War on Drugs Talks Dazzling New LP: 'I Wanted to Feel Less Alone'

ABC/Randy Holmes
The War on Drugs played Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Aug. 9.

The War on Drugs’ 2014 album, Lost in the Dream, delivered frontman Adam Granduciel as an indie rock star. It also pushed him to the brink of a breakdown.

The 38-year-old singer-songwriter famously crafted the hourlong tapestry of Springsteen-inspired grandiosity and psychedelic overtures in near seclusion, dogged by panic attacks and suffering from depression. At times, he feared he would not be able to finish the album.

“I was 35 and not entirely sure what I was doing -- life in general was undefined for me,” says the Massachusetts native. Yet Lost in the Dream was hailed as an instant classic upon release, spending 18 weeks on the Billboard 200 and topping many year-end critics’ lists in 2014. The album brought The War on Drugs to Coachella’s main stage, and to Atlantic Records, which will release the band’s major-label debut, A Deeper Understanding, on Aug. 25.

As his group’s most anticipated album to date approaches, Granduciel asserts he’s in a better space emotionally -- partly because he has opened up about his mental health. “The more I talked about it, the more people wanted to talk about it too,” he says, “and it made me feel less alone.”

Granduciel worked with a therapist while making Lost in the Dream; for A Deeper Understanding, which was written during a year-and-a-half period between New York and Los Angeles, he found balance with a structured schedule. Between recording sessions, he would root for the Philadelphia Eagles, check out local jazz bands in the Philly area and spend time with his girlfriend, actress Krysten Ritter. Mostly, committing to his music has helped Granduciel find peace; he expects to write new material during the band’s international fall tour.

The sprawling, classic rock-inspired album is highlighted by the twinkling synth-rock single “Holding On” -- the group’s first to crack the top five of Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart. In its music video, The Wire alum Frankie Faison plays a world-weary old man whose spirits are lifted by a series of small-town interactions, the last (and most lasting) with Granduciel.

The video’s concept came from Ritter, and the spotlight-shy Granduciel welcomed the acting opportunity. “It felt humble in its message,” he says of the clip. “Everyone has shit in their life and times they go through that are not the most pleasant. But you put your head down and you go to work.”  

This story originally appeared in the September 2 issue of Billboard.