Addictive Sound

War on Drugs performs in the Old Pueblo for the first time in seven years

The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs

Music has taken bassist David Hartley and fellow members of The War on Drugs to far-flung places like Singapore, Melbourne and Paris.

The Philadelphia-based sextet has traveled the world several times over since last stepping foot in Tucson in 2011, when they headlined a show at Hotel Congress.

Hartley, who founded the band in 2005 with singer Adam Granduciel, has enjoyed the group's evolution—going from playing dimly lit basements and bars to headlining shows at venues like The Anthem in Washington D.C. and Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The band will be at the Rialto Theatre on April 17, in support of their 2017 release A Deeper Understanding, which topped out at number three in the U.S. AAA charts last September.

Hartley says the band's maturation and steadily growing fan base has been a thrill to see up close and personal.

"It's exciting. The band continues to grow," Hartley says. "The audience continues to grow. We continue to try to hone our craft."

Hartley pointed out that their ever-lengthening tours are taxing for all involved—jet-setting from Coachella to San Diego, before making the 450-mile trek across the Sonoran Desert to Tucson.

"We're at the age now when we'd be retiring from any sport that we would be in. We're the post-athlete age," Hartley jokes. "There's no one in the NFL as old as us, really. But really, it's a joy and a blessing. Also, we get to do it with friends, as well. We're best friends with each other, so it's pretty sweet."

Hartley and company enter their West Coast swing after a month-long break, which comes on the heels of a world tour that took them to parts of Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

They're ready to bring their unique brand of synth-infused rock music to town and get back to what they love doing the most.

"We've been off long enough that we're ready to kick back in," Hartley said. "And I think we're all itching to play again."

The band's 13-year road to worldwide recognition came through the work that Hartley and company put in on the band's previous albums.

First, there was 2008's Wagonwheel Blues, the band's debut album, followed by 2011's Slave Ambient, which peaked at the No. 4 spot in the U.S. Heat chart.

Their big breakthrough came three years later, though, with the release of Lost in the Dream, which included the single "Under the Pressure," the band's first single to break into the U.S. AAA singles chart, peaking at number 19.

Hartley felt the band's popularity was a natural ebb, resulting from their whirlwind tours up and down the East Coast, along with the countless hours spent in recording studios far and wide. "Each step has led to the other," the Frederick, Maryland native says. "I mean, I guess it's sort of a two-fold evolution. On one hand, Adam's song writing and recording vision has really just been this amazing evolution. He was more focused on, I think, like sort of mapping out the aesthetic territory that he wanted to embody. Like, 'These are the sounds I like. This is the vibe that I want.'"

Another key to the band's evolution has been their expanded lineup, from a three-piece in their early days to a quartet, and today's six-piece setup.

"It's like now we're this sort of six-piece juggernaut that can really fill big rooms with sound and sort of bring complex arrangements to life," he says.

Hartley clarifies that the band's success didn't happen overnight, but from the gradual ascent that comes from cutting solid albums and performing well on a nightly basis.

"Sometimes people will be like, 'Holy shit. Like Lost in the Dream just came out of nowhere, and now you guys are popular,'" Hartley says. "It didn't feel like that from my perspective, and I think the rest of the band would agree with me."

Hartley is thrilled to have the chance to snap the band's seven-year Tucson hiatus, noting how much their style has changed since they took the undersized stage at Congress.

"Our change has sort of accelerated in the past couple of years, so it'll be like a new experience for us. So, I'm excited," he says. "We loved Tucson. It's a really cool town. There's a couple of cool stores, a couple of cool guitar and record stores there."

He's thrilled to get the chance to play an intimate show at the Rialto, especially in the wake of the monstrous spectacle that is Coachella.

"It's probably more meaningful for us to play a place like Tucson than it is like some huge festival," Hartley says. "There's something more eyeball to eyeball about it with your fans and stuff, the audience, so this isn't just like a little stop for us on our way to Coachella. It's a chance to connect with people in a place we don't go very often."

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