Before forming The Drums, childhood friends Jonathan (Jonny) Pierce and Jacob Graham worked on an electro-pop project called Goat Explosion. The duo split and Graham formed the indie pop group Horse Shoes, which released an EP in 2009. Meanwhile, Pierce formed the band Elkland with another friend, Adam Kessler. Elkland signed to Columbia Records and released an album Golden in 2005. However, the band disbanded the following year.
In 2008, Jonathan Pierce (vocals) and Jacob Graham (guitar) returned to work together, writing new songs. Early the following year, the two moved from Florida to New York City, where Adam Kessler joined as second guitarist in the fledgling band, The Drums. Drummer Connor Hanwick was added, and the band's lineup defined.
In 2009, the singles "Let’s Go Surfing" and "I Felt Stupid" and the EP Summertime! came out. And the following year, the first album, The Drums, was released. In September 2010, the band announced the departure of guitarist Adam Kessler.
Portamento, the second studio album by The Drums, was released in September 2011. It was followed in 2014 by Encyclopedia. In 2016, Jacob Graham left the band, which became a Jonathan Pierce solo project. The following year, Abysmal Thoughts was released. In 2019, the band released their fifth album, Brutalism.