Audioblog nonchalant

En fin d’après-midi, Matt Berninger, Aaron et Bryce Dessner ont répondu aux questions lors du Ask me anything de Reddit, qui leur était consacré. Les premières ont majoritairement concerné le concert particulier donné au MoMa dimanche dernier. Six heures durant, The National a joué Sorrow sans interruption. Puis lors des questions suivantes ont été abordés leurs morceaux pour les séries télévisées, Games of Throne, l’évolution de leur écriture, l’utilisation de leur musique dans des publicités ou dans des films. Ils expliquent également la façon dont Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks est devenu cette chanson chantée a capella à la fin des concerts.
Où l’on apprend également que The National a joué dans un club échangiste français à ses débuts.


- How are you feeling after your six hour performance, and 105 renditions of Sorrow ?
- The experience was pretty exhilarating. I managed to get through it without taking a pee break ! After a couple hours it was like being in some kind of suspended trance state. I came up with a lot of new ideas for the song. Too bad, it’s only a 3:25 second song… We felt great that night, but the next day we were all completely wasted.

- Honestly, how many minutes into Sunday’s performance did you guys collectively think, « We may have made a huge mistake?! »
- A: Actually as the hours went on I think we all realized that this experience was something special for us — there was a weird hypnotic resonance and spirituality to repeating the song over and over. We almost didnt want to stop and we learned something about our capacity for endurance and the song opened up in surprising ways… By the end it didn’t feel like we were playing it anymore. We know the idea seemed pretentious in some way, but Ragnar’s has this mix of humor and sadness that feels quite similar to what are songs about… We’re very glad to have done it.

- Will Sorrow ever be played again?
- M : Yes. It’s actually the only song we know how to play REALLY well right now.

- Are we going to see a « Live from the MoMA 2013″ album?
- M : I think we are actually planning to release a 6 hour vinyl version of that performance for charity. Seriously. Hope it happens.

- How much wine did you drink during the show ?
- Not as much as I should have. I was mostly worried about piss breaks.

- I can never tell which one is Bryce and which one is Aaron, how can I tell ?
- M : Aaron is the cute one. Bryce is the handsome one.

- I was wondering where Bryce learned to speak French ?
- I lived in France for a year when I was 22. It was the year before The National started and I was studying music at the conservatory there. I had studied spanish seriously in college and then to earn money in Paris I was teaching guitar to french kids. So basically I learned french from a bunch of 8 year olds !

Bryce : « As for Game of Thrones I am still waiting for them to cast Matt as one of the watch or something… He seems to have the right look and deep voice »

- What kind of input did you have for the Rains of Castamere ? Also, who reached out to who ? Did they ask you to do it or did you ask ?
- A : The creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff approached us about doing a song. They are fans of the band and super nice guys. We love the show so we agreed to do it. We worked with the show’s composer Ramin Djawadi on the music — the melody and words were already written. So we were essentially covering the song. I did the harmonium and trombone drone in my garage in Brooklyn. The rest was done in Ramin’s studio in LA.

- How was your experience writing Exile Vilify with valve ? How did it come about ?
- M : They asked us to write a song for them but it was my brother Tom who told us all about Portal and convinced us to do it. I didn’t realize how brilliant and poetic video games have become.

- I wanted to know if you played the original Portal before Valve asked you to write a song for its sequel ?
- B : No I had never played portal prior to working on the song…

- You’ve done a lot of songs for various media. Game of Thrones, Win Win, and Portal 2 are the first that come to mind. How did you get involved with these projects? Also, do you generally see the final product of whatever you contribute a song to ? Maybe even are fans of it yourselves ?
Zvuki Mu - Grubiy zakat- All of those projects were really interesting for us and the directors are fans of the band who were great to work with. Director Tom McCarthy was amazing to work with and we spent a lot of time with him in the edit room thinking about what kind of song would work in the movie. As for Game of Thrones I am still waiting for them to cast Matt as one of the watch or something… He seems to have the right look and deep voice ;)..

