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The War on Drugs’ Dave Hartley talks touring, Kurt Vile and Canadian cops

This Friday marks the beginning of DeLuna Fest – a three-day, Pensacola festival that includes headliners such as Weezer and Big Boi, but also smaller acts such as The War on Drugs.

The Philadelphia-based group The War on Drugs has started to gain attention through steady touring, the success of former member Kurt Vile and their newest album, “Slave Ambient.” Last month, NPR chose the track “Your Love is Calling My Name” as its song of the day.

Their songs switch between frontman Adam Granduciel, whose voice brings to mind Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, and ambient music that recalls My Bloody Valentine or Boards of Canada.

Dave Hartley, bassist for The War on Drugs, said the band’s sound comes from being a traditional, four-piece rock band that happens to use two samplers and a Wurlitzer.

“We kind of alternate between being this really tight, stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll band like the Heartbreakers or Can at times, but we really like to sprinkle the ambient,” he said.

Hartley said he is excited to bring the band to DeLuna Fest and hopes to find some friends’ bands, which he unexpectedly did while playing TakeRoot 2011 last month in the Netherlands.

“Kurt Vile and the Violators were there, who obviously we’re close with,” he said. “Man Man from Philly, who we’re friends with, were there. Megafaun, who we’re really tight with, were there. It’s awesome, it’s weird to be in the Netherlands and crossing paths.”

Vile left The War on Drugs in 2008 and soon got signed to Matador Records, but Hartley said The War on Drugs had initially started as a “collective” in Philadelphia anyways, where “every show’s lineup was different.”

“Kurt did two tours with us – a European tour and a (United) States tour – and after that he started getting interest from Matador. Then, our touring schedule just got really crazy,” he said. “There was never a sit-down moment where he was like, ‘I can’t do this.'”

The War on Drugs has continued to tour steadily with bands such as The Hold Steady and Destroyer, which Hartley said may have been the band’s best tour yet.

Destroyer is fronted by Vancouver musician Dan Bejar, who is also a member of DeLuna Fest act the New Pornographers, and Hartley said traveling between the U.S. and Canada with the band earlier this year led to some troubles with the Canadian border patrol.

“One time, they were convinced that we had cocaine on us,” Hartley said. “I don’t know what the deal was. They would just not take ‘No’ for an answer. They just kept asking where the coke was. They poured everything out of the van, searched us, took hours and we had to throw some music, some CDs and s— that we hadn’t declared.”

Beyond The War on Drugs, Hartley also has a side project called Nightlands that released a two-song cover EP in May called “Covers,” with versions of Scott Walker’s “Big Louise” and Lindsey Buckingham’s “Trouble.” Once he takes a break from The War on Drugs, Hartley said he might try doing some covers during live shows.

“I’m doing some shows in November, and I think I’ll probably cover ‘Southern Cross’ by Crosby, Stills and Nash and maybe the Hawkwind song called ‘Space is Deep,'” he said.

DeLuna Fest runs from Friday to Sunday in Pensacola Beach, with The War on Drugs playing from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Grooveshark Stage on Saturday. For more information on the event, visit