The National are self-deprecating, open, vulnerable. Their songwriting conversational, confessional, intimate, honest - their rhythms often nervous. Upon listening to their latest cd Alligator [Beggars Banquet] for the first time, we couldn't believe we hadn't heard this band before. The sound is one that is complimentary to our lives, it is not a soundtrack - it is a running commentary. Their songs are detailed and invasive and just like a surreal dream is often hard to shake - they permeate in our minds. This is a compliment. The National speak to the inner-psychiatric patient in us all, and they are much better than a padded room in curing what ails our tortured souls. Their latest cd is released tomorrow, more details after the interview.
The National contains two pairs of brothers - Aaron Dessner (guitars, bass) and Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (guitar; bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums). It has been said that Matt Berninger sings because "he's taller, blonder, and older than the rest."
Let's get this out of the way, where did your band name originate?
It’s a generic Everyman concept, like The National Association of Pipefitters, etc. What we failed to take in account was that, throughout Europe, “National” is an ominous term. We have had to spend a lot of time explaining that the name has nothing to do with nationalism. Its also very difficult to find our website.
What is your first conscious memory of living in New York?
February, 1997. Moving into a loft in Greenpoint above an aluminum casting operation. Pretty nasty fallout but a great sense of possibility.
What is your favorite/least favorite memory involving New York?
Fave: Mike Piazza’s go-ahead homer in the late innings against the Braves shortly after Sept. 11th. The sound was amplified by the humidity and though it was a thin crowd at Shea, there was that collective rising to your feet followed by endorphins rushing, stadium beer-euphoria, and tears of joy. It was a line shot to right center, if memory serves me right.
Least: Sept. 11th.
What is your favorite place to drink in NYC? What’s the best night of the week to go out in the city?
Place: Boat (Cobble Hill, Brooklyn)
Best night: Monday, when I’m feeling athletic after an “Alpine Pass” session on the cardio cycle and a few turns on the Gravitron 2000 machine.
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about playing shows in New York? Is there a difference between shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn?
Fave: I get to sleep in my own bed with my wife.
Least: I’m more anxious. I can’t explain it.
Manhattan v. Bklyn: I can’t really think of anything worth mentioning. We tend to have better shows in the city.
Do you think your New York connection shows in your music? If so, how?
Yes. We see a lot of great players in New York. Monkey see; monkey do.
Now its time for some fill-in-the-blank action:
“You know you’ve made it when..."
your name becomes a euphemism for trace evidence of a sexual act, e.g., ‘Who Rawls’d on my pillow!’
“It’ll be time to pack up the gear for good when..."
you appear on a Channel 13 retrospective complete with era-specific typographic treatments.
“I’ll never forget the first time I..."
saw Matt run into the side of a moving car.
“I’ll never forget the first time [insert band members name here]..."
Matt ran into the side of a moving car.
And finally, lets have some fun with word association. Give me your immediate feelings on the following (if you’ve got no discernable feelings, make something up that won’t embarrass you in the morning):
WONDER BREAD; KEN DOLLS; STRETCH SUVs.
LEPROUS MEN WITH ELECTRONICS STRAPPED TO THEIR HEADS SITTING OUT AN EARLY SEASON RAIN DELAY WHILE FLEETWOOD MAC AND THE USC MARCHING BAND PLAY “TUSK” ON THE JUMBOTRON.
I-10; SAND; NASA.
Bridge & Tunnel
RAY CATENA’S WORLD, WHAT IS IT LIKE?
LYCRA; POOR HYGIENE.
THE CRICKET IN; LASERS.
Bloomberg/Smoking Ban/Noise Laws
CHEVY SUBURBANS; BODY ARMOR; FUTURECOPS.
Questions inspired by movies...
If you will, a brief justification of the ontological necessity of modern man's existential dilemma (in less than 10 words). (Reality Bites)
Prestigious office space.
What came first, the music or the misery? (High Fidelity)
The misery came first.
A few quickies on the music tip:
Who would be in your ultimate music supergroup, your all-star Olympic team of rock?
John McEntire & Tony Allen on drums, the bass player in Wilco on bass, Michael McDonald, Sade, Donald Fagen & Yoko Ono up front, with LA session players rounding out the rhythm section.
If you released a 7” what would you put on the cover?
We have and it features Matt Berninger’s pensive visage next to a halo of light. It’s available here as an import.
What was the first/last album you bought on the day it was released?
First: “Joshua Tree”
Last: “Superwolf” by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Matt Sweeney.
And finally...If Josh Schwartz, creator of the OC, asked your band to perform on his tv show (as Modest Mouse, the Killers and the Walkmen recently have) would you?
The National will be performing at their NYC record release party tomorrow, Tuesday April 12th, from 8 to 10pm. So head over to Supreme Trading [213 N.8th Street, Williamsburg]
Listen to the album & watch the video here.
Check out Bryan's SXSW Tour Diary for Gothamist.