“We’re in Adelaide, which is kind of southern Australia.”
Frederick’s own Dave Hartley was three numbers away. The Frederick High School graduate needed to be reached through a calling card number, a pin and a hotel number. The bassist was in Australia performing with his Philadelphia-based band, The War on Drugs, for the Laneway Festival. The traveling event takes place in locations throughout Australia and Singapore.
Hartley is used to juggling different projects. He also fronts The Nightlands, a soft rock group. Hartley’s Beach Boys inspiration is heard through heavily stacked harmonies. He said he layered as many as 150 vocal parts on a single song while recording the 2017 album, “I Can Feel the Night Around Me.”
The passionate artist has been on plane after plane. But when his band’s “A Deeper Understanding” won a Grammy for Best Rock Album last month, he was actually in an Australian record store with his bandmate, drummer Charlie Hall. “A Deeper Understanding” combines indie-rock, Americana and Bob Dylan leanings over wandering musical landscapes. Some songs can be as long as 11 minutes.
Construction of the song requires a great deal of trust in Adam Granduciel, The War On Drugs lead singer and guitarist who is the creative engine behind all the band’s songs. He leads Hartley, Hall, keyboardist Robbie Bennett, guitarist Anthony Lamarca and horn player Jon Natchez in setting the tone for each album. Before the creation of “A Deeper Understanding,” Granduciel took on a new approach.
“I want it to be a bass player’s record,” Hartley remembered Granduciel saying. This meant as a bassist, Hartley had a prominent role. He was given more time to record.
“If I could play it a hundred times, I would,” he said of laying down bass tracks.
The War on Drugs’ mainstream acceptance is even more significant given Granduciel’s attention to detail and the band’s proclivity for defying a three-minute song structure.
“We knew at some point, the Grammys would be announced,” Hartley said. When he returned to his hotel, he found out he had eight missed calls. He figured something really good or something really bad had happened. He was pleased to know it was the former.
“We really wanted to win,” Hartley said while acknowledging that in some rock circles, that comes across as uncool. But Hartley added that they didn’t compromise their musical identity for fame. On the contrary, Hartley didn’t expect much from the group when he joined more than 12 years ago.
“This one’s just for fun,” Hartley first thought of the band.
He was first drawn to Granduciel.
“Adam was this really charismatic, creatively artistic, funny persona,” Hartley explained.
At the time, Hartley was in other bands who wanted to be famous. But in two years, Hartley said those bands dissolved.
Hartley described The War On Drugs’s early years as a gradual process of evolution. He noticed that each show had a larger and larger audience. By the time the group signed with Atlantic Records in 2015, The War On Drugs had an established sound.
“Once you’re in your late 30s and made five records, you are who you are,” Hartley said.
He calls Frederick his home, and Philadelphia the city he fell in love with after moving there 15 years ago when he was 22.
“It’s a gritty place. That grit brings the best out of you,” Hartley said of Philadelphia. “It only accepts you if you’re authentic.”
Hartley describes “A Deeper Understanding” as having the grit of Philadelphia and the sheen of Los Angeles — which makes sense, considering how The War On Drugs recorded their album there.
While Hartley pursues his music dreams away from Frederick, he noted he is in awe of how much downtown has grown.
“When I was home for Christmas, my wife and I were blown away,” he said.
Hartley still has fond memories of picking up the bass at age 14. Though he was a trumpet player in Frederick High’s jazz band, his music instructor encouraged Hartley’s decision to embrace a new instrument.
“He was just like, cool,” Hartley remembered. “Let’s do that.”
Even Hartley’s father, a musician himself, encouraged his son. Hartley would sit around the family’s fireplace and strum the guitar with his dad.
“Frederick,” he said, “just feels like home.”