parkas and thermal underwear. The Danish capital laughs at temperatures which hover just under freezing. It’s practically balmy considering the lowest temperature ever recorded here was minus 29 Celsius. Brooklyn’s indie darlings the Drums, in town for the next leg of their European tour, are equally sanguine about the December chill.

“Brooklyn is harsh in winter so I’ve been enjoying it here in Europe,” Johnathon Pierce, the band’s laconic frontman says, reclining on a chilly leather sofa backstage at Copenhagen’s Vega venue. “We are all very sensitive to the conditions around us. We were very influenced by all the heat we experienced this year and it shows in some of the songs; they have a sunnier, more positive vibe. I’m looking forward to getting back to New York and the cold. It’s a very creative environment for us, to be cold.”

Since exploding onto the alternative scene in a flurry of plaudits and praise in 2009, some three years after forming in New York, the Drums have been pricking the consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic with their sparse, spiky 80s influenced guitar pop. Drawing on the sounds of the The Smiths, early Cure, Joy Division and Orange Juice, the band revisit the glory days of the independent movement, a period before being an outcast became just another marketing tool for the major labels. Some critics have gone so far as to describe these self-confessed weirdos as the saviours of indie. It’s not a title that sits well with the band.

“You do something you love and the whole world spins around you and suddenly everyone has a reaction,” says drummer Connor Hanwick, sweeping back a structurally magnificent quiff which would put a young Morrissey to shame. “The first album was written before anyone had even heard of us so that says that we were just writing songs that we loved. We weren’t trying to save anything.”

“We were all loners as kids and a little out of sync with the world so we deal with praise and accolades with a certain sense of reality,” says Pierce. “We know that everything eventually goes away. Come January there’ll be another big thing, another band to watch. Whether you’re loved or hated, some day nobody’s going to care at all so it just has to be about writing great songs because that will be what follows you to your grave.”

This almost brutally realistic view of life and music sits somewhat awkwardly with the jangly, life-affirming buoyancy of many of the bands’ songs, driven by Jacob Graham’s tightly-strung, twangy guitar and the toy town tinniness of Hanwick’s drums. It’s a dichotomy which isn’t lost on the Drums.

“We have a natural urge to balance things,” says Pierce. “We never set out to write a song which sounds happy but is really about being sad. But those are the kinds of songs we’ve been drawn to our whole lives; those are the songs we hold dear and the kind of songs we want to write. But it’s all subjective; for example, Forever and Ever Amen makes some people cry while others jump around the room with joy. We’re happy dealing with grey areas.”

As darkness falls and the temperature plummets, the Vega fills with chirpy Copenhageners seemingly unaware of the darker side of the Drums. Dressed as if they’re heading to a California beach party, the neon t-shirts and shin-scraping drainpipes bely the fact that the young crowd has just traipsed through the slushy remnants of the recent snow.

In an attempt to achieve the levels of balance they crave, the Drums counteract the gloom outside with a show befitting the upbeat mood of their audience. Soon the crowd is basking in the effortless melodies and wistful ambience of songs like Down by the Water, Best Friend and Submarine which turn the intimate confines of the Vega into a cosy seafront gathering. Let’s Go Surfing’s idyllic surf-pop transports the crowd to a bonfire-lit celebration where they whirl around in board shorts by the waters edge; the top-down freedom of Book of Stories blows through the collective hair like an ocean breeze, while The Future sloshes around the crowd like lazy early morning waves lapping in struggling sunlight.

Who cares if these songs filled with optimistic hooks come with hidden barbs. Whether they intended to or not, the Drums have brought a hint of summertime to wintery Copenhagen.

First published in the Red Bulletin.