Nightlands on Oak Island
JPG: You mentioned earlier about your approach of leaving things to chance when recording. I read that you have a philosophy degree and it kind of correlates, the connection of music with philosophy. Based on the idea of it being a process and being open to chance, does it make the idea of recording much easier to do?
DH: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not this thing that you plan out. That was an epiphany that I had. You don’t plan these things out. Music is not a plan achieved. It’s a state of mind that you can…that’s why people like Brian Eno, he’s such an inspiration. He’s not really a talented musician. He plays keyboards a little bit and he has a mediocre singing voice but he has such a unique perspective and philosophy about music that he’s almost mastered it. He’s mastered the state of mind that you need to be in. You need to be open to these things and a lot of it is letting your guard down a little bit and letting yourself be open to what’s around you and the ideas that you may already have. Maybe you have a great idea but the biggest problem is you just think it’s a bad idea. (slight laugh) That can be often the case. You have a good idea but you just think it sucks because you’re full of self-doubt. That can be the biggest problem.
I enjoy those thought experiments and those challenges. Maybe, that is one of the reasons I enjoy going about it by myself.
JPG: Have you tried his approach…I forget the term but it’s when you write ideas on cards and…
DH: Oblique strategies. I certainly read those a lot and they’re interesting to me. Some of them are more useful than others. There’s one, “Honor thy terror as hidden intention,” which is basically if you’re scared of something that’s a signpost saying maybe you should go that way. If something terrifies you, go in that direction because it’s a good thing that it scares you. And that’s always something that I was interested in.
Some of them are silly. Some of them are just like, “Turn it upside down” or “Go outside”…but some of them are pretty profound. The cool thing too is that he doesn’t say they’re right or wrong. It’s not like you should always do that. He just says, “Sometimes, if you look at one of these cards it might get you out of a jam,” which I think is really cool. He’s not saying it’s true. You don’t have to do that but it might work.
I guess I like more the broad concept of the Oblique Strategies, that you need to think differently sometimes. You need to hit “reset” on the brain. It’s not that you need a new guitar. You don’t need a better computer necessarily. You don’t need new strings. Maybe, you’re just not thinking with a clear head or you’re plagued with self-doubt or you need a drink of water. (slight laugh)
JPG: That reminds me of the documentary on the making of U2’s The Joshua Tree when they were talking about having such trouble recording “Where the Streets Have No Name,” spending weeks on the track. How, at one point as the album’s co-producer Eno…
DH: …he was gonna erase it.
JPG: Yeah! because he thought it was better to start from scratch with nothing than to keep trying to get what they had into shape.
DH: I almost wished he would have done that. It would have been the ultimate thought experiment, (laughs) deliberately erases the thing to force a band to go back to square one would just be really, really audacious.
JPG: In doing my research I found something on the Mystery Pit of Oak Island (http://www.unmuseum.org/oakisl.htm) and since so many other things are connected in regards to Nightlands I wondered if the album title has anything to do with that?
DH: I remember my dad telling me about Oak Island when I was a little kid. He described it as this place where they’ve been digging for treasure forever. It captured my imagination so much as a little kid. I totally forgot about it then I remembered my dad telling me about this place that they’ve been digging and digging and digging and digging for treasure for hundreds of years. It took me awhile to track down what the name of it was. When I found it, I found it to be a compelling story especially because people are still looking for it and it’s really clear that there’s nothing there. There’s no way that anything can be there, but it speaks to the desire that people have to find out what is behind the mystery. People are in denial. They just want to find this treasure. It appeals to something deeply human in us that there is something beneath the surface and that there is a reason for all these little clues People want to believe in the mystery. They want it to be real. They don’t want it to be like, “Oh, actually those boards weren’t placed there by Captain Kid or some other pirate. It was just some driftwood.” The truth is not what people want to believe. I just think that’s interesting.
But also, it captures my imagination. It just felt right to call the album that. I felt like the music I was making dealt a lot with mystery and surfaces and what’s beneath the surface and whether you really want to see what’s beneath the surface or perhaps you’d prefer it was a little blurry. So, that’s why I named it that. It just felt right. I followed my gut on it and went with it.
*JPG: I wanted to touch upon your interest in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It’s such a violent book whereas Nightlands’ music is the opposite, much more tranquil and peaceful. Is it the contrast that appeals to you? *
DH: You know, I have never been able to understand it other than I think that book is kind of the ultimate contrast because if you read that book it reads like the Bible in the sense that it’s incredibly timeless and it contains incredible humanity and incredible compassion and beauty. And yet, it is probably the most violent book I’ve ever read, if not the most violent. It is just crushingly violent.
I spent a good two years of my life just re-reading that book and I couldn’t understand why I had such a fascination other than I just couldn’t believe that someone made it. It’s like looking at an amazing piece of architecture or listening to “Good Vibrations” and say, “How did someone make this? Someone fuckin’ did this and it just blows my mind.”
Apart from that, I just kept re-reading the book and I came upon this word “nightland” in chapter 14 or something. A little bit later, I was reading 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke and I saw the same term. It was completely different context. It wasn’t a completely different use. I don’t know, I just jumped on it. I liked the sound of it. It’s just my intuition. Again, a lot of these decisions I make I just follow my intuition and later I find that there was some significance to it. There are some lyrics, that song “Suzerain,” on the first record is directly about Blood Meridian.
I don’t know why I was so drawn to it, other than admiration.
JPG: By admitting that you read it so much, do you encounter people that treat you differently and you’re like, “I just read it. I’m not endorsing it.”
DH: Oh yeah. I remember in the past I gave it to a girl that I was seeing four years ago. (slight laugh) “I’m really into this book…” She gave it back to me, “This is scary. What’s wrong with you?” “I just think it’s great.” (laughs) I realized that, maybe, I should think twice before…I was also in a weird place at that point. I remember I would ride around in my car around Philly, listening to the audio book, just blasting it. I pulled up to a stop light at one point, looked over and my friend who was sitting next to me, and I was sitting there dazed listening to this ultra-violent audio book, and he’s like, “Are you okay, man?” (laughs)
So, I definitely have gotten some quizzical responses from it but I go through obsessive periods with various books. Not all of McCarthy’s books are dark to that degree. All the Pretty Horses, that’s more of a romance. That is really great and worthy of obsession.
I have friends that have been obsessed with Nazism. There’s a lot of people who are obsessed with Nazism. I don’t think that makes them Nazis. Sometimes, you’re just obsessed with how did that happen in modern civilization? How in an educated affluent country did this come to pass? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being _interested _ in something that is dark.
JPG: Finally, you’ve done a couple very short tours to promote Oak Island. Is that because you’re busy with other projects?
DH: A lot of War On Drugs recording right now. I also do a lot of session work in Philly, playing bass. That’s kind of my livelihood.
I was going to Europe to support Oak Island but I unfortunately pulled the plug on it. Originally, I was going to do the U.S. tour as a band then do Europe solo. The band came together so well I couldn’t bring myself to leave them behind and I couldn’t afford to bring them to Europe. So, I cancelled the European tour. It was really hard to do because it was a great tour and I was looking forward to it but I felt like it would be a disservice to some of the promoters to go there and play solo without my great band.