2014 Artist Survey: The War on Drugs and Nightlands | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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2014 Artist Survey: The War on Drugs and Nightlands

Dave Hartley on 2014's Best Albums, Michael Brown, U2 Giving Away Their Album, and "Bread Eyes"

Feb 17, 2015 Artist Surveys 2014 Bookmark and Share

For Under the Radar’s 12th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2014. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2014 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2014 print and digital issues for answers from alt-J, Camera Obscura, Chromeo, The Dears, Death From Above 1979, Deerhoof, The Drums, The Flaming Lips, Glass Animals, Hookworms, Sondre Lerche, of Montreal, Owen Pallett, The Rosebuds, Still Corners, Strand of Oaks, Teleman, Sharon Van Etten, Warpaint, Woman’s Hour, Wye Oak, Zola Jesus, and others.

Here are some answers from Dave Hartley of both The War on Drugs and Nightlands.

[A shorter version of this interview ran in Issue 52, the Best of 2014 and January/February 2015 Issue, which is still on newsstands. This is the full version of the interview.]

Top 10 Albums of 2014

1. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There-Brave and bold. Masterful songwriting and just super raw lyrics. She fits in lots of different “scenes” or “genres” and yet really just floats above them all.

2. Steve Gunn: Way Out Weather-There’s something really special about Steve and his new record. Everyone I play it for either nods in knowing agreement or says, “Oh, what’s this? I like this.” It’s just so unassuming and direct. He’s bringing back and advancing the American Primitive Guitar movement.

3. Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers-It’s really freeing to hear music like this. It’s not deliberately anything, it’s just obscenely comfortable in its own skin. North Carolina has some stuff going on right now, and this typifies it.

4. Spike: Orange Cloud Nine (reissue)-A lot of times lost gems are lost for a reason, but this is an exception. We used “The Golden Eye” as our walk-on music for a few shows. The album feels like it wasn’t made for any audience in particular, it feels like it was made of its own accord.

5. The Clientele: Suburban Light (reissue)-Probably the album I listened to the most times this year; a masterpiece. Great late at night or early in the morning.

6. Xiu Xiu: Angel Guts: Red Classroom-Pretty far outside of my usual wheelhouse, but in a good way. It’s easy to get caught in an Internet eddy these days; I profiled this album for The Talkhouse and I’m glad I did. Dissonant and provocative.

7. Longmont Potion Castle: Volume 12-Pure fucking genius. If you don’t know who and/or what Longmont Potion Castle is, what the hell is wrong with you?

8. Todd Terje: It’s Album Time-I’ve just discovered this recently, I like it a lot. It’s baroque and bizarre.

9. Bob Dylan and The Band: The Basement Tapes Complete-This is just the most fertile ground, perhaps ever, so it warrants a completist approach. This is like The Silmarillion, but not boring or pointless. Everyone who likes stuff like this is just wishing they were there, hanging out with Bob and Richard and Garth, getting loose and making joyful music.

10. David Crosby: Croz-I mean, it’s called Croz, what more do you need to know? It’s also way better than it has any business being. It’s no If I Could Only Remember My Name, but on the other hand, what is? It’s lush and beautiful and David’s voice is just so touching.

What was the highlight of 2014 for either you personally or for the band?

Lots of highlights for The War on Drugs this year, but to me selling out The Roundhouse in London springs to mind. Five or six years ago we were scheduled to play there, opening for The Hold Steady-they asked us to open their entire European tour. We were young and green, so it was a huge deal for us. We flew to Europe and rented a bunch of gear, hired a tour manager, etc. On our way to The Roundhouse, which was the first gig, we got word that The Hold Steady’s guitarist Tad [Kubler] had fallen really ill (pancreatitis) and they were canceling the whole tour. We were devastated, both emotionally and financially-it took a while to recover from that. To return to The Roundhouse as the headliner and sell it out, four months in advance, was really surreal.

What are your hopes and plans for 2015?

I’m looking forward to The War on Drugs’ continued rise and evolution-things just feel great within the band right now. The live show is better than ever and Adam [Granduciel] has just grown leaps and bounds as a singer and guitarist. We are blessed because it seems that our sound is really suited to big spaces-a lot of my favorite bands just don’t fit very well in big rooms or at outdoor festivals, either because their music is too intimate or idiosyncratic, I’m not sure. In any case The Drugs seem meant to be “writ large”-we never worked in small spaces, it wasn’t until we got into bigger rooms that things started to click. I remember the first outdoor festival we played, six years ago or something, La Route Du Rock in St. Malo, France. We weren’t yet very good at playing live, but it was still a revelation. The guitars and everything had room to bounce around and Adam’s voice was just carrying really well-everything clicked. I emailed our booking agent and the owner of Secretly Canadian and said, “We are great on huge stages! Let’s just play huge stages from now on!” I think they emailed back and were like, “Yeah, no shit, we’re working on it.” In any case, I’m looking forward to a full docket of good shows next year, and also working on new records for The Drugs and Nightlands.

U2’s new album was downloaded for free into millions of users’ iTunes accounts without their permission. Was it a wonderful gift to music fans or an invasive action that devalues music? Also, which artist, other than you, deserves to have their album automatically downloaded to half a billion people more than U2?

Wonderful gift? No-it was a presumptuous but crafty move. Invasive action? C’mon, people, it’s a little album on your phone that can be so easily deleted. This is not Big Brother, this is one of the biggest bands in the world trying to think outside the box. If anything, it’s a depressing benchmark in the decline of the music industry-U2 gave away their new record. Decommoditization in its most literal form.

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri opened up a new national dialogue on police shootings and racism in America. Do you think anything will actually change because of it?

One of the side effects of spending an entire year on tour is that you are very insulated from the news; you have to make a concerted effort to follow current events (I don’t). Having said that, even I was following and interested in the Michael Brown situation. Things will change, and things are changing. I’m a pessimist about lots of things, like climate change and the imminent environmental apocalypse, but I’m an optimist when it comes to media and social progress. Look how fast gay rights have become accepted as inalienable-that’s a function of our intense media climate.

What’s your craziest theory for what happened to the missing Malaysian Air flight?

Have you read I Am the Cheese? We are all just biking in a circle in the courtyard of a sanitarium-there is no lost Malaysian Air Flight, there is no Michael Brown, there are no beheaded journalists, there isn’t a PED crisis enveloping sports culture-they are paranoid constructions of our collective drug-addled mind.

“Weird Al” Yankovic was back in a big way this year. If he were to lampoon any one of your songs, which one would you want it to be? What would the “Weird Al” version’s lyrics be about?

Oh man. What an honor that would be. What if he spoofed “Red Eyes” and called it “Bread Eyes” and spoofed the Gluten-Free craze sweeping the nation?

Which common criticism of your music do you most agree with?

That we have influences. Of course we do. It’s not about hiding or obscuring one’s influences, it’s about the degree to which you lovingly digest them and synthesize them into something original.




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