Dave Hartley has to get flanked by a lot of sci-fi/fantasy geeks whenever and wherever he performs.
The Maryland-born, Philadelphia-based musician, best known in indie-rock circles as the bassist for the band the War on Drugs, also has a side project where he refers to himself as Nightlands. As he has learned, that term is more popular than he realized.
“It pops up a lot of places,” says Hartley, 32, on the phone from Philly. One specific place it pops up is in the “Star Wars” universe. Diehards will recognize that there is a planet called Ryloth that is known for its two sides: the Brightlands and the Nightlands. There is also a “Game of Thrones” episode titled “The Night Lands.”
But Hartley says that’s not where he picked up the name. “Actually, I got it from a book called ‘Blood Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy, which is my favorite novel ever,” he says. “And it’s a phrase that pops up once or twice in that novel, and I just like it a lot.”
He doesn’t mind when the fanboys speculate where he got his name since he’s a bit of a geek too.
“I’m into all that stuff, you know,” he says. “I’m into sci-fi, speculative fiction, in all forms – films, TV, novels and stuff. So it’s an influence on the music. So I’m fine with leaving it open to speculation. If someone wants to think it’s ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘2001,’ it’s fine with me.”
If you listen to Hartley’s music when he’s under the Nightlands moniker, you’ll find that it goes without saying that the dude is into some trippy, fantastical stuff.
His new album, “Oak Island” (which has him covered in shiny, silver body paint on the cover), is a dreamy experience, with its layered, ambient compositions. Yet while “Island” is figuratively dreamy, his last album, the 2010 debut “Forget the Mantra” is literally dreamy.
“I mean, the first record, I literally was doing this experiment where I was recording stuff from my dreams from the middle of night and stuff,” he says.
“So, I was having sort of writer’s block. So, to kind of break out of that, I had the tape recorder by my bed and got into the habit of recording stuff every single night for, like, two years. I had all these tapes built up – my dream tapes. That’s where most of the lyrics and melodies on the first record came from.”
Nightlands came about when Hartley had some downtime while recording with the War on Drugs.
“The last record took a long time to make, so I had, like, basically, a couple of years off,” he says. “And I made the first Nightlands record with that time. And I didn’t plan on doing anything with it.”
He did send it to a couple of friends, one of whom runs the label Secretly Canadian, who liked what he heard and soon asked Hartley if he wanted a record deal so he could release it. Hartley jumped at the chance.
“I’m really lucky,” he says.
But where did Hartley get this idea to assume the role of this “sighborg” (that’s what he calls his Nightlands persona on Twitter) who creates music that’s melodic, melancholic and just out there?
“It comes from the fact that I get my rocks off playing with War on Drugs, which I love – to be a rock-and-roll bass player and stuff like that,” he says.
“But there’s this whole other part of my musical personality that doesn’t get expressed with the War on Drugs … Basically, I’m really into layering vocals and vocal harmonies and obsessing over things like the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Byrds and stuff like that. So, it’s just another side of me, and I’m really, really lucky that I get to have these two sides that I think complement each other really well.”
While Hartley says another War on Drugs album is on the way later this year, his more experimental side will be performing tonight at Kings in downtown Raleigh. He also says Megafaun’s Brad Cook will be sitting in with Hartley and his band during the set. (“He’s one of my best buds,” says Hartley.)
And, for all those curious, “Star Wars” nerds who will be attending, try to keep your geeky side in check. The man is doing a show – not a Comic-Con panel!