The Cover Story

Drug Church: “I don’t think I’m pessimistic at all, I think I’m actually almost foolishly optimistic”

Is an artist really who we think they are, or are we merely projecting our own ideas onto imperfect creators? It’s something Drug Church frontman Patrick Kindlon reckons with regularly, and ahead of new album Hygiene, he explores in-depth just why we need to find and maintain space between art and artist.

Drug Church: “I don’t think I’m pessimistic at all, I think I’m actually almost foolishly optimistic”
Mischa Pearlman
Ryan Scott Graham

Sweet Dreams. So reads the the sign behind Patrick Kindlon, written in black cursive letters on dark cream-coloured wood. It’s the kind of thing you’d see in show homes and Good Housekeeping magazine, right by a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ decal. It’s very much not what you’d expect to see above the bed of Drug Church's frontman. In fact, it’s the diametrically opposite aesthetic to the bleak, dreary world of the band’s music, and the gloomy, nihilistic mindset that Patrick always seems to inhabit within it. But there’s a good reason for the motivational slogan. The singer is at his parents’ home in Albany, New York – the city in which he formed Drug Church in 2011 and, before that, the punk rock collective Self Defense Family in 2003. He’s back home as he was planning to move to Western Australia to be with his girlfriend, but he's not allowed in. 
“They keep pushing it back,” he says. “I was supposed to be there January 1 and then February 5. I gave up my apartment because I was supposed to be moving there full-time, and now I have no place to be. So I’m chilling at my folks’ house until we start tour in a month.” 

He chuckles at the absurdity of being stuck in limbo. Yet, despite his setbacks, and despite the state of the world he so painstaking details in his songs, he seems in good spirits… which is almost as unexpected as the Sweet Dreams sign. Except it isn’t, really, because (as he animatedly explains) Patrick believes there’s a huge gulf between the art and the artist.

For Patrick – who is also a prolific writer of comic books – who he is bears no relation to what he creates. That’s a point he addresses in Detective Lieutenant, a song on the band’s fourth album, Hygiene. ‘If I do a double murder,’ he intones in his trademark disaffected delivery, ‘what this song did for you doesn’t change an iota.’ Which is Patrick’s very distinctly dark and twisted way of saying that the art and the artist are entirely separate. In this day and age where cancel culture is rife, it’s a jarring outlook, and one that invokes an impassioned diatribe about people’s music being judged on the actions of those who made it.

“I can say with utter fucking confidence that there’s not a single musician who is who we want him to be,” says Patrick. “Not a single one. And this notion that that somehow takes away from the work? Look, we’ve got a bunch of people out here claiming to be communists, but they want to separate a man from the fruits of his labour? That’s insane. The song is the labour. Regardless of whether it’s a good person or a bad person, that has nothing to do with the work – the labour is done. Your impression of it is highly mutable, but the work is immutable. It exists, and it no longer has anything to do with the person who made it, except what you insist on putting on that person and projecting because of your own insecurity.”

“Not a single musician who is who we want him to be”

Patrick explains why art has nothing to with the person who made it

There’s a lot to unpack there. By ‘communists’ he’s presumably referring to those in certain circles on the political left who are very vocal about the (at best) dubiously moral and (at worst) downright abusive behaviour that many bands and musicians have engaged in. People have been calling increasingly for musicians – and filmmakers and artists and whoever – to face the consequences of their actions, whether that’s questionable remarks from Morrissey or the abuse to which Marilyn Manson allegedly subjected Evan Rachel Wood. It’s important to note, however, that Patrick isn’t condoning their behaviour or beliefs – just asserting that those actions or ideals should have no impact on how people view the art they have created.

“It has nothing to do with that person anymore,” he continues. “I know people that misunderstand my songs completely. I know people that have tattoos of my lyrics on them that are incorrect. I do not correct them. You know why? Because it’s theirs, it’s not mine. It has nothing to do with me.”

Then there’s the idea that his songs are little more than the product of his labour. Surely, though, songs – more than any other art form – harbour a more intense, direct and emotional connection with the person making them? It’s a notion he eschews.

“I recognise that’s how people feel,” he admits, “but it’s nonsense. People love David Bowie – there’s no David Bowie in David Bowie songs. Is he a spider from Mars? Is that how we’re going to see this world? Or is it fair to say that a facet of the individual is present in everything the individual creates? And if what is created is beautiful, perhaps it was a beautiful facet of an ugly person. I don’t understand why someone would seek to divorce these things in that way. At the same time, I don’t understand why they can’t live with the idea that they are separate.

