It’s hard to hear behind-the-scenes turmoil in Drug for the Modern Age. The second album from the Nashville-based Kopecky — the group formerly known as Kopecky Family Band — isn’t a challenging listen. It’s a collection of 12 lyrically unassuming, mostly upbeat pop songs, adorned with the type of shimmering, reverb-heavy production that seems to anticipate festival-sized performances. Lead single “Quarterback,” with its foot-stomping percussion and soaring chorus, typifies the album’s optimistic, open-armed sound.
Pry a little closer, though, and the album’s wounded heart becomes visible. The danceable groove of mid-album track “Real Life” bubbles under discordant lyrics (“This house is real life / Four walls for big fights / I’ll make the mistakes / So that you have someone to blame”). Opener “Die Young,” which initially seems to be another carpe diem party anthem like Fun’s “We Are Young” or Kesha’s “Die Young,” instead focuses on trying to move past regret.
“We wanted the album to be kind of like The Colbert Report,” says Kelsey Kopecky, one of the band’s founding members. “[We wanted to] somehow take a serious subject and talk about it in a way that’s lighthearted. Everyone can relate to it, but in a way that is lyrically honest and sonically inspiring.”
Kopecky, the band’s bassist, co-lead vocalist and namesake, is enthusiastic and ebullient. She begins all her answers with an excited “Yeah!” and her demeanor remains upbeat even when delving into the intense struggles and “huge personal evolutions” the band underwent following the release of their first album, 2012’s Kids Raising Kids.
“I had broken up with this guy I had dated for five years, so that was a really big thing in my life,” she says. “Meanwhile, our guitarist, Steven [Holmes], was going through some rehab stuff for addiction issues. Our bassist’s mom was going through breast cancer treatment. Our drummer’s parents were getting a divorce. And Gabe [Simon, the band’s lead singer along with Kopecky] was trying to be married, in his first year of marriage, being on the road.”
“I guess I wanted to make a record that was an artistic representation of all of us and what we were going for in this new season,” Kopecky says. “Kind of like a fresh start for all of us, in a way.”
Part of that fresh start came in the form of a name change. In December, the band announced that they were “shortening things up a bit…keeping it simple.” Since forming in 2007, the group had been known as Kopecky Family Band, based on Simon’s nickname for Kopecky rather than any blood relationship between the bandmates, who met in college. “It just evolved into this band name that made sense because we were all best friends,” Kopecky says. “It couldn’t have been more true to call ourselves a family because we really have become super close.”
Shortening the band’s name was also a savvy move for a group looking to break into the mainstream, and the group’s intense touring schedule — they performed over 220 dates a year in support of Kids Raising Kids — displays the work ethic of a band determined to get greater exposure.
“When we went on tour [early on], we would just call bars and be like, ‘Can we play at your place? We can drive there!’” Kopecky laughs. “We would just cram into an SUV and make up touring. Like, ‘This is how you do it, right?’
“I’m so glad we did, because we really figured it out quickly on our own. When we started to get a booking agent and a manager, we had already known how to get what we needed because we were doing it already. I’m cracking up that we were able to do as much as we did without having the infrastructure of a label at that point.”
With Drug for the Modern Age, Kopecky says, that touring experience is paying off. “Having seen most of the country and Canada and just having miles and miles of playing music every night for different people — it just does something to you,” she says. “It makes you a different kind of musician, a different kind of artist, because you’re all of a sudden so connected with all of the people who you’re making music for.”
“We wanted to stretch ourselves,” she adds. “We didn’t want to create the same record [as Kids Raising Kids] because we’re not the same people. But also, we wanted to stay true to who we are and what our fans love, which is a hard balance.”
The result is a record of tempered optimism, one that finds comfort in the abstract and hard-to-define essence alluded to by the album’s title. “Depending on who you ask in the band, everyone has a bit of a different meaning for it,” Kopecky says. “For me, the drug for the modern age is a way you can talk about the most perfect love, the most perfect thing. Gabe will say that the drug for the modern age is his wife, just the most amazing way to talk about the way he loves her. And how, if you could bottle that and sell it, it may be the cure for the world, you know?”
“It’s a really dramatic way of talking about how, you know, we’re all reaching for our cellphones and trying to cram our Facebook feed with something that makes people think we’re worthy of love, or that we’re interesting. Or we’re picking up a bottle of whiskey to try and sleep better. We’re all reaching for something, but maybe instead there’s something bigger. Maybe that’s God; maybe that’s the love of your daughter or son or partner. It could be anything, but it’s this essence of total acceptance and vulnerability. It’s knowing we’re all in it together and seeing ourselves in each other.”
Even as the band looks toward that abstract ideal of perfection, struggle remains a central part of their identity and inspiration. “It’s just experience,” Kopecky says. “What we’re learning now and what we’re caring about now is what’s going to be [on] the next album. We are learning about the music industry and the way things are changing. And it’s hard, you know, it’s really hard. There are so many musicians and it’s hard to sell albums. And it’s hard to not be upset when some things aren’t as quick as you’d hoped they would be.”
“It’s super unpredictable, but you have to maintain some sense of truth to the music you make,” she adds. “That’s the bottom line.”
Kopecky will perform at Avondale Brewing Company on Friday, July 31 as part of the Freshwater Land Trust’s Land Aid event. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit freshwaterlandtrust.org.