Music doesn’t have to have vocals to be good. Just look at all the classic music. EL DRUGSTORE are proof of that. © 2015 Anders Ekdahl
Could you please introduce us to the band?
-Hey there, we’re El Drugstore. We’re a weird instrumental trio from New Jersey.
What has been the greatest catalyst in forming your sound?
-I’m not sure there’s really been a single catalyst in arriving at the sound we’ve developed. It’s a combination of years of pushing the limits of what we’re physically capable of, disparate musical influences of the 3 of us, and a desire to keep pushing the envelope. I think it’s an unspoken goal of the band to never repeat ourselves, so we’re constantly trying to evolve beyond whatever our last release sounded like.
How hard is it to record and release new songs?
-The recording component is a lot harder to me than releasing music. We all have pretty high standards for what we want our records to sound like and unfortunately our tastes are richer than our finances. We’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years learning how to be more independent when it comes to recording. We can’t afford to check into a studio for 2 weeks and make an album. Our last record, “Plague Ship,” was entirely tracked in our rehearsal space. We then took it to Backroom Studios to mix and master. We felt pretty confident afterwards that we had managed to make a record that didn’t sound like it was recorded in our rehearsal space, and that was empowering to us. We’re going to take what we learned making that record and bring it to the next level on our next one. It’s very exciting to not be limited to making bad-sounding records in spite of our extremely limited budget.
Releasing new songs is very easy for us. We formed the label Nefarious Industries a few years ago with our friends in the band A Fucking Elephant. While the label itself isn’t a super-serious endeavor, it gives us the freedom to pursue any artistic avenue that interests us, whether it’s marketable or not. It also gives us the freedom to work at our own pace and never have to settle for an inferior product due to external pressures. That’s something that we really treasure.
Has digital made it easier to get your music released? How important is a label today?
-Digital music has absolutely made it easier to release our music. In the past, there has been this tremendous pressure for every band to release a physical product no matter what. You were perceived as amateurish if you didn’t release a physical product. The problem there is for most bands, releasing a physical product is a terrible financial decision. If you’re touring year round, having CDs and vinyl for sale is critical because that’s your lifesblood on the road. For bands like us that are mostly studio rats and only play a few shows a year, pressing CDs or vinyl would just be an exercise in vanity. They would sit unsold in our rehearsal space taking up room. Believe me, it bums me out that our last album is digital only. I strongly prefer physical formats on a personal level. But why waste thousands of dollars if there’s not enough interest in your band to justify the expense? Staying digital allows us to focus on what is important to us and dedicate our limited financial resources to those things. If all goes well, perhaps we’ll be able to do future releases in physical formats.
Labels are sort of a necessary evil at this point. It’s pretty impossible to get press for something that you self-released. One of the main reasons that we formed Nefarious Industries was to help get press for our records. Obviously, NI isn’t exactly a well-known entity, but being able to slap the name and logo on our stuff has absolutely gotten us reviews and interviews we might have been passed over for otherwise. By running our own label, as small of an operation as it may be, it allows us and the other artists we work with to retain 100% of the rights to their music and any profits associated with that while still having an opportunity to have their material reviewed. I’ve found it to be a nice compromise over the past few years to retain control over my music and still get to participate in the industry as a whole.
If you release your music digitally only is there a risk that you release songs too soon, before you/they are ready compared to releasing them on cd?
-I suppose that risk exists for some bands, but I don’t actively worry about that being a problem for El Drugstore. We’ve yet to release anything digitally that we wouldn’t have released on CD if it had made sense to do so. We tend to work through our music pretty meticulously. We test songs out live, record demos, etc etc. It’s a long process. We’ve been a band for almost 7 years and in that time we’ve released 1 full length album, 1 EP and 2 singles. We move at a pretty glacial pace to begin with.
What kind of responses have you had to your recorded music?
-They’ve been pretty varied. We’ve generally gotten very good reviews and plenty of critical praise, but it’s pretty safe to say that we don’t make music for everyone. What we do tends to be atonal and unpleasant sounding. There’s an audience for that type of music, but it’s not huge. If you stopped the average person on the street, slapped headphones on them and made them listen to our music, they most likely would not enjoy it. We’re OK with that. This band exists solely for our own amusement. All of the nice reviews we’ve received over the years have been a pleasant surprise, but it’s not what drives us to make music.
We live in a world where there are no real distances between people communicating anymore. What has been the most surprising contact so far?
-I’m always blown away when people who live in other countries, or even different parts of our own country, find out about our music. We really don’t tour at all. We’ve only played something like 35 shows in the 7 or so years we’ve been a band. So when someone from another part of the world discovers and enjoys our music it’s pretty amazing. I used to play in another band called East of the Wall with our drummer Squid (who is still in East of the Wall) and that band was a lot more successful than El Drugstore, so I think most people tend to discover us through that connection. That makes some of those interactions less surprising, but not any less enjoyable.
Do you feel like you are a part of a greater community playing in a metal band?
-Not particularly. There are certainly some elements of metal in our music, but we don’t think of ourselves as a traditional metal band. We tend to occupy a weird place in the scene where we’re not heavy enough for a lot of metal heads but too heavy for everyone else. Based on material we’re currently working on, our next album is going to exacerbate that issue even more. But we’ve always enjoyed not totally fitting in anywhere and trying to confound people.
What is the live scene like for you? Do you feel that playing live helps building a bigger following?
-Playing live absolutely helps build a bigger following. If we were actively trying to build our following, we would definitely play live a lot more than we do now. Instead, we’ve always tried to treat this band as a purely artistic endeavor. The music we make has to satisfy us creatively, and anything achieved beyond that is sort of just a nice bonus. So rather than playing constantly and trying to get our name out there, we tend to sit back and wait until we get opportunities to play with awesome bands that we love. As such, we continue to have a pretty small following, but we’re OK with that.
The live scene is generally a mixed bag for us. As I mentioned before, we tend to fall between the cracks of a couple of different scenes, so at a lot of shows we end up with some confused stares. But we’ve also been lucky enough to have a few great bands and promoters who support us and put us on great bills with amazing like-minded bands, so there have been just as many shows where people really dig what we’re doing.
What plans do you have for the future?
-We have a show booked on June 25th in Brooklyn, NY with Giant Squid and Hex Inverter, which is really exciting. After that, we’ll be hunkering down to work on new material again. We’re probably about halfway done writing our next full length record, which we’ll hopefully be releasing sometime next year if the material keeps flowing the way it has been. If all goes well, we’ll also be releasing another EP before the end of next year with some songs that didn’t quite fit thematically on either of our last 2 full lengths. Either way, you’ll be hearing a lot new El Drugstore material over the next year and a half or so.