Thursday, May 13

Climbing High With The National

. Thursday, May 13

Anyone familiar with The National will know them to be one of the most underrated bands in the game. From their early beginnings they have flourished into a behemoth of angst ridden melodrama, the kind of band you can hang your life on. Meeting the band in a London hotel Gigwise is taken a back by how similar singer Matt Berninger and guitarist Aaron Desner are in conversation to how they are in song. Brooding and intense but cracking through the fuzz with moments of clarity they told us all about their stunning new album 'High Violet, the record that should see them put their flag firmly on top of the world.

“Sounding like loose wool or hot tar.” is Matt's brief description of how the band wanted High Violet to sound however claim that the overall feel of the album is more like, “An architecture project” in terms of tying the “scrappy, lo-fi” sounds they recorded in a purpose built home studio with the more complex layering techniques they used for the first time.

“It’s a more aggressive record than ‘Boxer’, we wanted it to be more direct and less stately than that album. In some ways this is our most lo-fi sounding album but at the same time we’ve spent more time weaving intricate elements of chamber arrangement and ugly sounding drums and guitars. A lot of it is an architecture project trying to work out how to tie all these different things together. The album is a lot of the things we’ve learned about each other whilst trying to avoid a lot of our old habits.” Says Matt.

The band claim that High Violet was one of the easiest albums they've ever made with the pressure to get peoples attention gone and a need to change things up replaced by a search for the basic. “The main thing that happened was that we built a studio in my garage. That allowed us to really make progress with this album and get making demos almost immediately.” says Matt. “If you listen to a song like ‘Terrible Love’ that’s pretty much the rough take that we did in our garage. We didn’t feel the need to add much to a lot of our early recordings so in that way this new record is quite scrappy in a way but it also let us layer things differently to how we have done it in the past. It felt refreshing to not be tied to the studio like we were when we made ‘The Boxer’.

Describing the songwriting process as, “Getting little snippets of things and group them together and then mumbling over the” Matt then describes, at length the evolutionary process of The National's career.

“With Alligator we were just trying to knock down the door and we were unknown and tired of being in the shadows. It worked for us and Mr November got a lot of attention and we got a whole new group of fans from that. From there we made Boxer and there was a lot of pressure on us because we had our foot in the door and now we had the opportunity to take it to the next level. We know how quickly bands can get a little bit of buzz and then vanish. We were determined not to be the band who disappeared. However, at the same time I didn’t want to be the band who wrote dark songs and screamed a lot. There was pressure though because it was like, are we going to change the only thing that has ever got people to pay attention to us? People stayed with us though and it made us realise that it’s the song writing that people like The National for so now we can just write the songs we want and not worry what people maybe expect from us.”

That solid gold craft of song writing has seen the band win a legion of committed fans, “We don't have casual fans” says Aaron, understating things a touch. “It’s not just about what’s new for us so when we play live we focus on everything we’ve done but are always looking to progress in the future and learn new things.

With High Violet looking likely to see The National establish themselves as not just a critically acclaimed band but a publicly adored one as well the pupils have become the tutors going from receiving tips and help from the greats to giving it out. “We’ve learned a lot from people like REM and Bruce Spingsteen so when people come to us and seek advice and we’re happy to help.”. Telling us that REM's Michael Stipe told them that ''Any kind of art is a search for excitement. Everyone wants to see or hear something that doesn’t exist yet”. Matt and Aaron still get people asking them for the quick route to fame however,

“When we broke out around the time of Alligator and Boxer people in bands would ask me “What’s the trick?” as if it was our manager or PR firm that made us a success. We have a great team behind us but there is no viral campaign that can create a group of songs that are good enough. The way we made it had no tricks, we pulled our hair out and slept on floors in Germany after playing to no people.”

Had the band known then what they know now would they still have got into bed with dogs and empty pockets? “I wouldn’t actually recommend that path as it was so hard but if people ask how we made it then that’s the honest answer. We toured Europe without any record label or distribution, sleeping in youth hostels and on floors. That’s all OK but I was thirty three. To be in your thirties and sleeping in a wet bed in a strange country is soul-crushing and if I’d been told I’d have to go through that to get to where I wanted to be I’m not sure I’d have taken it.”.

An army of devoted fans can only thank God that the bands will lasted longer than their time in the wilderness. It's all plush sheets and four poster beds from here.

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