Band of brothers: The War on Drugs bring Grammy-winning rock act to Wilmington
Teenagers can be very protective of the music they listen to.
So when the 16-year-old son of Charlie Hall, drummer for Grammy-winning rock act The War on Drugs, queued up some playlists during a recent family road trip − everything from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to Simon and Garfunkel and John Waite − Hall knew he was being given a gift of sorts.
"For six hours, it was, like, all his pet playlists," Hall said during a recent Zoom interview. "It was really special. I felt connected to him in a new way."
Hall is a bit of a musical omnivore − "I kind of love everything, but that's not really true, also" − as are his bandmates in The War on Drugs. The Philadelphia rock act will play Wilmington for the first time on Thursday, Sept. 29, when they come to Live Oak Bank Pavilion for a concert in support of their latest album, "I Don’t Live Here Anymore."
Blending the songcraft of frontman Adam Granduciel with vibes from classic rock and '80s rock radio, but also with folk and mainstream pop, The War on Drugs has won a fan base drawn in by the band's warm, thoughtful tunes, which have the sonic ability to swell until they fill an arena.
After winning a Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2017 for the searingly good "A Deeper Understanding," The War on Drugs essentially became the 21st century's answer to classic rock, with Granduciel dropping Dylan-referencing lyrics and being recruited to work with the likes of Jimmy Page and The Rolling Stones.
Through it all, Hall said − the tours, the awards, the millions of streams and downloads − the bandmates have remained close, a band of brothers if you will. The group is comprised of bassist Dave Hartley, multi-instrumentalist Anthony LaMarca, keyboardist Robbie Bennett, saxophonist Jon Natchez, keyboardist Eliza Hardy Jones, Hall and Granduciel
"We've known each other forever," Hall said. "Adam was the first person I ever left my 16-year-old with when he was a baby, and Dave used to go to (visit Hall's kids, of which he's got three) at nursery schools and stuff like that. It's really kind of a family thing."
The band first formed back in the mid 2000s, and The War on Drugs once counted rock songwriter Kurt Vile as its guitarist before Vile went on to an acclaimed solo career. Hall played in the band in the early days, left for a few years, then came for The War on Drugs' 2014 breakthrough album, "Lost In The Dream."
"In the early days the band always had sort of a fluid composition," Hall said, and he'd play drums as well as guitar and some keys. "It was a collective of sorts."
Hall's day job used to be as a high school teacher (history and music) and counselor, which he liked.
"When I started playing full time with the band, I don't think it was a hard a hard decision, but I'm definitely sort of a creature of habit," he said. "I used to be a teacher and social worker and I would go on tours and come back, and I sort of loved having the duality of that."
Still, his roots in music run deep. Hall said he started playing drums when he was 3 or 4, enamored of his music-loving brother, who was 9 years older.
"I'd come home from school every single day and play along with records and lived in, like, a fantasy land," Hall said.
The Rolling Stones' "Hot Rocks" compilation was in the musical mix, as was "Who's Next" from The Who. Stir in a little Pretenders and Joe Jackson, and later on Pink Floyd "was huge for me," Hall said, with all of those bands and more informing his playing to some degree.
"I feel like part of my job is putting a heart and soul into a rhythm that is also sort of machine like? So it's about steadiness, but putting soul and humanity into something that's going to still feel propulsive," Hall said. "For me personally, I just try to put feeling into everything I do and hopefully that helps communicate the emotion of the song and what the seven of us are doing collectively."
What The War on Drugs does musically can be hard to pin down.
"When somebody is next to me on an airplane and is like, 'Oh, you must be in a band, what do you sound like?' I don't really have the elevator pitch down," Hall said. "How do you describe this to someone? It's like, yeah, I guess there is a classic rock element. I always say, you know, 'Lots lots of synths!'"
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Everyone in the band is always making new music, Hall said. "I think we'll just we'll just keep on doing that."
Bassist Dave Hartley, who recently moved to Asheville from the War on Drugs' longtime home of Philadelphia, recently released an album with his band Nightlands. Saxophonist Jon Natchez has written scores for numerous films, and Hall has a solo record in the can he hopes to release soon.
He also plans to keep working with youth, whether they're his own kids, those of his bandmates or those through programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a group he's done programming for in the past.
"Mentoring has kind of been like my life's passion," Hall said. "Personally, I'm the product of countless mentors. And so I really love working directly in that in that field, and I still do, formally and informally. Life's all about having somebody like, you know, impart some sort of (wisdom)."
In terms of The War on Drugs Hall is the oldest member and can carry "a big brother vibe," he said. "But again, going back to mentoring, your mentors aren't always older than you, and I also look to (bandmates) as mentors even though they're younger than me. I look at, you know, the kind of the kind of father that Robbie (Bennett, keyboardist) is, you know. And I look up to that even though I've had kids for 16 years. So it's a reciprocal thing."
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.
Want to go?
Who: The War on Drugs
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29
Where: Live Oak Bank Pavilion, 10 Harnett St., Wilmington
Details: Tickets start at $26. LiveNation.com.
This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: The War on Drugs brings Grammy-winning rock act to Wilmington NC