"When I hear a beautiful piece of music, I just hear a beautiful piece of music – I don’t lie beside the person who made it. If I do a double murder and you stop listening to my songs, it sounds like we didn’t really understand each other at all. I was just making things for the world, in the same way somebody built your house. Am I fundamentally different to the guy that pulled the lever that put the vinyl into the mould to press the record? No! We’re both just workers. This whole record is about not allowing strangers, or even friends, to audit your life. That’s not their job, and it’s weird when somebody self-elects to be your judge and jury.”

Whether he’s aware of the paradox he’s just created for himself by saying there’s a facet of the individual present in everything the individual creates is up for debate, but it does raise one particularly interesting question – not least because of his invocation of judge and jury. Is Detective Lieutenant Patrick’s way of telling the world he has actually committed a double murder, then? He smiles.

“No. It’s funny, actually. I was thinking about that when I was writing the song.” He pauses, smiles again. “It kind of sucks that I’ve never done a double murder. It’s very hypothetical.”

It's no secret that world is going to shit. That’s been especially more noticeable in the last few years, as the triumvirate of looming environmental disaster, the devastation of late-stage capitalism and the rise of right-wing populism – all of which are connected, of course – have coalesced to create something positively apocalyptic. Yet the world of Drug Church has always been bleak, ever since the band – Patrick, guitarists Nick Cogan and Cory Galusha, bassist Patrick Wynne and drummer Chris Villeneuve – released their first demo in 2011. They followed it up with debut album, Paul Walker, in 2013 – named after the late Fast & Furious actor, who would die in a high speed car crash some four months after the record’s release.

Taking Patrick’s words above at face value, there was no correlation. And yet the fact the actor did die feeds into the dismal and depressing world of their songs. Musically, they sound like the world is being slowly but forcefully torn apart, while lyrically, Patrick zeroes in on all the grotesqueries of existence, the negative things that happen in life, the outcasts of society – the same kind of down-and-out lowlifes that Charles Bukowski wrote about and Tom Waits sings about, updated for a new generation in an even more joyless world. He makes observations and tells stories about the world and the people in it.

However much of Patrick Kindlon is actually in these songs, it definitely feels, more often than not, as if he’s observing himself, that he exists as a character within them, but that he’s not necessarily present. Once again, that tension between artist and art rears its head. Where does the person in his songs and the person who writes them actually come together?

“People get disappointed when I’m not a drug addict in and out of jail," he says. "I’m just a normal person. They think that everything is literal in a song, where in fact it’s a combination of observation and some type of impressionistic projection. I honestly don’t know where the two meet. Certainly, there’s an undercurrent of cynicism in my music, and that’s probably accurate, and probably representative of who I am. Sometimes I find very fun and funny ways to express that, and other times I’m just, like, a bore. So music is perhaps one of those places where you can still express that cynicism – and not many people do it – without being a total crushing bore.”

“If you were not notable for most of your life, becoming notable at 30 or so isn’t cause for celebration”

Listen to Patrick discuss why he’s not interested in Spotify stats

It's worth pointing out that while Patrick admits he’s a cynical person, he rejects outright that he’s a pessimist. When asked, his answer – as his answers tend to do – takes a dark turn, veering kind of off-topic while also remaining relevant. It’s the perfect dissection of how his mind works, of where his thoughts just naturally take him, of why his lyrics and ideas are the way they are.

“Oh no, no, no,” he says firmly but calmly. “I don’t think I’m pessimistic at all. I think I’m actually almost foolishly optimistic. I just always second-guess people who self-elect to tell me that they’re doing something good. Maybe that’s a good quality because I don’t get caught in people’s scams; maybe it’s a bad quality because you go through life assuming the worst of people, and I don’t like to do that. But I will say that any time I see somebody announce that they are righteous, I immediately go, ‘Okay, where’s the bodies? Where are the dead children?’ Because I know they’re there. And I think that that sort of cynicism is innate. I don’t know if that would ever go away but it doesn’t mean that I think everybody’s bad. I honestly just think the people who tell me they’re good are bad.”

But why do his songs always focus on the dark and depressing aspects of humanity? Why does he always focus on the junkie dumpster-diving with a needle hanging out of his arm, and never zoom out to see the beautiful rose bush that’s flowering just out of shot in the distance? Patrick’s answer is perfunctory but precise.

“Plenty of bands do the other thing,” he says, “and I get very tired of the other bands! There’s a lot of people singing about the roses, I don’t know if you need another one. I feel like they’ve got that covered. More overtly melodic bands who a chasing a specific kind of success – you can rely on them to sing about the roses. We don’t necessarily need me. I also think it would be quite pathetic for me to present like that because it’s not in my disposition.”

