The National’s Matt Berninger on Struggle & Regret, Embracing Failure, and ‘Trouble Will Find Me’

Last month, Brooklyn-based indie rock band The National released their sixth studio album, Trouble Will Find Me—which has since been met with both widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. A month prior to this, Mistaken for Strangers, an entertaining and heartfelt tell-all rockumentary-meets-mockumentary, helmed by frontman Matt Berminger’s brother Tom, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. And tonight, as part of their world tour, The National takes the stage in their very own borough at the Barclays Center

Though at one time they played to scarcely populated venues, over a decade later The National’s at the top of their game, garnering the recognition that for years they worked towards securing. Matt Berninger and band, comprising twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, continue to wow crowds, but getting bigger comes with its own set of challenges. So, too, does letting your brother make a movie about you.
 
Last week, Matt took time to chat with me, discussing topics from filming Mistaken for Strangers, creating Trouble Will Find Me, and much more in between. He openly addressed subjects like struggle, failure and regret, unfiltered lyrics and stealing lyrics, as well as expressing to me his concerns for the future of his signature audience walk—where he performs “Terrible Love” while winding his way through a sea of people—and admitting to loving their recent MoMA PS1 appearance, where for six hours straight they played “Sorrow” without stopping.  
 
First of all, congratulations on Trouble Will Find Me. Secondly, congratulations on Mistaken for Strangers, which is where I actually want to start. It proved a fairly incredible feat indeed. The Post-it Note scene alone made me anxious on your brother’s behalf.
I’ve made a lot of records—and it was mainly my wife and Tom who were able to shape a story, an hour-and-a-half-long actual movie. But this was by far the most daunting creative endeavor I’ve ever been a small part of. It was kind of amazing. I don’t think I ever want to make another movie. I don’t know if Tom does—he might, but it was a huge creative mountain, so I really respect him and my wife for seeing their way to the top of it.
 
Also in the film, there’s a telling line from you about your early experiences as a band playing at an empty Mercury Lounge and how you used that pain to fuel your work. Does that struggle still motivate you?
We’ve become a better band since those early days, but tension and anxiety are still present when we’re making records and playing shows. We’ve gotten better at both but mostly I’ve learned to respect failure. So many of our songs are about social anxieties or romantic insecurities—the things you lie awake at night thinking about. Every time we go on tour and endeavor to make a record, there’s a whole lot of failure that comes with it. We write more bad than good songs, and it’s just to respect that process, and understand that failure is part of anything. You have to keep working and leave failure behind. But, it’s still a part of our band’s DNA.
 
Have there been any mishaps or funny stories from tour so far?
There aren’t major mishaps necessarily, but it’s just sometimes a show can go south. Some shows have gone well, some have gone badly. You feel filled with performance anxiety or something like that. I definitely have a healthy amount of that. That stuff can just grow up inside you. You can have an awful experience in your own head. Performing live, we get better and better as the tour goes on, especially at the beginning, it’s a lot of stumbling and tripping up. When you feel like a show isn’t connecting, that can make you want to crawl out of your skin and under the stage. I usually just try to move on to the next song or show and try not to let it bother me. As I said, I’ve learned to respect that process of finding your comfort zone. Now these shows are getting much bigger. It’s not fear, just tension and anxiety, panic attacks or panic swells. That’s happened to me a lot, so I’ve figured out how to deal with it. It’s like jumping into ice-cold water and figuring out a way to keep swimming.
 
Do you have a pre-concert ritual that helps prepare you to take the stage?
I drink wine. That’s about it. Our band has never been one to do any kind of group huddle or anything like that. We each do our own thing. I try to find a spot where I can relax, drink some wine, put on my suit and steel my nerves. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. You never know when a show’s going to go well. Every show, we do everything we can to deliver, but sometimes we fall on our faces. I don’t think our audience can tell the difference, and I don’t think we can sometimes either. Sometimes the experience on stage is very different than what the crowd is experiencing. Some of the shows I mentioned, where I felt awful, I’ve been told were really good. So, you have to trust it’s going better than you think.
 
You’re about to perform at Barclays Center. Thinking back to those empty venues like Mercury Lounge, playing Barclays must feel pretty triumphant but also kind of distant from where you began. 
We are really excited about that show. The weird thing is, I don’t do much different. It’s the same mental space I get into, whether it’s in a little club with nobody there or a big arena with thousands of people, we do the same thing: get inside the songs and try to deliver a great show. 
 
