By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The rock band The War On Drugs made it onto just about every albums-of-the-year list for its 2017 release “A Deeper Understanding.”
It’s no wonder. The album – which has also been nominated for a Grammy Award – moves like a jet plane, carrying listeners through space while showing them a landscape visible only from great heights.
The six-piece act led by Adam Granduciel of Philadelphia includes Anthony LaMarca of Boardman on guitar and other instruments.
LaMarca has been playing with high-end alt-rockers for a decade, starting with Dean and Britta and then moving on to a stint with St. Vincent.
He was added to Drugs in 2013 and toured with the band the following year after the release of its breakthrough 2014 album “Lost in the Dream.”
With his band taking a short break from touring, LaMarca sat down with The Vindicator to discuss his music career.
It began to take shape in high school, he said, when he played in blues-rock band The Deep, with his brother, Angelo, and a cousin.
“Our idea of what the music business was like was completely shaped by ‘The Blues Brothers’ movie,” he said with a laugh. “We would walk in [to a bar] and start setting up and say ‘we’re playing here tonight’ and they’d be like ‘what are you talking about’ and we’d say ‘we’re gonna play,’ and they’d say, ‘Ok’. We were kids and naive enough, and they wouldn’t necessarily turn us away.”
LaMarca went to New York after high school to attend the New School, and started working in the shipping warehouse of fashion designer (and Youngstown native) Nanette Lepore.
It was at a party thrown by Lepore that he met Dean Wareham of Dean and Britta. The act was looking for a drummer and invited him to audition. LaMarca still occasionally performs with the band.
He later auditioned for Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, after learning about the opening from her booking agent while he was playing a show in Chicago. LaMarca performed with St. Vincent in 2009-10.
going to war
Even though he was a professional drummer, LaMarca had always played guitar. He began to move away from the drums while living in New York.
“It’s easier to pick up your guitar,” he said. “I never had a place big enough [in New York] to have drums set up all the time. It’s easier to be sitting on the couch playing guitar for a little bit.”
The rise of The War on Drugs began shortly after LaMarca joined, following his audition as a guitarist. The band has a following across the globe, and while its indie sound keeps it in House of Blues-size venues, the crowds tend to be a little larger in Europe, said LaMarca.
Drugs toured North America this year, and also completed a European leg in December.
In a few weeks it will head to Australia, which means the band members will not be able to attend the Grammy Awards on Jan. 28 in New York. Also nominated in the Best Rock Album category are Metallica, Mastodon, Nothing More and Queens of the Stone Age.
After it returns from Australia, The War on Drugs will play the massive Coachella Music Festival in California and also embark on another U.S. tour.
where the polka is
When LaMarca and his wife were preparing to move away from New York, they considered moving to Philadelphia to be near Granduciel and the band’s space in that city. But instead they returned to the Mahoning Valley.
“I really enjoy living here,” he said. “The lure of living in a bigger city, a bigger music city, is no longer there, because I’ve done that.”
When he’s not on tour, the 2005 Boardman High School graduate said he prefers spending down time with his wife and family. “I’m perfecting the art of doing nothing,” he said.
Living in Boardman also helps LaMarca maintain his ties to the music of his hometown — specifically polka.
In fact, LaMarca had to skip St. Vincent’s concert in Pittsburgh on Tuesday because he had to attend a meeting of the Penn-Ohio Polka Pals, a long-standing group of local musicians and promoters.
Though it’s a far cry from The War on Drugs, polka has long been a part of the Mahoning Valley’s soundtrack.
It’s also been a part of LaMarca’s life since he was a child.
“My grandfather played accordion, so accordion music was always around,” he said. “In high school we started going to Kuzman’s (the former polka mecca in Girard), myself and friends of mine. You’d hear about [Grammy nominated polka band leader] Del Sinchak, and say ‘we’ve got to go check this out.’ We ended up going, and were entranced by this place, sort of a time machine place. We wanted to go sit and just watch the bands, but the older folks would wonder what we doing there. They would say ‘are you here to drink’ and would come over and say ‘you got to get up to dance’.”
When he’s not on tour — or listening to polka — LaMarca performs with his own band, The Building, which opened for Drugs on about half of the dates of its recent North American tour. “It was really fun,” he said.
The Building recorded its most recent album at Peppermint Studios, the decades-old recording studio on Youngstown South Side that specializes in polka.
LaMarca plans to return to Peppermint this year to record The Building’s next album.
He’s also thinking about setting up a Youngstown gig. The Building has a sparse and experimental sound, and LaMarca envisions a venue such as the Butler museum’s North building, a former church on Wick Avenue.
“It would be more suited to our music,” he said. “You are seated and it’s kind of a quiet place.”