golden drugs

The first time I saw Golden Drugs was a year or so ago. At the time I thought they were a loud band — so loud that it felt like it was the only way to understand them; like the Golden Drugs universe spoke, read, and dealt in loudness and loudness only.

“Performing is an ecstatic experience,” Tyler says. “Practicing is awesome, because we get in the zone and it’s one way to get wrapped up in it. But playing live is different, the energy of the whole thing, us playing and feeding off everybody else, I don’t know, I get lost in it and feel like I went on some epic voyage. I’m kind of jittery off it still.”

At first I thought deafening volume was more or less Golden Drugs’ modus operandi, but a week or so after first seeing them I listened to their first album and realized they express themselves in more ways than loud. Their songs are hard to describe, but have almost an enjoyable nervousness to ’em — a nervousness that comes alive with the loudness of their live set. In recordings, their feel is more nuanced than just volume or intensity. I think it’s like this: The recorded Golden Drugs songs are ground zero, where the story is caught and told; live Golden Drugs songs are the fleshy enactment of what goes down on record, a loud and passionate depiction; Golden Drugs proper is the dialect of their several incarnations.

“The Fog” is Golden Drugs’ first single off Sugar Water, their second full-length release. The album is yet to have a release date, but it shouldn’t be too far. In at least one fundamental way, Sugar Water is the band’s first joint effort. I talked to Drew Pearson (guitar, vocals), Tyler Bell (bass, keys and vocals) and Chris Natividad (drums) after their last show and picked their brains about the band and their new music.

“The new album is 100 percent the three of us in one room talking and thinking and chipping at it, whereas the last record was sort of patched together,” Drew says. “Like on ‘Ghost Song’ from the last album, the reason it’s kinda meandering and then it’s really striking is because we recorded it in different parts, we didn’t really even know they were gonna go together.”

Their first album, In the Midnight Sun or Stubbornly Persistent Illusion was recorded in garages and mixed in bedrooms; Sugar Water was recorded with guest musicians and the help of three or four engineers from several different studios. One of these said studios had a slew of keyed instruments Tyler got to tinker with and eventually incorporate into the album: a Hammond Organ, a Fender Rhodes and a mellotron1. These new studios and instruments add even more layers to the Golden Drugs experience, but the distance these new, somewhat obscure instrumentations will put between their recordings and their live presence is something they seem acutely aware of — an understanding that’s pretty fundamental to the scope of the band.

“Our record is supposed to be like when you’re in your bed listening to headphones,” says Drew. “If you’re in your bed and you just put on a record there’s no way you can mimic a bunch of people pushing into you, someone crowd surfing and hitting your head, the person who just spilled beer on your pants. You’re just listening on headphones, you just ate dinner and it’s calm outside. There’s no way you could connect the two really, so we don’t try so much.”

Above, the album art for Sugar Water, taken by Madison East.
The album art for Sugar Water, taken by Madison East.

Out of curiosity, I asked them in what ways their band is druggy (thematically, but not not recreationally), and they said there aren’t really any intentional parallels — they don’t think about drugs or drug use when they write songs — but that isn’t to say there’s no similarity. Drew compares their sound to coming up, that half an hour or so of percolating uncertainty before tripping, where things are shaping into “good” or “bad.” The word cacophonous comes to my mind (a word I looked up to make sure it meant what I thought it meant), and a word that etymologically translates to “to voice badness or evil,” because it’s not that their last album is scary, it’s that it speaks/describes scariness, sometimes through danciness, sometimes through hard-ass rock, sometimes through abstraction, and sometimes through something else.

“I often find that when we know what something is, we don’t like it,” Drew says. “This is pop-punk, this is garage rock, this is a Fugazi jam, this is like Blonde Redhead. When we start knowing what it is we start getting down on ourselves and we have to step back and figure out what we want and why we’re doing this.”

But if there is a shared musical lineage of Golden Drugs, it’s punk. Tyler explains how the three of them grew up in and around various punk scenes. Drew flashes a Black Flag stick-and-poke on his ankle, and Chris tells a story about the first couple bands he played in, and how good it felt to leave an indie-rockish band for a hardcore band: Not because of the people, but because it meant he got to play way faster.

“We’re way louder now. We’ve played a bunch of shows now and we realized the live shows are way different than the old recordings. This new album is much louder than the old recordings,” says Chris. “ We’re not really trying to play four-chord punk, but we’re all into punk shit. The energy is still there.”

Golden Drugs’ new song “The Fog” has what feels like two distinct parts. The first half rolls and the second half bounces. The first half is like Smashing Pumpkins pysch-pop, and the second half is an “underwater Chicha party2.” The beginning teeters between cozy and lonely, and the second half doesn’t teeter at all — it’s fast and playful body-moving stuff. This is something they do a lot, and something I think they do well: present a song in two or more personalities.

I told them that something about their songs feel simple to me, and something about this simplicity simulates or triggers the feeling of memory: as if hearing their music registers with one of my oldest tools for comprehending music (or maybe it’s the youngest). I was hitting them with stone-cold insight, I thought.

“Damn, a lot of people have said that,” Drew responds. “That’s the drug! That’s exactly the drug, and it’s the way we like to write pop music. I feel like pop music is basically that definition.”

This commonality probably has to do with the way Golden Drugs configures songs. A lot of times their songs present themselves in sections, and it feels like one personality gets abruptly plucked out of another personality. “The Fog,” and some other Golden Drugs songs, don’t give you a bridge, so emotionally connecting part one to part two lives and dies in your imagination, it’s been with you all along. It’s truly trippy how space feels traveled in their songs, but the space traveled feels wholly up for debate. It’s why I think listening to Golden Drugs’ world is largely listening to your own internal world. The mirage is their fantasy, but it’s also yours.

Their parameters of “audience” feels dauntingly expansive, but it’s because the most formative parts of their periphery is just outside their periphery.

“I don’t necessarily think of 

[audience] as just the people that are gonna hear it right now and in the future. In a weird way, I might sound crazy, I also think about people in the past. Like, I’m a huge fan of Can, and we’re so influenced by them that if they were here at our show we would hope they heard and liked our set. It’s a fandom thing.” says Drew. “It’s about being part of the cycle, we just wanna have our say in the loop.”

Golden Drugs are playing a free show at The Night Light next month, and stay present for more songs, videos and an album.

MALL WALK, Golden Drugs, Tiny Head
The Night Light
April 8th, 2016
9pm, FREE (21+)

1 “It’s basically a bunch of tape loops, like magnetic tape, and each note is basically a sample,” Tyler explained. “It’s like pre-electronic sampler. So it’s got all these little tape loops spinning on a reel and its’ a loop of the one note, and each time you hit a key it pushes the head against that strip of tape, and it has a really nice, soft attack, in that very warm, saturated tapey sound. You can get different reels for different instruments. It sounds beautiful. Each sound comes on, you don’t get a hard attack on anything. When you hit a key on the piano and you get a ding! On the mellotron it’s more of a soft thing.”

2 Drew’s words.