The final scene of Mistaken for Strangers uses “Terrible Love” quite prominently, including your walk through the crowd. That moment was a high point of many shows on the last tour, but is it something that’s getting harder to pull off successfully the bigger your shows grow?
Yeah. The first time I did it was a really cathartic experience and connected the whole room. But now we’re going to all these festivals and stuff. I’ve done it a bunch and it can get really strange in the pit, especially in the U.K. For whatever reason, theirs is a drunker, more aggressive attitude and many times people have been trying to undo my belt, looking for souvenirs. I guess my pants would be the souvenir! Also in these big crowds, it gets dangerous for people. I’m a little nervous about somebody falling and getting stepped on. I’m trying to figure out different ways to do that. I love doing it, but I can’t promise I’m going to be able to keep it up. With the theater shows it is easier, but in the festivals it gets scary, so I don’t know what I’ll do. I think I’m going to stay on stage and hope that’s not a huge disappointment to people, but we’ll see. 
 
Trouble Will Find Me has been very well received. Lyrically, there’s a rawness to it. I’m wondering if you’re more comfortable visiting those areas because your life and career aren’t quite so precarious anymore?
This record I was less concerned. I’ve always been pretty unguarded in my lyrics, but this time, the image of our band is not that important. I don’t think any of us were thinking that way this time—not that we’ve ever thought that way much. But this time less so than ever. We were just trying to chase the songs that were moving us in some sort of emotional and visceral way, and we wanted to write songs that would make a record that was going to last, something broader and more timeless than High Violet. I don’t know if we achieved it, but that was the sense of what we were going for in this one.
 
Do you ever have regrets about any aspect of what you put out?
I never do, actually. If we master a record and it’s finished and there’s nothing you can change about it anymore, I usually let go of all those little things that were in my head. I love that moment: it’s a year-and-a-half or two years you’ve been working on something and thinking about it. Then, that moment arrives where it’s sealed and delivered. I can finally listen to it and enjoy it. Most of the things that bugged me along the way I end up loving, the little flaws here and there, the awkward moments. Once it’s out, I fall in love with it on its own terms.
 
Do you listen to much music when you’re writing?
I listen to a lot of music when I’m writing. This record I even let a lot of the stuff I was listening to come into it. There are lyrics that are just stolen—there’s a Violent Femmes lyric, an Elliott Smith lyric, a lyric from “Blue Velvet.” I was also listening to a lot of Roy Orbison this time and was trying a lot of things I was dazzled by that he does: all the different octaves he could sing in—he had a huge range. I was trying to sing outside my normal comfort zone, range-wise. Also, he does things with melodies, where he just takes left turns, songs that go through eight completely different melodies. I was inspired by that and copying him in some ways. This time, more than ever, other records were swimming around in my head a lot.
 
You chatted recently to the Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden Desser about how one of his albums had been like a friend to you during a difficult time. Is that what you’ve wanted your own albums to be?
You connect with records in very personal and very meaningful ways. All my favorite records are those that, for whatever reason, stuck to my soul. They helped me through something. Hayden’s record, The Closer I Get, is definitely one of those. There are records that you just sink into. They coincide with what you’re going through and become an ally. If our records do that for people, that’s the greatest compliment I could ever receive. That’s one of the reasons making music is so important to me, because there’s a very strange emotional reach. For me—more than books or movies or other things—music is like a mainline to your heart.
 
Speaking of, what do you feel you gained from playing “Sorrow” so many times at MoMA?
That was an amazing experience. It’s not about endurance necessarily, but reaching a euphoric Zen state, almost like a prayer or mantra. By doing that—we played it 108 times—it became very enjoyable. I broke down towards the end; around 96 or 97 I got all teary eyed and found it hard to sing—but it was a really beautiful thing. It was a bonding, between us and the 50 people who came and stayed for all six hours, one of those exercises of the soul that was really healthy. We feel happy for having done it. Now we know that song better than any other. People keep asking if we’re going to take it out of the set, but now it’s the one we do best!
 
[More by Nell Alk; Follow Nell on Twitter]

The National & Frightened Rabbit Unite For The Ultimate Melancholy-White-Dude Tour

Good news for any sad-sack caucasians out there who enjoy music that tenderly removes your heart and takes it apart like a pocket watch and leaves the pieces scattered on the floor: Scottish quintet Frightened Rabbit, who had a strong showing with Pedestrian Verse in February, and The National, who drop their new album Trouble Will Find Me later this month, will join forces this fall to make you feel your feelings.

And while Frightened Rabbit is certainly capable of devastating you with the recorded version of their scrape and jangle, nothing can compare to the ferocity (or raw vulnerability) of their live shows. Witness this recent half-hour set from SXSW, which veers from blistering squall to stripped-down ballads. “Backyard Skulls,” a new song that comes around the four-minute mark, is a highlight.

Meanwhile, The National – maybe to assuage the pains of having to promote a new album – have been getting fairly conceptual with their old stuff. On May 5th, over at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, they played the song “Sorrow” from High Violet for six hours straight—105 times in all—with drummer Bryan Devendorf sitting out a single performance. Featuring a soulful, muted trumpet and cello-bowed guitar, it has the otherworldly grace of the band’s best work.

