Interview: How Nightlands’ Dave Hartley is bringing his layered sound to the stage tonight
“Life is too short”…a line that many have used to validate being a bit carefree in the midst of pending deadlines, continuous updates, and living constantly on the go.
Dave Hartley, frontman of Nightlands (and bass guitarist of The War On Drugs), seems to use it as a way of life. Experimenting with sounds, vocals, and vibes, Hartley admits, “I kind of have a fear of being normal…life is too short to be boring.”
The day after kicking off a U.S. tour at the Mercury Lounge, the soft-spoken, humble, yet confident artist spoke over the phone while on his way to Washington D.C. about his creative process and the changes he needed to make in order to bring his sound to the stage.
Refusing to place limits on himself while in the studio recording his new Oak Island, Hartley thinks outside the room to recreate that sound in a live setting. To do so, he has called in some backup, and rearranged the songs to make performing more feasible on stage. “I wouldn’t want to see a band that sounds exactly like the album.”
In the past, Hartley told The Key that he has a very “autocratic” approach when recording music. But when bringing it to the stage, he says the approach is just the opposite. “I choose people that I like to be around because life is too short to be around people that you don’t.” He goes on to say that he hand picks members that he trusts to aid in creating an organic performance. “Recording is like science,” Hartley says. He compares a studio to a lab, where one can record parts over and over, fixing all the elements to create the perfect sound. But performing, he says, “is like sex, or a relationship. You’re very much in the moment.”
Tonight at Johnny Brenda’s, Hartley will be joined by his three-piece band: Anthony LaMarca on the trap kit, Jesse Moore on synth (he also plays in Auctioneer and Our Griffins), and Eliza Hardy Jones on the Wurlitzer (lead singer of Buried Beds and a singer on Nightlands’ Oak Island).
In addition, tonight’s Nightlands will feature a 5-member chorus, including April Harkanson (who sang on Nightlands’ new single “To The Moon”), Rebecca Marie Miller, Todd Starlin (member of Silver Ages), Brandon Beaver (member of Silver Ages, Buried Beds and a contributor to Nightlands’ first album Forget the Mantra), and Charlie Hall (coach of Silver Ages); all of which are friends from around the area who Hartley respects as vocalists and musicians. The choir joins Nightlands exclusively for the New York and Philly shows to create layered melodies and varied voices.
Featured in the set will be a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “That’s All For Everyone.” Although he considers their rendition a work-in-progress, Hartley chose the piece because it is in an octave that he does not get to explore much. Another cover featured may be Art Garfunkel’s version of Albert Hammond’s “99 Miles From LA” because the lyrics are simple, but deep and Garfunkel’s his favorite versions of the song.
Starting his project a couple of years ago, Hartley’s first album, Forget the Mantra, dove into a deeper understanding of dreams. “I believe it is a time when your brain is unfiltered,” he mentions as he explains his process. Hartley would wake up and try to utter nonsensical lines into a beside audio recorder as he tried to recall the dream as vividly as possible. Listening to the multi-layered, echo-voiced tracks, one can get a sense of the distance and wonder evoked by the melodies mixed with the estranged poetic-ness of his lyrics.
For Oak Island, Hartley admits to be “a little more awake with my stream of consciousness.” Treating his studio like a lab, Hartley works for hours at a time to write his music, during which he uses the same process of layering sounds and voices, but then works hard to create more space in his pieces by stripping some sounds away and starting again with that. He says that the songs on this record are “simple, but very thick.”
Drawing from bands he enjoys and the serenity of recorded chants, Hartley’s biggest influence is the instruments that are are at his fingertips. “It’s not being afraid to let the path take you.” He goes on to explain that if he finds a pair of bongos in the trash, he’ll use them, or if he is nearby a synth, he’ll explore on it. Some of the songs on Oak Island are heavy with Latin beats simply because someone gave him a house organ that had many different rhythms built into it. Trying to create and experiment with vibes and emotions, Hartley embraces this randomness to create something that is truly beautiful.
Nightlands play at Johnny Brenda’s tonight at 9:15pm. Tickets for the 21+ show are $12; more information is available here.