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Interview: Nightlands

posted February 28, 2013, 4:04 pm by Ben Oliver | Filed Under Editorial, General Interest, Interviews, Music News, Releases, Tour, Video | comment Leave a Comment

Tags: Nightlands


photo by Darshana Borah

Nightlands is the recording project of Philadelphia-based multi-instrumentalist Dave Hartley, bassist of The War On Drugs. The music he creates in his bedroom is itself a bed of delicate, chiming strings and bubbling synths beneath a blanket of choral vocal arrangements. It’s dreamy in the literal sense — the seeds for the album were sown when Hartley began archiving musical ideas that occurred in his sleep with a simple bedside tape recorder. As a result his debut album Forget the Mantra is, in essence, a field recording of Hartley’s dreams — a travel journal through pop music and a collection of psych-hymns from the first human lunar colony. The songs sound both huge and intimate, breathy and cavernous like massive echoes of a faraway concert. It’s the big, shadow music from just across the lake.

His 2nd record, the new Oak Island, just recently got released by Secretly Canadian. He has put together some friends who will perform as his live band as they are about to go on tour as the opening support for Efterklang.  Nightlands were named one of Spin’s 5 Best New Artists for January 2013. I got the chance to chat with Dave over the phone this week, the interview is below.

photo by Catharine Maloney

The son of a genetic engineer, Dave Hartley has eschewed his father’s profession but decidedly inherited his analytical proclivities and love of “the lab.” As Nightlands, Hartley is a scientist trying to create and understand art through analytical process. Here, with sophomore album Oak Island, his follow up to 2010’s superb Forget the Mantra, new questions are explored: what happens when the human voice is layered exponentially? Is the sum more man, or more melancholy machine? In seeking these answers, Nightlands takes us on a spirit quest through lush forests down into The Uncanny Valley. Each distorted, silver-voiced melody is wrapped in the sounds of 70s AM gold — plucked acoustic guitars, trumpets, dulcimers and hand percussion. In using these pop touchstones, the songs become something close to memories, the faded feelings that tide in and out of you when conjuring the past. To this end, virtually every chord played on Oak Island is a major-7th, the most nostalgic harmonic grouping. Seals & Croft produced by mid-70s beetle-voiced Brian Eno. Crosby, HAL and Nash.

photo by Catharine Maloney

Beneath the analytics and technical experimentation lie 10 pop songs about sadness and love; this silvery robot has learned what it means to be human and paid a great cost. The elegant, lunar bossa-nova of album standout “So Far So Long,”with its distant trumpeted satellite signals, offers a slow, confident lilting and wilting, as Hartley considers traversing space and time.

Hartley is a prolific sideman in many notable bands in and around Philadelphia and the extraordinary bassist of The War on Drugs (he played bass on Sharon Van Etten’s epic, in Sondre Lerche’s touring band, and sings in The Silver Ages). Listeners expecting a simple side project, however, will be surprised by the boldness and scope of his vision–Nightlands is the Chuck Close painting to the The War on Drugs’ De Kooning.

Does the name Nightlands hold any significance?

Sure, it’s why I originally picked it, because I saw it in a book and made a mental note of it.  It was Blood Meridian, which along with  2001 A Space Odyssey, are in my top 5 or 10 favorites. It seemed to be ahead of it’s time too, and since then now there are a lot of night name bands coming out with the word night in their name.
Can you describe your creative process?
I had a struggle with writer’s block with the first record. Now this time I was somehow about to finally unclog the faucet of creativity. This seemed to be easier this time around,  the recording was similar but more refined.  I was isolated often. This time I didn’t have to use a tape recorder coming out of my sleeping state. And this time I wrote as I recorded.
What can you tell us about the band Efterklang you are touring with?
They are way cool and from Denmark.  My friend Heather (Woods Broderick) used to be in their band, so when preparing for tour I asked them if we could support them.

photo by Catharine Maloney

What is the influence of science fiction in your work?

I would say it isn’t a direct influence but it is in my DNA, I grew up reading so it could seep into my sounds.

 How did the “I fell in love with a feeling” music video come about?

Well it goes back to the silver paint from the album cover art. I wanted something similar yet something different. The credit should really all go to director David Kessler, who found this old, abandoned swinger’s resort  location.
Which instruments do you play?
Bass, guitar, keys/synth, drums and trumpet.  Although I did smash my trumpet at Lollapalooza.
What can you tell us about the band you will be touring with?
So far the members have been rotating. I can’t force it and want it to form organically.  We have a 4 piece live and won’t try to recreate the record.  I don’t want to feel chained and feel like we must produce an exact replica.
Any up and coming bands you can recommend to us?
Avery Rosewater from Philadelphia are a new band that are really cool. Many might already be familiar with Purling Hiss, good friends of ours who we highly recommend. And I also want to give a shout out to Buried Beds, another group also from Philly.  Finally, our drummer has also played for St. Vincent before, so definitely recommend St. Vincent.
Ok last question: How did the #LetBonnerShoot NBA All Star campaign start, and were you surprised by the reaction?
It was surreal! Adam (from The War On Drugs) and I heard that San Antonio Spurs Matt Bonner was a fan of some indie Canadian bands. We decided to try and hang out and got a beer after a show. We really hit it off and the rest is history.
Make sure to listen to Nightland’s new record Oak Island, and catch their live show.

March Tour Dates

01 – Raleigh, NC – Kings Barcade *
02 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl *
03 – Nashville TN – The End *
05 – Dallas, TX – Dan’s Silverleaf *
06 – Austin, TX – The Mohawk *
08 – Mexico City, MX – Lunario *
09 – Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex *
11 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall *
13 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge *
14 – Vancouver, BC – The Biltmore *
15 – Seattle, WA – Neumo’s *
18 – Minneapolis, MN – The Cedar Cultural Center *
19 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall *
21 – Toronto, ON – Mod Club [Canadian Music Week] *
22 – Montreal, QC – Il Motore *
23 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom *

* w/ Efterklang


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