Five years ago, Jonathan Pierce had it all. The preacher’s son from tiny Horseheads, N.Y., had transcended his farm-town beginnings with Elkland, the moody synth-pop four-piece he formed with his drumming brother, Jesse.
Their Smiths-inspired Columbia debut “Golden” created such a stir, they even secured a national tour opening for Erasure. A year later? Disaster.
Elkland imploded, Jesse quit music, and Pierce ended up alone in Manhattan, sleeping on friends’ couches and walking dogs for a living.
“It just came to a point where I really felt like I had nothing in my life, and I was really losing the will,” says Pierce, who brings The Drums, his jagged, surf-twangy new group to The City on Friday.
In desperation, he phoned an old friend in Florida, guitarist Jacob Graham, and asked him to start a new band.
The singer moved south that week. He and Graham began composing songs that were the bright, bubbly opposite of the dark Elkland sound.
A turning point came when he heard the Shangri-Las’ “Give Him a Great Big Kiss.”
“I loved it, and I got really obsessed with them after that moment,” he says. “So when I started writing our first song with The Drums, I knew that I wanted that influence to be part of what we were doing.”
The team struck pay dirt with their first ditty, the New-Wave-meets-Duane-Eddy-ish “Best Friend.” “I remember listening to that as a completed song while I was riding my bike to work in Florida, and I had a real moment,” Pierce says. “I’ll never forget that feeling — just feeling like anything was possible, for the first time in my life. It was really cool.”
The Drums soon felt confident enough to move back to the Big Apple, where an introductory EP and following eponymous debut album were met with rabid acclaim.
“The Drums was a band that I thought no one would ever hear,” says a still-stunned Pierce. “Because we came at it from a selfish standpoint of, ‘Let’s just write songs that we love, that we would want to hear.’”
Pierce is now Zen-like about his troubled Elkland years. “I’m grateful for those experiences,” he says. “Because they really helped me figure out exactly what I want to do with my life, and the music and songs I want to make.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketweb.com