- Have you all thought/been approached about making a soundtrack/score to a movie ?
- B: Aaron and I recently wrote music for a Kerouac biopic called Big Sur. We’d like to do more but for now we are really focused on learning the new songs and touring this year.

- What is your guys’ favourite music video ?
- M : Actually there’s one video that we all really love (nota : obviously « Zvuki Mu » from the russian band Grubiy zakat) so we made this homage :

- What current bands are you guys listening to?
- M : The new Kurt Vile is my go to record right now.
- A : This is the Kit, People Get Ready, Phosphorescent. Boston Calling was fun to work on because there’s a great group of people behind that festival. Boston is a great music town but they haven’t had their own outdoor festival in the heart of the city — so it made a lot of sense to try and create something. I am more responsible for Sunday’s lineup when we are playing and helping to shape some of the general aesthetic direction of the festival. The festival is sold out now but there are some big announcements coming soon.

- What was the best live show you attended ?
- B : Best recent live shows I have seen… Portishead in Australia was ridiculously good… And I saw the Bad Seeds show here at the Beacon which was out of control good.

- Between High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me, you’ve worked with Justin Vernon, Richard Reed Perry (of Arcade Fire), Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, Doveman, and more. What’s the creative process like when recording with these guys? Do you already have their stuff written ? How do you foster these relationships ?
- Richard, Sufjan, Annie, Justin, Thomas (Doveman), Sharon… These are all very close friends and people we have worked with for many years. I would say our friendships come first and the music comes out of that naturally. We have a studio behind Aaron’s house where we made our last couple records. Sufjan for instance is our neighbor and is over a lot for dinner, so we will just ask him to come out and listen to something. He always has great ideas very different from our own so its great to have his input. We dont use 85% of what guests play on the records, but the things we keep are often very important elements.

- Is that Sufjan Steven doing the quiet falsetto at the beginning of « Afraid of Everyone »? (and the « ahs » throughout the entire song for that matter?)
A: Yes it is him but it was almost unintended. He was playing harmonium and singing quietly in the studio — not into the microphones. So the vocals you hear are captured indirectly through the mics on the harmonium.

- Would you consider collaborating on an album with St. Vincent?
- Yes, she’s a close friend and a brilliant musician.
- Annie is a very individual artist, she can play every instrument herself. So I dont know that she needs us ! We have collaborated though, she sang on Trouble will find me, and I have played guitar with her on several of her shows.

- Bryce/Aaron, since you guys have worked with Justin Vernon in the past, I was curious if you’ve ever talked about working on a larger scale project or album together at some point ?
- We do talk about making more music together — he is an amazing musician obviously and such a nice guy. Probably our next collaboration will involve the Grateful Dead’s music and charity.

- I’m pretty sure I’ve heard you guys say that, in retrospect, you’re not too happy with your choice of « the National » as a band name. If you could go back and change it, would you? And to what ?
- M : If I could change our name I would pick The Strokes.

- What changes were made to Mistaken for Strangers between Tom’s “failed screening” (as shown in the film) and the final product? What were your impressions of the film at the failed screening?
- The movie that was shown at the failed screening was a hilarious series of tour vignettes… It had its merits but the final version is something entirely different. Tom spent another year and a half i think finishing the film after that and its become something we are all really proud of. While the failed screening version felt more like an amazing and hilarious inside joke ?

- When will I be able to purchase a copy of the Mistaken For Strangers documentary ? I’m really looking forward to seeing it!
- A : We hope the film will be available for everyone to see later this year. We’re working on different options for distributing it now. Follow Tom Berninger on Twitter. He’s hilarious.

- The acoustic, sing-along rendition of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks is often people’s favourite moment of seeing The National live. When you were writing the album did you have it in mind as a song you would play during the encore? (given that it’s the last track on the album)
- No, we never thought of doing that. It was actually my idea the night we played the Ryman Theater in Nashville. Seeing all those photos backstage of Johnny Cash made me think we had to do something acoustic, in the spirit of all the great music that has been through there. We didn’t expect that everyone would sing along with us… But when that happened we just loved it so much we kept that in the set.

