While being a rock band seems to be all about sold out concert stadiums and every jolly excess, there is also hard work involved, including long days on the road, as any successful rocker will tell you. Charlie Hall, drummer of the American indie-rock band, The War on Drugs, however, finds touring a fun part of the job.
Speaking over a video call from Melbourne, Australia, Hall says, “Every night is a new musical conversation with the audience. There is a feedback loop between the performer and the audience. It is in the moment, happening right there, special and unique.”
Bengaluru will have a chance of partaking of the magic as the Grammy-Award winning group, fronted by Adam Granduciel, will perform as part of Bandland. The two-day celebration of music brought to India’s rock capital by BookMyShow Live, featuring British pioneers of heavy metal, Deep Purple, and Goo Goo Dolls amongst others, will be on December 16 and 17.
Touring, Hall says, has the added advantage of traveling the world. “We get to meet people, see different countries and how people live. We hopefully gain an appreciation and understanding for other cultures. I feel extremely fortunate and I’m grateful for every second of it and will never complain about 14-hour plane rides or whatever.”
It is a privilege, Hall says, to play music he loves, with people he loves, and share that with audiences. “The other thing about a live performance is that after not being able to share in big groups during the pandemic, to feel connected to something with thousands of other people is a pretty cool feeling.”
Hall is excited about his first trip to India. “I’ve been interested in Indian classical music, especially Hindustani music, for a long time. I am excited about visiting Bangalore, both as a metropolis and for the nature. I have one whole day in the city with no travel or work. I have heard a lot about food in Bangalore. There is this vegetarian-based style of cooking, I don’t know if I am saying this right, Udupi? which is prominent in Bangalore, that I would like to try.”
Moved by the music
Whether Bengalureans are fans of The War on Drugs music, or have never heard of it, Hall hopes the audience will be moved. “Even if they’ve heard the records, hearing the band live will hopefully be exciting. The audience will be transported to a place where they can use their imagination, and feel a certain way.”
Creating albums in a studio is a different beast, Hall says. “You are digging deep within and creating something, that you don’t always know what it is going look like. It is like you’re using all these colours to create a picture, where the outline isn’t even there yet. Sometimes you start with the outline and sometimes without. It works both ways.”
Sound of emotion
It is fun to experiment when recording, says Hall. “You’re still unsure of what you’re doing. We are trying to create something new. That’s the happy challenge of the studio. The tools of the studio are also cool. That’s something that unifies the band. We’re all interested in the recording process and in instruments. You are trying to try to find a sound out of an emotion, out of an instrument, a synthesiser, a drum, or whatever it is you’re hitting, plucking, strumming or bowing. It’s a joy to play with sound.
Talking about how a song comes together, Halls says, “You are talking to the drummer, (laughs) but I could probably speak for Adam. In the case of our band, lyrics usually follow the melody. Some writers start with the lyrics, which they then put to music, and sometimes that has happened with us, but more often than not, the melody comes first.”
From its inception in 2005 in Philadelphia, The War on Drugs has undergone a lot of lineup changes. Kurt Vile, who formed the band with Granduciel, left to pursue a solo career after the release of the band’s debut album, Wagonwheel Blues. “Friends collaborate with us on records and that goes into making The War on Drugs bigger than any one of us. It is all Adam’s vision, which musicians come together to execute.”
Even though the band is a professional operation, Hall says, the six-member band has been friends for so long that they are basically family. “Everybody takes care of each other, and looks out for each other’s families. We care about one another as people first. The band is, however, why we’re all here, that’s the job. We’ve known each other for 20 years and in that time, we’ve been through births of children, passing of parents and friends, weddings… every life experience there is.”
About his fascination for percussion instruments, Hall laughs, saying, “I should probably know the answer to that! Before we had language, we had rhythm. We would bang on a piece of wood to signify something or bang in a certain rhythm to signify ‘come home’ or ‘go away’. I enjoy connecting with people and drumming is the most original form of communication. So, maybe that has something to do with it, or I just like banging on things!” (laughs).
The multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer and songwriter, released his first solo album, Invisible Ink in May 2023. “It is something a couple of friends, including Dave (Hartley), the bass player from The War on Drugs, urged me to do. They pushed me out of my comfort zone as I’ve never written my own music before or recorded an album of my own music.”
The album, Hall says, started as a solitary experience and was fulfilling in that way. “Once friends started to collaborate with me, it became this beautiful tapestry of colour, sound and ultimately, of friendship. So I now have this sound document of all these friendships, love and encouragement.” Hall enjoyed the process so much that he is already working on the next album.
The War on Drugs has released five studio albums including the Grammy-Award winning A Deeper Understanding (2017) and the most recent, I Don’t Live Here Anymore (2021). “What remains the same is the pursuit of Adam’s vision. He has developed a sound that is recognisably his own. You hear something and think ‘oh, that sounds like The War on Drugs.’ And that’s cool. The trick is to sound like The War on Drugs, but continue to evolve. That’s what’s it is always going to be — evolve and keep making honest music.”
Bandland is on December 16 and 17 from 3pm at Embassy International Riding School. Tickets are available on bookmyshow