“It’s been a wonderful journey and I’m incredibly proud of where we are now”
Ten years ago, The War on Drugs played their first show in the UK. The crowd was around 20 people. Now, they’re preparing to play London’s O2 Arena in December, a venue that can host 20.000 fans. A long way for these Philadelphian indie rockers, who claimed the Grammy for Best Rock Album for their acclaimed fourth album, “A Deeper Understanding”, a work that crosses the borders of traditional rock into new sonic landscapes closer to Americana and synth-pop.
“We woke up in New Zealand where we were touring and received an outpouring of phone calls and texts from home” says bass player David Hartley about the accolade, “was pretty surprising and heartwarming”. He remembers, “Our category was populated with bands with whom we have very little, musically speaking, in common”, (they shared nominations with Mastodon, Metallica, and Queens of The Stone Age), David adds, “so I don’t think we felt competitive about it at all… It was very nice and a little strange”.
That classic sound, he tells us, is just one of many ways to make rock music. “Certainly, heavier bands like AC/DC or Motorhead or ZZ Top are rock, but what about Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush” he explains, “they are artists whose discographies are varied and dynamic”. In The War on Drugs case, that translates from each album to live performances, “We try to bring maximum dynamics to our performances, our incredible front-of-house engineer Bob Strakele always says we ‘mix ourselves’ because we try to play off of each other… we can feel when we need to play delicately and then we need to explode”
That trust comes as the result of a long process with the band: “I’ve been playing with Adam for a long time now, and I think he’s used to my style, my feel, so I try to just trust my instincts” David says, “it’s been a wonderful journey and I’m incredibly proud of where we are now”. That journey also led to his solo project, Nightlands, which released an album in 2017 to glowing reviews. “Nightlands is just me” he shares, “I do most everything myself, not to prove anything, but because it feels necessary for my sense of self-expression”.
“When I started playing bass 25 years ago I had all these crazy instructional books and tapes by virtuosos and that stuff is all really cool!” David shares about his beginnings, “but to me, it’s been a process of unlearning as much as learning… I’ve been humbled over and over again and I’m thankful for that”. He also passes that experience to younger musicians: “If you look around and you’re definitely the most creative musician in the room, you’re in the wrong room: Find people who challenge you!”.