- What is Cut London (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers lists Matt and Bryce as writers) ?
- Cut London is a weird song, outtake from Alligator. It was our first song in 5/4… until the new record which has Hard to Find also in 5/4. The song had some lyric about getting run over by girls on a bike ? I can’t remember if this was ever properly released. I don’t think so.

- What I’d like to ask is for each of you what song in your catalogue or not makes you the happiest ?
- B : Terrible Love is probably the song that gets me the most excited. Although Graceless and Sea of love on the new record are probably even more intense to play live. None of our songs make me sad really although when we play About today I always think about a close friend of mine who passed away a few years ago.

- Do you guys plan on writing more songs with odd time signatures like Demons ? I really enjoyed how you guys gave it that special feel and smoothness that only The National can really do.
A: There are a bunch of songs in odd time signatures on the new album. It wasn’t planned that way. We always write a few sketches that are irregular, but usually Matt avoids them. This time he embraced some of the odd ones, I think because they feel quite natural. Demons is in 7/4 and I Should Live In Salt is in 9/8 and Hard to Find is in 5/4. There are a bunch of others that have mixed meter. It means we have to pay more attention to what we’re doing this time around. Win from Arcade Fire was just joking with us that the odd meter will confuse festival audiences :)

- Any chance you tour with Arcade Fire again?
- B : Probably ? I saw Richard last night and we talked about it but I think maybe something special and not a tour would be the right idea. They are close friends of ours.

- What can you tell us about the new album? Why was the song Rylan not included in the album ?
- We just never got around to finishing Rylan — we needed to reinvent it somehow and other songs raced ahead more quickly.
- The new album is my favorite National record. Seriously. Rylan just didn’t feel part of the new batch of songs this time but we havent thrown it away.

- Will Rylan be released as a b-side/bonus track ?
- There is a recorded version of the music for Rylan from the High Violet recording sessions. It was based on a sketch called Fredericksburg… another civil war battle. I don’t know if we’ll ever release that song but the lyrics and/or music might morph into something else some day.

- Who is the « Jennifer » referenced in Wake Up Your Saints and Fireproof?
- Matt knows some Jennifer’s but he uses that name here more as a fantasy/ idea of a sort of person.

- What are the backing vocals saying before Don’t swallow the cap ? It’s been bugging me.
- Dead Seriously.

- In Don’t Swallow the Cap, Matt references the album Let It Be, and a lot of people were wondering if it was in reference to the Replacements album or the Beatles album.
B : Its the Beatles album…

- I’ve always wanted to know if there’s any particular back story to All The Wine. Always loved that song, the lyrics just beautifully capture the giddy, mischievous feeling of a few drinks. I just really want to know if you have ever ran through the streets carrying a dollhouse.
- M : The dollhouse is my brain I think.

- Who were your 16 year old selves’ favourite bands ?
- M : Thompson Twins

- What is the worst situation you’ve gotten yourselves into? I don’t care if it was on tour or you just wandered into the wrong tent at burning man, whatever the worst situation was, what was it and how did you get out of it ?
- M : We once tried to take a « short-cut » through the alps in the winter on one of our very early european tours. Took and extra 4 hours and we nearly got stranded and would have frozen to death. Also, once stayed in a youth hostel in Scotland. Almost died there too. Played a french swingers club as well.

- What prompts your stylistic shifts on each album ? From your self-titled album to Sad Songs and Alligator, I’m guessing it was primarily Peter Katis’ influence. But where did you find the inspirations for the more polished Boxer/High Violet ? Do you see the band changing in the future ?

