It’s shaping up to be quite a great year for Adam Granduciel. His elegantly woozy, guitar-caressing Philadelphia band the War on Drugs produced one of rock’s most acclaimed albums of late and is now enjoying the commercial boost to match, evidenced locally by the addition of a second First Avenue show Tuesday after Monday’s gig sold out.
What’s ironic about his band’s success this year, though, is that it is built largely on the darkest year of Granduciel’s life. Titled “Lost in the Dream,” the third War on Drugs album was written during a long bout with depression and anxiety.
“That’s one of the beautiful things about it,” the 34-year-old singer/guitarist said by phone from his Philly home last month. “One of the big things I was dealing with was learning to trust myself and my instincts, so obviously having people respond well to the record settles some of that doubt.”
Granduciel spent several years mostly on the road — including a stint playing with longtime friend Kurt Vile — and then hit a wall of sorts during a long stretch of downtime. He said he felt alienated from friends when he got home, and he started questioning the worth of his art and achievements as he tried to craft his next album. His previous album, “Slave Ambient,” earned strong reviews but failed to find much of an audience.
“I went down a really strange rabbit hole,” he said, describing it as “crippling fear and anxiety.”
“I felt unable to leave my house for long stretches, which led to serious moments of depression. It’s something I had been dealing with for a long time, I suppose, but it just really revealed itself at that time and even manifested itself physically, too. I wasn’t well in a lot of ways.”
In the new album’s opening track, “Under the Pressure,” Granduciel sings, “Holding over like an illusion / When it all breaks down and we’re runaways / Standing in the wake of our pain / And we stare straight into nothin’.”
“Under the Pressure” sets the tone for the record’s persistently building grooves and dramatic, wave-washy guitar and piano arrangements, offering echoes of Daniel Lanois-helmed Dylan albums and heavily produced ’80s groups such as Tears for Fears and Dire Straits around Granduciel’s sandy, Jackson Browne-like voice.
Those probably sound like unlikely musical comparisons for a Pitchfork.com-buoyed, hotly trotted indie-rock act. A native of Dover, Mass., Granduciel admits he was not all that into cool, underground bands when he started playing music.
“All I had growing up was classic-rock radio, so probably the weirdest my collection got was Sonic Youth or Beck,” he said. “I’ve since gotten into a lot of different kinds of stuff, but when I make music I think I naturally try to emulate the stuff of my youth — which I think of as very song-oriented music, naturally emotional music, nothing too esoteric.”
Granduciel fell in with the cool crowd when he moved to Philadelphia almost a decade ago, with the primary goal of starting a music career. He said, “I just wanted to immerse myself in a community of musicians, and make that my world.” It worked.
“Most of the people I met when I got here are people I still know well and work with to this day, including some of the guys I play with now, and Kurt [Vile].”
Vile, known to many Twin Cities fans for his appearance at Rock the Garden in June, played on the first two War on Drugs records while simultaneously launching his own band, the Violators. Granduciel said of Vile, “The way he probably influenced me most was just his confidence in what he was doing, his can-do approach. He would just sort of dive in when it came to making a record, which isn’t a bad way of doing it.”
Not that Granduciel’s long, troubled, doubtful approach to making “Lost in the Dream” didn’t pay off in the end. He said of the personal tribulations that went into it, “I’m past a lot of that now, but there’s some stuff I’ll probably be dealing with my whole life.”
An avid Dylanophile, Granduciel balked when asked if “Lost in the Dream” could wind up being his “Blood on the Tracks,” the brilliant, divorce-infected album that Dylan has long tried to distance himself from because of its blunt personal approach.
“A lot of that record is based on very specific things, and the songs were a lot more one-moment-in-time songs,” he said. “I mean, if you listen to the words of ‘Idiot Wind’ or ‘Meet Me in the Morning,’ you’ll know why the hell Dylan never wants to sing them again.”
As for his own masterfully mopey record, Granduciel said, “It’s not as time-sensitive or fleeting. It deals with ongoing themes that I and a lot of other people can probably relate to 10-20 years from now, too, so it will still feel relevant to sing them.”