Jonny Pierce was lost. Multiple relationships had crumbled in front of his eyes and he feared he was losing touch even with himself.
Reeling from a devastating divorce and left alone in a new city, Pierce had to also contend with the departure of longtime musical partner Jacob Graham. But even with Graham gone, he was able to heal himself making music in indie pop project, The Drums.
When The Drums first hit the world in 2009 they were a welcome force of optimism. Their debut self-titled album featured songs like “Best Friend” and “Let’s Go Surfing” that found the bright sides of sad stories. Even tracks that seemed bleak, like “Me and The Moon” or “Book of Stories,” had undercurrents of hope.
The Drums’ music is still infused with bubbly pop melodies, but the optimism is now tempered by darker undertones. On June 16, The Drums released Abysmal Thoughts, an album comprised of the most emotionally soaked tracks you’ll ever hear.
“This album has been completely therapeutic to me,” Pierce tells BTRtoday over the phone. “Every song that I’ve written has really felt like part of the healing process. I’d sit down and pour my heart out in a way that I wasn’t allowed to before.”
Pierce was crashing at his manager’s place in L.A. during a break between tours. Pierce tours for years at a time with short breaks in between. Though it was early morning for him and he had just rushed out of the shower to take the call, he was contagiously upbeat.
After hearing the struggles he recently had to endure, just this tone of his voice felt like a glimmer of hope for humanity.
“You hear that term ‘rock bottom’ and looking back at the 30 years of my life I can’t think of another time that felt as disastrous, lonely and scary,” he says about why he decided to call the album Abysmal Thoughts. “It was a dark time, it was definitely abysmal— I felt like I had nothing to lose and everything to prove.”
Pierce decided to just “go for it” with this album. It was his first completely solo take on The Drums and he was at his lowest—instead of withering away in his misery, he embraced it and went for it.
“It was a new level of freedom and self-discovery—it opened this floodgate of writing for myself,” he says. “I really felt like I should just go for it, so I called it Abysmal Thoughts, and instead of shying away from the cover art, I just went for it and I photographed my boyfriend smelling a dirty Adidas shoe.” He adds that when it came down to the lyrics he wanted to really talk out his issues, instead of sugarcoating or generalizing them.
Pierce says “Under The Ice,” sums up the feel of the album and his personal feelings about himself as a person and artist.
“That one to me just talks about the feeling of having this clear wall between you and the rest of the world, and I’ve felt that my whole life,” he says.
Having grown up with little love or support from his family, he admits that he’s constantly seeking for an exit and a sense of security. Even when he performs for thousands of fans or speaks with friends, he struggles with feelings of isolation.
“Not connecting with everyone the way I wish I could and on top of that thinking, ‘maybe I am connecting with everyone and this is all there is…’ I always feel like I’m riddled with social anxiety,” he says. “I want everything to be wonderful, but I just can’t seem to find my groove—I still feel like I’m trying to figure out who I am and discover myself.”
Abysmal Thoughts was the first time Pierce looked inward instead of blaming his situations on external forces.
“This album is a little more grown up, because I’m shifting from that finger pointing outward to turning it around and pointing it at myself,” he says.
“I know I sound like I’m probably this person who hates life and complains all the time, but I’m also really grateful,” he says. “Before this album came out I really felt like things could’ve gone either way for me. It means a lot to me that people, eight years later, are still interested in talking to me and are excited about the new album. It’s humbling and really exciting.”
Pierce is currently on a two-year tour as The Drums and will be hitting Europe in September before returning to continue touring in the U.S. in November. Hear the entire inspirational interview and all of Abysmal Thoughts on this week’s episode of The Music Meetup.