So, think you’re happy-go-lucky enough to withstand this double bill? Here are the dates you need to know:

9/8 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium

9/9 – Atlanta, GA @ Cobb Energy Centre

9/11 – Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore Charlotte

9/12 – Asheville, NC @ Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

9/13 – Louisville, KY @ Iroquois Amphitheater

9/15 – Madison, WI @ Orpheum Theatre

9/17 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre

9/21 – Troutdale, OR @ Edgefield Winery

9/22 – Vancouver, BC @ PNE Amphitheatre 

In Case You Missed It, Watch The National’s Six Hour Performance of “Sorrow” at MoMA PS1

Everything was sorrow and nothing hurt this past weekend when The National took to MoMA’s PS1 Sunday Sessions to play one song from 2010’s High Violet for six straight hours. And play they did—105 times. So even if you couldn’t be there, thanks to Pitchfork, we now have a roundup of videos from yesterday’s performance— which, of course, was warmly received by adoring fans. With a new album out later this month, Trouble Will Find Me, I’d say this is as good a route as any to spark up some excitement and devotion amongst fans. And by devotion I mean, if you were able to stand there for all six hours, you probably deserve a free album. 

Check out the videos and The National’s spring/summer tour dates below.

 

 

 

 

See more HERE

05-16 Ithaca, NY – State Theater
05-26 Boston, MA – Boston Calling Festival
06-05 Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center
06-06 Columbia, MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion ^
06-07 Philadelphia, PA – Mann Center for the Performing Arts ^
06-08 Richmond, VA – The National
06-10 Raleigh, NC – Red Hat Amphitheatre ^
06-11 Pittsburgh, PA – Stage AE ^
06-13 Montreal, Quebec – Lachine Canal
06-14 Toronto, Ontario – Yonge Dundas Square
06-15 Columbus, OH – LC Pavilion
06-13-16 Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo
06-21-22 Scheessel, Germany – Hurricane Festival
06-21-22 Neuhausen Ob Eck, Germany – Southside Festival
06-23 Istanbul, Turkey – Vodafone Istanbul Calling
06-25 Brussels, Belgium – Cirque Royal
06-28 Cork, Ireland – Live at the Marquee
06-30 Rome, Italy – Parco Della Musical
07-01 Milan, Italy – City Sound Festival
07-02 Zagreb, Croatia – Salata
07-04 Werchter, Belgium – Rock Werchter Festival
07-05-07 Roskilde, Denmark – Roskilde Festival
07-12 Cincinnati, OH – Bunbury Festival
08-03 Chicago, IL – Lollapalooza
08-06 St. Paul, MN – Roy Wilkins Auditorium
08-10 Los Angeles, CA – Greek Theatre
09-17 Morrison, CO – Red Rocks
10-31 Helsinki, Finland – Ice Hall
11-02 Copenhagen, Denmark – Forum
11-04 Berlin, Germany – Max Schmelling Halle
11-05 Düsseldorf, Germany – Mitsubishi Electric Hall
11-06 Luxembourg, Luxembourg – Rockhal
11-07 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Heineken Music Hall
11-09 Belfast, Northern Ireland – Odyssey Arena
11-10 Dublin, Ireland – O2 Arena
11-11 Manchester, England – O2 Apollo Manchester
11-13 London, England – Alexandra Palace
11-18 Paris, France – Le Zenith
11-20 Madrid, Spain – Palacio Vistalegre
11-21 Lisbon, Portugal – Pavilhao Atlantico

The National’s ‘Sorrow,’ for Six Hours Straight at MoMA

This is your brain on The National. You wake up, and the sun is shining, and the birds are chirping, and you actually got a seat on the bus or the train to work and it’s not because you’re accidentally sitting in pee. You got a text from someone you like. Everything is going well. Your smile is big and obnoxious. And then you accidentally listen to High Violet and suddenly you become a hung-over, sobbing mess.

This is obviously an extreme, but whether you’re trying to convey a lingering, sad-bastard, rainy-movie-scene sort of sorrow or something a bit deeper and existential, the kind of sorrow other languages than English have words for, The National tends to be a go-to band. So it’s pretty unsurprising that when Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson wanted to incorporate a singular work speaking to “romantic suffering and contemporary Weltschmerz” (German for “world pain”) into his piece A Lot of Sorrow for the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1, he goes with The National. Specifically, their gutting 2010 number “Sorrow,” performed live on a loop, for six hours straight.

As written on the MoMA website:

“As in all of Kjartansson’s performances, the idea behind A Lot of Sorrow is devoid of irony, yet full of humor and emotion. It is another quest to find the comic in the tragic and vice versa.”

