A talk with David Hartley from The War On Drugs

David Hartley is one quarter of the Philadelphian band The War On Drugs; the band whose sophisticated combination of classic American folk and rock influences, such as Springsteen, Dylan and Young. The band has drawn near-universal acclaim –  with their latest album Lost in the Dream cracking the UK Top 20.

The War On Drugs consist of the band’s creative-mind and originator Adam Granduciel, David Hartley and their band mates, Robbie Bennett (keyboard, piano) and Charlie Hall (drums). Lost in the Dream is the third album by the Philadelphia band, and has been one of the year’s most celebrated indie-rock releases; breaking through commercially, and likely to feature in many “best of 2014” lists’ at the end of the year. It is mostly because of the band’s sophisticated combination of classic American folk and rock influences that creates their individual sound.

In one of the numerous windows overlooking the Stockholm water in the grand building Munchenbryggeriet, The War On Drugs bassist, David Hartley, sits excited and ready for the night. They are playing their first gig on their current tour. He talks to me about why he gets nervous playing live and that he happily would cut Bob Dylan’s lawn.

Tell me about your personal start with the The War On Drugs?
– Adam and I had a job together in Philadelphia. It was a very loose band at the time and we just worked together and he asked me to join the band. I hadn’t heard his music, but when I asked him the band name, I thought it was incredible. Yeah I’m in. I thought that was the best band name I ever heard. Some people think it’s awful. I think its great.

I think the band name existed four years before the band even existed

Do you know how he came up with the name?
– The myth behind the name is from our friend Julian, who used to make merch for us and travel with us – a very close friend to the band. He and Adam were writing a poetic dictionary; it was poetry but they were defining different terms. Instead of literal terms, they were kind of poetic. Then I guess they thought The War On Drugs, like, let’s define that. And I guess it was then they realized that would be a cool band name. I think the band name existed four years before the band even existed.

David Hartley of The War on Drugs playing the bass.

Your songs have a unique (film) soundtrack feeling too it, for example, Under The Pressure from the latest album Lost in the Dream is nearly nine minutes long. How did you decide to have this sound?
– I think you are right about the feeling of it and that is what guides us in everything. That is why it makes it upsetting later when people start saying that we sound like Bruce Springsteen or Dire Straits which may or may not be true but that was never in mind at the time. Adam especially was like: “this is the feeling I want” and he would just work at it till the feeling was there. We never said that we need to sound more like Dire Straits, or more like Bob Dylan, or more what people would say. So I don’t know. I hate to say it, but the reason a lot of the records are, in my opinion, really good, is because of hard work and obviously talent. But some people don’t want to hear that when it comes to music, some want to hear that they were built from inspiration; and sometimes that happens, I think the song Eyes to the Wind was written very quickly.

Eyes to the Wind is what I hear many peoples favorite?
– I think is a very bold song and we wrote it very quickly, but then we recorded it a bunch of different times and a bunch of different ways.

 What is your role while recording?
–  I guess I have a bigger role because I have been in the band the longest, but not really. I think we all sort of paint brushes that Adam uses. It’s kind of true; he just points us in the right direction and we do what we do. I mean we write the parts we individuals play.

Yes, because he is not perhaps the most proficient in every music instrument, you are all experts in different departments.
– Totally, he choose players for the way they play. I’m honored to be in the band as a bassist because he likes the way I play and Robbie the way Robbie plays. When Robbie started playing in the band at the piano it changed the sound of the band and that became like the sound, and then Charlie started drumming with this record.

Which songs do you prefere to play the most live?
– Always Under the Pressure, that one is so fun. I love to play Your love is calling my name from Slave Ambient and In Reverse from Lost in a dream.

Which one is your most admired album?
– Future Weather, the EP. That is the EP between the first record and the second records, most people don’t know it. I think this is my favorite one because we made it most quickly. Some records were really laborious and just took forever. Slave Ambient took two years and Lost’ took a year and a half. Future Weather we just pulled out, so it was fun; were more collaborative I think. I just love that one. People should listen to it. I hope people are discovering it now that the band is getting more popular. I hope people starts to go back and and search for favorites.

If we had the opportunity to work  with Bob Dylan or Neil Young we would. No mather what they said
we would say yes

What could we expect from you during and after the tour.
– We are going to tour a lot; all next year. But we also, I think, are starting to plan on how we are going to make the next record, because I think we don’t want it to take two years. This is all our jobs at this point, we don’t have another employment. And it’s great that we can do that; that it makes us want to do it even more and keep on doing it. So after this tour we have like a week off and we are going to Australia and New Zealand, and then we are going to Mexico and then back to the UK. Also recording in Los Angeles, we are talking about building our own studio.

Do you have any collaborations in the making?
– We do, but we have never really done that.

Maybe you don’t feel you need collaboration?
– Yeah I don’t think we do, because in my opinion, people say you should get with those and those people and producers. And we are all nerds up to the max, all we talk about is music, all the time. So we know about Brian Eno and like every producer you could name. If Brian Eno would come and say like, ‘’hey I want to produce your next record.’’ Maybe then. But the thing is, I think Adams gift is as a producer, that‘s what he does, he produces the records. Some people don’t really know what that means, but he just understands sound really well and the feeling. He taught us all how to do that, and we taught ourselves to do that, and there is a lot of talent in our band as well, like everybody has a lot to give.

– If we had the opportunity to work with Bob Dylan or Neil Young we would. No mather what they said we would say yes. If Bob Dylan told us, ‘’hey I wanna do blank’’, we would say yes. Even if it was like ‘’hey, could you come over and mow my land?” We would say, yes we will do that for you. But other than that, I hope that the band just stays how it is, we have so much to give and I think Adam is starting to realize that he is a producer. I have been telling him that we don’t need nobody else, you are the producer. You have the vision, we will execute it for you.

The bands creative mind Adam Granduciel
The bands creative mind Adam Granduciel Photo: Dusdin Condred

What are your personal goals in the future?
– I want to make music on my own terms, that’s the dream. Musical freedom, I think that is what every musician wants. You obviously want to make money and that is a part of being free, to be financially stable, but that is the only thing. In the end you just want to make the music you want to make with the people you want to make it with, and that is what is happening now. This is my best friends [band], but you want to do it on your own terms, like this is how I want to do it, these are the people I want to do it with and this is what I want to make, and that is what I want to do and it has been, we are getting closer.