Matt : « I probably have an average level of melancholy. No more than most I’m sure. I just love to dive into that stuff and make songs out of it. It’s fun to swim in the sad sloppy stuff. »

- B: We try to push ourselves to evolve with each album. Contrary to what some people think Peter was not a huge stylistic influence on the band. He is an amazing engineer and mixer but we have always self-produced our records, sometimes with input from Peter. But his influence is more in the sound of the album (drums especially) where whats happening musically always comes from within the band. We have never made conscious decisions about our direction. We have just tried to make songs we love and to keep growing as musicians. I think sad songs was a massive step forward for us and then Cherry tree was probably the beginning of the era of Alligator – Boxer – High Violet – Trouble will find me. While we havent made some massive departure from our sound… say introducing synths and dance beats etc… We have always tried not to repeat ourselves and to find new and exciting ideas for the band. I know I can speak for the rest of the guys that the new record feels like our most creative recent record… In terms of just freewheeling energy and songs the last time I remember a process being so fun and varied was when we made Alligator.

- Matt, would you consider yourself to be a generally melancholy person, or is that aspect of your personality just the one that shines through most prominently in your music ?
M : I probably have an average level of melancholy. No more than most I’m sure. I just love to dive into that stuff and make songs out of it. It’s fun to swim in the sad sloppy stuff.

- You seem like you have a relatively happy life. You are married and all. So how are you able to write an album like High Violet ? That album carried me through two years of heart break. How were you able to write it at that time of your life?
A : It’s true we are now all in relatively happy stages of life — three are married and three of us have children. But like anyone, we have struggled in the past and music for us has been always something emotional and cathartic. I find it impossible to write music that doesn’t have an emotional tug of some kind — otherwise it feels pointless to me. Matt writes about some of the darker stuff — social anxiety / awkwardness, depression, death etc — I think because he doesnt want to have to live it.
- B : I’m not married :)

- The scene in Warrior with your song About Today is one of my favorites in any film. Your song really makes it.
- M : Yeah that might be the best use of our music I’ve ever seen. Great great movie.

- Had Stephen Malkmus heard your line about waiting for Pavement to get back together before booking you guys as warm-up for their tour?
- B : Yes they had…
- M : I’m pretty sure I’m the one who got them to reform.

- Was it planned before hand that one of the pictures from your performance at your friends wedding would be used as the album art for Boxer, or was this something you decided on after seeing the photo ?
B : No, it wasnt planned ! That is actually a real photo of us playing at Peter Katis’s wedding… Actually the photo was taken by Paul Banks’s girlfriend at the time they asked us to play some songs so we played Geese and Daughters because they are the only too uplifiting love songs we have ;)

- Are you guys planning on busting out any old songs that haven’t seen a lot of light on recent tours, or will it be mostly new songs & all the same awesome songs you always play from the last 3 or 4 records ?
- A : We always try and play a group of older songs — but the focus will be on the new album as we’re excited about that. Towards the end of High Violet touring, we had fun breaking out some really old and underplayed songs… I hope we can do that some on the upcoming tour, but it can be difficult without much rehearsal time…. And it’s a lot of words for Matt to remember.

- Where do you guys buy your suits ?
- A : Rag & Bone and Seize Sur Vingt

- We have a Spotify subscription, which is where we get all our music nowadays. We listen to The National constantly on there. So my question : do the economics of that work out for you guys ?
- A : I have spotify also, though I still buy albums, especially on vinyl. I think the economics of Spotify are very difficult for artists however.

- I saw a documentary recently, If A Tree Falls, which includes a number of your songs. It mades me wonder how you feel about your songs being included in films, commercials, shows, etc ? Obviously you don’t object to it, but do you think about the relationship between your music and what it is being used for ? Would you/have you ever objected to your songs being placed in a particular ad or movie ?
A : We have said no to a lot of commercials over the years, though we will allow certain usages (we’ve been in a Google ad for example). Generally, we’re OK with film and television usage — it’s one of the ways bands can survive these days. I’ve never seen a show that we placed music in however. I don’t have a working television. If A Tree Falls was directed by our good friend Marshall Curry who is an amazing documentary filmmaker (check out Street Fight and Racing Dreams also)… He’s an old friend and a longtime supporter of our’s so we basically give him access to all the music we make.
- B : We dont have a blanket policy about licensing songs to film/TV. We do consider all these requests and have said no many times. We have turned down a lot of things…in general i think commercials are weirder for us, where film/tv stuff often make good use of the music and its a way for more people to hear the band

- « How does it feel to have such a legend like John Lennon playing drums in the band?
- M : It’s intimidating. He’s very bossy. »

- How does it feel to have such a legend like John Lennon playing drums in the band?
- M : It’s intimidating. He’s very bossy.

