The first thing you’ll notice about “Banco Popular,” the churning opening song to Drug Church’s new album Hit Your Head, is that singer Patrick Kindlon still has a voice that only his mother could love.
The upstate New York five-piece poached the frontman of Self Defense Family to be their singer but, according to Kindlon himself, it might have been a career-damaging move, or at least a reason for the group’s stunted progression.
“The way that bands progress is to either make a shitty metal record or to get a little bit more commercial, then deny it. I’m going to say that we went the more commercial route on this one. I wanted to do a shitty metal record, but the band wasn’t having it,” says Kindlon wryly. “They wrote stuff that I think if a guy with a good voice was on it, the band could experience some success. But because my voice is continuously terrible, I’ve robbed them of that.”
Definitely brandishing a love-it-or-hate-it vocal style, Kindlon says he wasn’t about to mask his imperfections in the studio. Instead, the band let their vocalist just do his thing: a shouted, raspy, man-on-the-bus-yelling-in-your-face style that is an interesting juxtaposition with a band that has written some of its most intricate yet simplistic rock to date.
“If we had taken two weeks making my voice sound great, we would have a product that more people would like, but then we couldn’t perform it live. So this is a what-you-hear-is-what-you-get thing,” says Kindlon. “If you come to shows there’s a good chance I will sound very much like I do on the record.”
Kindlon says the band also kept things simple in the studio. Recorded by Jay Maas (formerly of Defeater), Hit Your Head sounds heavy but not overly produced, something the band was aiming for going into the studio.
“More and more, there are bands playing what I call ‘small-room music’ that are going for a nice production that tricks you,” he says. “I’m not naming names, but a friend’s band had 160 tracks on each song and there’s legitimately no way to recreate that.”
Kindlon points out that a glossier approach is fine for some bands, but it wasn’t right for Drug Church’s latest album.
“It’s a knowingly intentional commercial failure [of a] commercial record. I thought the chances of people liking it were slim, but it’s actually pretty approachable songs done in a very unapproachable way,” he says. “We half-intentionally chose to give you what we sound like when we play live. It’s a honest record in that regard. We were given enough money to do tricks if we wanted to, but it didn’t seem like a tasteful direction to make me sound like an angel on the record and then have me sound like a fart in person. That was foolishness to me.”
Lyrically, the 11-song album has what appears to be a narrative about a bunch of skid rockers living in the suburbs, hanging out in 7-Eleven parking lots, smoking lots of pot and partying. Which begs the question: Is this narrative or reality? It’s something that Kindlon isn’t really able to give a complete answer for.
“It’s interesting that this music does this to me, but when I hear Drug Church music, I think about trashy things,” he explains. “The music isn’t like listening to Kid Rock. It’s not, like, pure trash music, but something about it makes me think about parties from high school, and it gives me these strong impressions about the trashier side of growing up, and that’s what comes out, and I honestly don’t know where it comes from.”
A veteran of emotional and politically charged bands, Kindlon was happy to channel some different elements into these songs, including a firm understanding of the area the band comes from.
“It’s got a very upstate New York feel. I think I’ve done a decent job of singing upstate New York,” he says. “But it’s interesting because people will write me from Michigan or Idaho and say it reminded them so much of their high school, or what they did last week, so it’s interesting to me that I think I’m singing about upstate New York, but I’m really singing what must be the universal American trash story.”
Despite the trashy nature of the lyrics, it befits Kindlon to have something more going on beneath the surface. Sure, the band is kicking ass and the frontman is raving on about petty vandalism and getting way too drunk, but a message is hidden deep within just waiting to be discovered, we know it.
“Drug Church is a band where I hear the songs in the studio, I write the lyrics there and I sing whatever comes into my head. Often it’s not until I’ve finished recording until I know at all what the purpose of the song is,” he says. “Almost always, there is one, but I put no checks on what I’m writing and then I listen to it and say, ‘Damn, I’m deeper than I thought.’ So, in a manner of speaking, it’s free association, but then at the end it goes from that to, ‘Oh, isn’t that peculiar. I told a story. Isn’t that weird?’”
Speaking of weird, there’s that band name. Drug Church seems like a peculiar choice, but it ends up being a good fit for a band that sounds like they could be reeking of pot smoke and covered in denim and flannel. How the band got their name isn’t a great story, says Kindlon, just a small anecdote.
“For fun, Self Defense Family started making a list in the van on tour of the most local-sounding band names. We’d go to a town and play a bar and we’d see that the next day Scum Hornet was playing,” he says, laughing. “So, on long drives, we’d make lists of the most local-sounding band names. When the guys in Drug Church asked me what they hell we wanted to call this thing, I gave them a list of five or 10 things that were all pulled from the shittiest band name list and they loved Drug Church. They said it was perfect, so Drug Church it was!”
Despite the questionable name and Kindlon’s apprehension with an approachable singing voice, Drug Church is a band that easily could overtake the popularity of his other bands, if not for the sole reason of being open to different possibilities.
“Drug Church is not afraid to be liked. Self Defense Family, in particular, we don’t go out of our way to be hated, but there is not a person in that band who has any interest in being liked. That band says no to opportunities and tours that would get us more fans, simply because it’s not something we give a shit about,” explains Kindlon.
“But Drug Church is different. In Self Defense, I say no to everything. In Drug Church, I say yes to everything. And that is the fundamental difference. If the dudes in Drug Church said they had a tour offer from Skrillex and… I don’t even know, someone else who sucks really bad, I’d say, ‘Sure!’ Meanwhile Self Defense is turning down tours. I told the guys in Drug Church to just assume that I am a yes for everything.”
The only potential problem might be if the rest of the band asks Kindlon to learn how to sing properly.
“You know what? It’s funny. In my head, while I am singing, I sound so good,” he says. “But, upon playback, I learn the awful truth that perception is not reality.” S
A version of this piece was published in Substream #49.