A Chat With: Nightlands
While he may be best known for being the bassist in The War On Drugs and collaborating with many well-known musicians, the multitalented Philadelphian Dave Hartley released his third record under the Nightlands alias earlier this month. The album, I Can Feel The Night Around Me, embraces and enchants listeners with Hartley's layered vocals and soothing synths. Since the May 5th release of the album, Hartley has been on tour playing the new songs to venues around the country. Before the tour makes a stop at Schubas this Thursday, Hartley gave us some insight on the process behind the third album and chatted with us about his experience scoring a film soundtrack, how he balances being in multiple bands, his dream collaboration, and more.
ANCHR Magazine: I’m loving the new album that came out earlier this month! Can you talk a little bit about the process behind writing and recording the record?
Dave Hartley: I write and record simultaneously, pretty much. I just devote a lot of time to... sonic exploration, for lack of a better term. I tinker with drum machines or loops or synths until I find something that feels like a mysterious path, and I'll follow that and try to work our a chord progression. Writing "Lost Moon" felt like the breakthrough, when I really hit a vein. I had been listening to Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman on repeat for days, and I sat down with my Roland TR-8 drum machine and just sort of put together a chord progression that I thought gave me that same melancholy feeling as Jimmy Webb's classic. Even though it came out sounding more CSN than Glen Campbell, Wichita Lineman was the inspiration. Once I had that song, it felt like my thesis statement had been written and I could finish the album.
AM: How is I Can Feel The Night Around Me different than your first two records, both from your songwriting standpoint and what differences do you notice sonically?
DH: Forget the Mantra was an aesthetic statement more than an exercise in songwriting, even though "300 Clouds" is a strong tune, in my impartial estimation. Oak Island sort of took that aesthetic out of the bedroom and into the outside world, a little bit... still some experimenting but starting to think in terms of songwriting, song craft, etc. I Can Feel the Night Around Me feels like the completion of a trilogy -- seeing the aesthetic vision of Forget the Mantra through to it's conclusion: harmonies, vocal layers, drum machines, dreamlike imagery, etc... but sort of stepping out of the mist a little bit. I came to terms with my voice more on this album, was more deliberate.
AM: What have been some of your favorite songs to play live from the new record, and what can we expect from the set at Schubas later this month? Will it be a mix of old and new material?
DH: I think "Only You Know" and "Depending on You" really take on a new life live... also some of my earlier songs have really morphed with the band. "So it Goes" is probably my favorite song... it's become radically, unrecognizably different than the album version. I should re-record it. At Schubas you'll see some old songs, some new songs... maybe a cover?
AM: Speaking of playing live, I saw you've got a show later on this month at The Andy Warhol museum, which is awesome! Do you find that other art forms ever influence your songwriting, and if so, what artists have inspired you?
DH: Very excited about that Warhol show... have been wanting to play there for a while. I'm 100% inspired by other media... maybe more than other music. I tend to insulate myself from music while I'm deep in the recording mode. I don't want to be influenced, I want to try to create in a vacuum. But I'll read a lot, find myself gravitating towards certain imagery. "This image makes me feel the way I want to feel." .... You're always looking for signposts to follow, you know? It could be something as simple as a photograph, or a book cover, or a phrase you read in a novel.
AM: What other gigs are you looking forward to on this tour? Any cities you're particularly excited for?
DH: Chicago is always a highlight--my sister lives there and it's one of my favorite cities in the US. Asheville is another that I'm pumped for--who can explain why certain geographic locations loom large in our legends? Of course Philadelphia, where I live, where my life is based. I'm excited to play in Philadelphia.
AM: Since you're also in The War On Drugs and there's new material coming out this year from that project, how do you balance being in two active bands at the same time?
DH: Well I don't really overlap the two.. The Drugs has always had a long gestation-release cycle... the albums take a while to make, and then we tour hard for years on them. So really I'll have downtime, and when I have downtime my idle hands gravitate towards the recording studio. But I don't think I'd be able to balance the two concurrently. Being in the Drugs is a full-time job. And vice versa, while Nightlands is a cottage-industry, so to speak, my obsession with recording my albums isn't proportional to my listening-base, if you get my drift. I go deep and long.
AM: How did the opportunity to score 2001: A Space Odyssey come around, and how was the experience of creating a score? Was your process a lot different than when you approach writing for Nightlands?
DH: A local promoter was doing a series where bands would play live and then screen their favorite film. They asked me to participate and I audaciously one-upped him and asked if I could write and perform a live score to 2001, the greatest film ever made. I profoundly regret not recording the evening.. I was scared. It was improvised, in part, and I was just worried it would be a train wreck and didn't allow it to be recorded. There were only 40 people there, or something, and I remember it as being really special. That could be rose-colored hindsight but I'm going with it. I enjoyed the process because it was structured, rigidly, in some ways and completely open in others. I used a massive house organ that I lugged to the venue, a sampler, and my acoustic guitar. Producer/synth-wizard Jeff Ziegler accompanied me. It was great. It can never be recreated.
AM: You also collaborate and work with so many other artists. Who’s another artist you'd love to work with that you haven't already?
DH: Cass McCombs. I'm a huge fan and he always plays with shit-tight musicians. I'd welcome the challenge of living up to his body of work.
AM: What other bands or artists have you been listening to recently?
DH: Andy Shauf's latest album stunned me. The Dove and the Wolf, from Paris-via-Philadelphia. Daniel Lanois' latest album is fucking amazing--next level ambient compositions.
Grab your tickets to Nightlands show at Schubas this Thursday, May 25th here, and listen to their new album I Can Feel The Night Around Me below.