-  I always wondered why on some Alligator songs live (Secret Meeting, All the Wine...) Scott and Aaron swap instruments. Is there any particular reason for this?
- B : Scott wrote that high guitar part on the song and enjoys playing it… Its fun to switch instruments up sometimes (like when Aaron and I switch to piano). That bass line is also insanely difficult for the right hand and is a little easier for Aaron to play.

- How does Bryan Devendorf feel about being forever immortalized on the cover of your debut album?
- A : Bryan likes that cover. He’s a big fan of whiffle ball. That picture was taken before we finished that record. We were barely a band then.
- B : Bryan in that photo ! I don’t know how Bryan feels about it… Pretty sexy ?

- Dark Was the Night is my favorite compilation album of all time. Any plans on another DWTN charity-type album for Red Hot(or any other charity)?
- A : Yes, Bryce and I have just started work on another one that we’re excited about. It involves the Grateful Dead’s music and tons of different musicians
- B :  Yes Aaron and I are working on a follow up in the next year or tow… Stay tuned…

- If I slip a 20 into a bottle of wine, is that enough to get you to play Slipping Husband and Karen at your show ?
- A: Both those songs are difficult for us to play — but Karen is far more likely than Slipping Husband! Though SH does have supporters in the band….we’ll keep it in mind.

- Aaron, what inspired you to start producing, and how did you go about doing it ?
- A : It was a quite natural thing to start doing because I’ve always played this role in a way in the band. I can only work on music who I feel inspired by and who I feel I can actually help evolve or get better in some way — so I don’t think I’ll produce many records… maybe one or two a year. I have a studio in my garage that is a great space to work in and it’s full of old instruments and microphones and pre-amps… So it’s easy just to wander out and do stuff.

- I was curious if that or if any authors/works of literature have influenced your song writing?
- B : I know Matt has read lots of Cheever… and many other things. Aaron and I are huge readers. He likes Henry James… I read a lot of russian novels (Gogol, Dostoyevsky)

- Under what circumstances do your strongest lyrics come to you ?
- A : Matt says sometimes lyrics seem to come into his mind out of nowhere as if the music is guiding him… And other things are really difficult and he has to labor over many many months. He works at all times of the day and night and taps his foot out of time from what I can tell :)

I guess selling out our first show in Paris to 200 people was a big moment.

- Your songs are very emotionally charged. Do you often lose yourself emotionally speaking during performances?
- M : I do lose my nerve on occasion. It’s a combination of anxiety, fatigue and wine.

- What other artists have a big influence in your music ? When did you realize you were getting BIG ? Like, when your songs started to appear in major movies ?
- B : We all love Dylan and Lenoard Cohen but from there everyone has different interests. Bryan loves the Dead and New Order, Matt is a huge Pavement fan, Aaron listens to mostly Dylan and folk stuff… I like a lot of weird contemporary music (Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Bauhaus, John Cale) but we have a really wide range of tastes. I guess is what im saying our growth in terms of popularity has been so gradual I dont think we ever really noticed it to be honest. I guess selling out our first show in Paris to 200 people was a big moment. And then playing Bowery Ballroom was another one…

- I am going to see you at the Barclay’s Center in June and I was wondering if you guys ever thought you would be playing arena’s when you first started out?
- No, we never dreamt we’d play Barclays… We never thought we’d go beyond Mercury Lounge ! Even playing Bowery Ballroom was a dream back then.


Related : did you already listen Trouble will find me – alternate version ?

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