“It’s all about the mood in these songs; that’s what I tend to chase. That’s not to say I want to keep them small and lo-fi or anything, I just want to capture the feeling I was in at that moment. And it’s those sounds that excite me – something mysterious, dark and a little bit melancholy but can also be crafted into a larger work, which sounds like a full band.
“After the second record, I knew in my heart I was a musician and how seriously I took the process of creating those songs,” he says, “but I wanted to take the writing side a little more seriously too and really think about what I was saying, or what I wasn’t saying. All my favourite artists are singer-songwriters, with, for better or worse, an on-going story. I don’t know what my story is yet necessarily, but I guess I just wanted to write songs that I could look back on and feel proud.
“I read recently that some people think that once artists find their muse – that first thing that forced them to create, whether it’s a feeling, an emotion or a relationship – that’s what they always go back to and I am still going back to that moment when I was in California and feeling directionless about my life. I still feel like I am trying to capture whatever I was feeling back then.”
Much has been made of just how personal ‘Lost In A Dream’ feels, which is in no small part due to Granduciel’s openness about the issues he experienced with anxiety and depression during the recording of the album. There’s a darkness to the record that belies its upbeat tone and carries the listener on a journey from dark to light; from the chaos of instability to serenity in the unknown. It’s such a strong through line on the album, you have to wonder, with everything that’s been written, if this sequencing wasn’t thoroughly intentional?
“I guess the first half is a little… errr… not dark, but it’s certainly about tension and then as the album progresses it becomes about opening yourself up to the world, or opening yourself up to whatever might happen in life. I could tell there was a story in my song cycles, but I guess it was unconscious because I was so close to the music.
“Looking back, it’s funny because I’d had already given names to the songs ‘Under the Pressure’ and ‘Suffering’ long before I was feeling stressed. It’s not like I wrote those songs specifically about what I was going through. I didn’t write ‘Suffering’ because I was in the middle of a panic attack, but when I was listening back six months later I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I’ve been working on this song and only now I’m in this fucked up state.’”
Granduciel’s period of illness was spurred on by a confluence of events, as he found himself in the middle of a break-up from his long term girlfriend, adrift from his community – years spent on the road (not only with The War On Drugs, but as part of Vile’s backing band The Violators) left him feeling isolated from his friends in Philadelphia. And it began to affect everything about the way he once worked.
“I just wasn’t losing myself anymore,” he says. “I had a studio in my house but I wasn’t staying up at night getting high and fucking around on my tape machine because I was too scared to smoke weed in case I had a complete nervous breakdown. I was resigned to not leaving my bedroom and just listening to a handful of demo’s I’d finished before I went into this mental collapse and I started having physical manifestations of this panic and anxiety.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone as determined as Granduciel, this period didn’t totally prohibit him from working, although it’s clear the single-minded way in which he wanted to get things done fanned the flames of his health.
He explains: “I was still actively writing, I just didn’t want to be at home and I didn’t want to have a fucking bunch of half baked ideas recorded on tape. I think that my anxiety fed into wanting to work on the album all the time in a real studio and make it sound awesome. I wanted to come up with ideas, practise at home, go into the studio six weeks later, have six songs to work on and know what I wanted to do on those songs. I thought if I could be super focused on the music, then I wouldn’t be focused on the sensation in my neck that I was convinced was cancer. In my house, working on music when it’s only me, I had too many fucking distractions and those distractions were fucking me up.
“I found the wait in between sessions awful. I originally thought we were going to block out four months so we could work on the record, but because of scheduling for Jeff (Ziegler – Granduciel’s long-time engineer) we just couldn’t. All we’d have was four days and no more time for two months. I just felt upset that I could only work on the thing I wanted to devote all the time to in little blocks of four days or six days. I mean, I love Jeff – he’s my closest musical confidant, closer than anyone in the band. I trust him to make decisions that make the music sound awesome; he’s the only guy I would ever let have any influence over my vision. I hope to work with him for a really long time, and I’d like to think he knows that. But at the time I felt like, ‘I’m your biggest fucking client right now and you’re fucking me!’
“Of course, none of this is unique to me, a lot of people deal with it, but it’s a crazy way to live life. I mean, it’s not gone away, I still get weird moments, but now it doesn’t send me into a cave like it would have a year ago. I’m just trying to think more rationally and less emotionally. You have to just get to that point where you feel that twinge in your neck and you ignore it, because it might be a brain tumour but it might be nothing, and you can’t do anything about it either way.”