That’s not to say Patrick’s songs are overwhelmingly bleak, however. Although they skew in that direction, there are still hints of hope every so often. In fact, Hygiene begins with an almost optimistic proclamation within the lyrics of Fun’s Over that ‘hope is all you’ve got’.

“Look,” says Patrick, smiling, “if our album is all depressing it would be a scam – because that’s not representative of the average human being’s experience. A normal human being is occasionally sentimental, a normal human being is occasionally light-hearted, and I think it’s a little disappointing that there’s a lot of us who just want musicians to be these archetypes and stereotypes rather than fleshed-out human beings. Certainly, if there was nothing light-hearted on our records then I don’t understand what the point would be.”

Unlike most musicians, however, you never really get the impression that these songs are cathartic for Patrick. They don’t seem to offer the same kind of emotional relief that most so-called tortured artists project.

“I think that that’s fair,” he smiles. “I think that if you wrote a song and you found an answer in it, you’re delusional. Or you’re a very simple person. If I was to write songs and then at the end think, ‘I figured that one out, that is no longer an issue in my life,’ it would be crazy. I say this about music and writing, any type of art – you’re literally just exploring. Anybody that thinks you can enter a thing with a set idea of what you want to achieve, and actually achieve it in art, is a buffoon. You’re just feeling around in the dark on topics that interest you for whatever reason. Maybe they interested you for an hour and you wrote the song that hour, maybe they interested you your whole life. But it’s just you exploring things that are interesting. That’s it.”

When it comes to his music, popularity was never Patrick’s intention; he’s happy being niche. Even as the punk and hardcore scene has increasingly infiltrated the mainstream in recent years – most notably with Turnstile – Drug Church remain on the periphery, unwilling to bend to accommodate algorithms and reach more ears. And yet, slowly but surely, it’s happening anyway. His girlfriend recently informed him that the band had hit 200,000 fans on Spotify. For most people – especially most people in a band that makes the kind of music Drug Church make – that would be cause for celebration. Patrick, of course, can’t help but examine the reality of what that actually means, which naturally descends into a bleak hypothetical scenario that takes the grand scheme of things into consideration.

“That’s a lot of people,” he admits, with the ‘but’ always on the tip of his tongue, “but it’s not really a lot of people. A lot of people go to soccer games, a lot of people attend the Hajj. It’s nice – and if I was younger and dumber I would think it would be a bit of an ego boost. Now, I don’t want someone to walk away from this conversation thinking that I don’t enjoy what I do or I’m dispassionate about it, or that I’m not happy they enjoyed it. But I’ll be honest: if I cared a whole lot that they enjoyed it, I would also have to care about the billions of human beings who don’t.”

“If I really enjoyed finance my life would be a lot easier right now”

Hear Patrick explain why pursuing a creative path can negatively impact your life

What, then, propels Patrick to keep making music? He’s said before that he would earn more money as a truck driver, and he doesn’t regard that job, or any other, as any less desirable or important than what he does. So what does he get from music that he wouldn’t get from hauling goods across the country? The answer – especially for Patrick – is surprisingly simple.

“I find it personally very fulfilling, in the way that art just is,” he says. “Any effort to express yourself is. Some people express themselves physically – they’re no good at sports but they play sports all the time. As a musician, I’m a very limited person, so everything that comes through me is a problem-solving event. And I don’t know anybody who doesn’t find those fun. That’s life – the things that make life worth living are overcoming challenges. Certainly music has done that for me and it still does. As my bands get more melodic or outside of my comfort range, that’s actually quite good for me, even if I complain, because it’s a challenge. And I think that’s why I continue to do it. Imagine if I had really enjoyed finance – life would probably be a lot easier right now. I can’t complain, but I don’t have a meaningful retirement plan. Australia has a much stronger social safety net than the United States does. In the U.S., if you have failed your whole life or pursued things you can’t win at – so, for example, music – you’re going to pay for that experience in the last 20 years of your life and they might be very, very hard. Is it good that I should like these things that are so niche and in some ways impossible to win at? I don’t know, but it’s just who I am, you know?”

It's who he is and what he is – and despite the dark nature of his songs and the tortured lives of those within them, Patrick Kindlon has made those things work completely in his favour. Sure, he’d be richer if he enjoyed finance, but he wouldn’t be happy. He might have chosen to do something he can’t – or won’t – win at, but he has no regrets. Sweet dreams, indeed. And not a double murder in sight. As far as we know, anyway…

Drug Church's new album Hygiene is released on March 11 via Pure Noise Records.

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