Undercover: Nightlands - David Hartley on the cover of <i>Oak Island</i> | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, December 12th, 2019  

Undercover: Nightlands

David Hartley on the cover of Oak Island

Jun 07, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Undercover is our new recurring series where we talk to bands about the genesis of one of their album covers. Here we talk to Nightlands' David Hartley about the cover of Oak Island, as well as to Catharine Maloney, who photographed the cover.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all musicians are exhibitionists looking for the most attention possible. A number of them would rather not be featured front and center, and instead prefer alternate imagery be the visual accompaniment to their music. Nightlands' David Hartley has found a happy medium between reluctant exhibitionist and total recluse behind silver paint. Earlier this year, the bassist for The War on Drugs released Oak Island, his second album as Nightlands. The album cover features a part-robotic part-sad silver-painted Hartley against a nature background. Working in tandem with photographer Catharine Maloney and graphic designer Daniel Murphy, Hartley developed the silver man as the running theme for Oak Island. The silver man appears not only on the cover, but in the videos for the singles "Born to Love" and "In Love With A Feeling," as well as all other graphics associated with the album. Under the silver man guise Hartley can both hide himself and show parts of himselfbut not completely.

Lily Moayeri (Under the Radar): What's the story behind the silver man?

David Hartley: It's multi-faceted. It appealed to me from a gut perspective. The more I thought about it, the more it became a pastiche or aesthetic that I wanted to run with. It's the perfect allegory for the music

I made a concerted effort to keep all the instruments on Oak Island organic. I used acoustic guitars whenever possible, and there are lots of hand drums and organic percussion. I never triggered or looped things. I just played the instruments: dulcimers, banjos, trumpets, and miced them in organic ways. In contrast, the vocals sound robotic by design. I layered them in crazy ways, using different tape speeds and doing them in many different octaves, occasionally getting friends and cohorts to record and double some of my parts, to get them to sound as big and layered and robotic as possible. It's an interesting contrast, at least to me.

The silver man was deliberately placed in an organic environment. He represents the vocals on the record. The fact that he is in "the woods" or "nature"it's [purposely] ambiguousrepresents the instruments. I also love sci-fi, and the "silver man" is very reminiscent of some of the Isaac Asimov The Robot Series covers, so it had that "this is very cool" appeal.

I was going to ask whether the robotic nature of the silver man represented the part-man, part-machine nature of the album. I'm glad I wasn't too off.

I'm glad you picked up on that. There is one other aspect. It was very hard for me to appear on the cover album at all. It's not in my nature, [especially] to appear shirtless and in such a large aspect. But at the same time, I covered my skin entirely with paint, so in a sense it is me revealing myself nakedly, but also not revealing my true self at all.

Going back to what you first said about it appealing to you from a gut perspective: how did the idea initially come about? Was the silver man there before the album or did it come after?

The idea came about because I became quite obsessed with an album called The Synthesist by Harald Grosskopf. If you look up the cover to that album, you will go, "Oh shit." It's an esoteric album, and I became really obsessed with it from a musical perspective, and later, with the cover image. Basically, I stole his idea, but wanted to evolve it, place it in "the woods." I encourage everyone to find that album and listen to it. It's wonderful.

So The Synthesist was the initial idea you were referring to that you wanted to run with?

It was the spark, and then I just started ruminating on the idea of painting myself silver, and how that would feel. But I should acknowledge that The Synthesist was the inspiration. I should also acknowledge that someone stole that LP, one of my prized possessions, at a DJ gig a few months back. I'll get you!

The information surrounding the "Born to Love" video says it was culled from filming six hours of make-up application. Does it really take that long?

It depends on how much coverage you want and how thorough you want to be. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. I did take six hours of VHS footage that "Born to Love" was culled from, but not all of it was the make-up being applied. Some of it was horsing around.

Do you have this make-up applied often?

Oh no. I've done it three or four times. There are a couple more videos in the works that will probably require the silver application, but I'm trying to move past it. I love silver man, but I don't want to take it too far. I want to leave it behind just like Bowie left the White Duke. Honestly, it's kind of a pain in the ass and it isn't the most flattering look. It takes a lot of different photographs to get one that isn't horrifying.

How did you work with the photographer, Catharine Maloney, on the concept?

I had the concept, pretty much completely. She took the concept and ran with it. I found the make-up artist, Robyn Muse, and Catharine found the location. We did it all in a few hours in Delaware.

I'm assuming you showed her The Synthesist album cover?

Actually I didn't! I didn't want Catharine to be too beholden to that cover. I wanted a clean slate. I did show it to Robyn though.

What about the graphic designer, Daniel Murphy, how did you work with him on the concept?

He is the in-house graphic designer at Secretly Canadian. I respect him a lot. He found the cover image for Forget the Mantra, which I adore. I am very, very particular when it comes to visual stuff, and he was very tolerant. I was a prick. I made him come up with a hundred different iterations of the cover, using different images and every sort of color scheme and font type you can imagine. He humored me and we ended up going with the cover that exists now. He really gets what I want, which is very classic-sci-fi inspired. Also he doesn't want to be really showy and give more graphic design than is necessary. He just wants to make something visually appealing.

Do you have an art background yourself? Or do you just know what you like visually?

Not much, really, some photography and such. But a few years ago I learned to trust my gut on what I like. I figured out there are certain niches I love that aren't necessarily recognized as art, per se, and I've zoned in on those.

I showed the album cover to some people today who had no background on you and hadn't heard the music to get their take on it just based on the visual. One of them had the following observation: "It looks like Adam with the forest in the background. The texture of the image and the contrast of the background and his facial hair, scruffy, untamed, wild, very inviting, open to the world; his eyes are wide open, pure, unintimidated and unintimidating."

OK, wow. That isn't what I intended, but I love it. I have heard a lot of people say that I look like an alien observer, which I never intended, but I also love. I guess the lesson here is that sometimes you intend one thing, but it doesn't matter. People will read what they will, and you can take it or leave it. In this case I'll definitely take it. I will say that I did try to make my expression as neutral as possible. Not cool, or loaded in any way.

The other person had this observation: "It looks like a statute, like a bust, those that tend to be outdoors in gardens. It looks like marble, isolated."

I can get down with that, especially the isolation part. Let's be honest, the vocals are layered to a crazy degree. Everybody wants to hear a lead vocal and I made a decision not to provide that, which probably is a challenge for some. And not revealing is a decision. It's revealing and not revealing simultaneously. So yeah, I feel isolated and scared and that's what is read in the photograph.

Photographer Catharine Maloney on Oak Island's Cover:

Lily Moayeri (Under the Radar): How was the concept of the silver man relayed to you?

Catharine Maloney: [David and I] talked about it over email and then in person right before the shoot. He described The Synthesist as "classic sci-fi, post-man, not necessarily post-apocalyptic, almost utopian." This picture is really Dave's brainchild.

I understand you found the setting. What were you looking for? Why did you pick that particular setting?

It is a park near my house in Delaware. I was looking for a place where there were a lot of different types of light: shadow, sunrays, direct light, and plants to play around in. Also a public space outdoors where there was room to hide and not make other people feel uncomfortable with a shirtless silver man walking around. Delaware is less populated than Philadelphia [where David lives], making it easier to sneak around.

He also mentioned that he made a point of not showing you the inspiration for silver man, The Synthesist. Have you since seen it? What are your thoughts on it?

I have seen it. The Synthesist looks more humorous because of the flash and direct yellow light and head-on stare whereas the picture of David looks more romantic in the sunset and natural environment. I dig both of them. 

www.nightlands.us



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Scumpa Mea
May 30th 2019
2:15am

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