If “by finding comic in the tragic” they mean “a bunch of people are gonna write snarky blog and Twitter posts about an attempt at an earnest meditation on sorrow,” then that’s a pretty apt description. And to the brave intern someone will inevitably make livetweet this experience, or suggest doing so themselves out of some duty to intense experiences, it’s okay to say “no” sometimes. You can leave. It’s okay.

[via ANIMAL New York]

Go on Tour with the National in the New Documentary ‘Mistaken for Strangers’

The Tribeca Film Festival is but a few days away and what better way to kick off the festivities than with the highly-anticipated new music-fueled documentary Mistaken for Strangers. Directed and conceived while on tour with The National, filmmaker Tom Berninger—brother to the band’s frontman Matt Berninger—takes us on the tour behind High Violet, where he joined them as roadie. Pitchfork recently spoke with Matt who said:

It was a strange movie to make. At first when we went on tour, we decided we were making a mockumentary. We did a lot of that stuff for a while, then eventually there was a lot of tension between Tom and Brandon [Reid, tour manager], and Tom had wanted to put himself a little bit into the picture.

The band is two sets of brothers, I’m the guy without a brother in the band, and my mom would always be sending him links to articles about us, where it would say that all the time. We joked about it a little bit, but I think he had a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He wanted the world to find out that there is another brother. Eventually, things kind of went south as far as his role as assistant tour manager. We crafted some of it to tell that story, and we’re not calling it a pure documentary, but it’s a very honest, personal narrative that we started chasing.

The film’s official film festival description reads:

The prolific, innovative rock band The National is on its biggest tour to date, but newbie roadie Tom, brother of frontman Matt Berninger, cannot help throwing a wrench into the well-oiled music machine. Tom’s moonlighting as an irreverent documentarian creates a drama of its own for the band on the road. Following the musicians and crew day and night, in places public and, ahem, private, Tom is reprimanded time and again. As endearing as the boy next door and embodying the wherewithal of a Christopher Guest character, he brings a delightfully awkward humor into the serious world of the seriously awesome The National. Brother Matt and his bandmates lend witty and profound colors to the mix, allowing carte blanche access to everything and anything that goes down on tour. 

The film will premiere on April 17th at Tribeca to be followed by a special performance by the National. So in the meantime, check out the trailer for Mistaken for Strangers below.
 

The National Fight Their ‘Demons’ On Newly Premiered Track

It’s springtime, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, which means it’s all the perfect time for emotionally-present gloom merchants The National to release some new studio cuts. And still The National, they definitely are.

Fans are awaiting their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, and have heard hints at live shows. This morning, BBC Radio 6 premiered a studio version of new track, “Demons,” and it’s packed with big drum fills and Matt Berninger’s recognizable vocal brooding. Like many of The National’s songs, in this one, the narrator reflects on his struggles and personal demons, hence the title. As Berninger sings, and most of us can relate: “I can’t fight it anymore / I’m going through an awkward phase.”

Trouble Will Find Me will be released on May 21 via 4AD, but in the meantime, here’s your Monday morning soundtrack, complete with a video featuring chalk drawings of the album’s artwork.

The Hold Steady Performing Original Song By George R.R. Martin

It’s that time again—time for some Game of Thrones news to tide you over until Season 3 begins (It’s so soon, you guys! You’re all doing so great.). Following up on The National’s performance of George R.R. Martin’s original House Lannister conquest anthem “The Rains of Castamere” last season, the show is embracing even more rock musicians, including Coldplay drummer Will Champion and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, who both have cameo roles this season.

And another Game of Thrones song is coming soon, too. America’s favorite bar band, The Hold Steady, has been tapped to perform “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” a “boisterous tavern song” written by George R.R. Martin and GoT theme music composer Ramin Djawadi. The song tells the story, unsurprisingly, of a bear who tries to woo a maiden fair. Partnerships with Brewery Ommegang and an old-timey tavern song sung by The Hold Steady? There is a very specific bro demographic HBO is trying to court here with their marketing, methinks.

Just imagine Craig Finn singing Martin’s verses:

“A bear there was,”

“A bear, A BEAR!

“All black and brown,”

“And covered with hair!

“Oh come they said,”

“Oh come to the fair!”

“The fair? said he,

“But I’m a bear!”

“All black and brown,”

“And covered in hair!”

Let’s hope this song makes it into their live sets. Sadly, there’s no recording of this yet, but there will be soon, and the band will release a 7” of it as a Record Store Day recording. In the meantime, let’s listen to The National’s “The Rains of Castamere” again, especially because it includes some rather unfortunate foreshadowing of a big and violent event that will happen this season.

[via Entertainment Weekly]

‘Mistaken for Strangers’ and The National To Open Tribeca Film Festival

My brother is in a Ph.D. program for atmospheric sciences, while I write jokes about pop culture on the internet. Someone should make a documentary about how different we are! (No one should make that documentary.) Interestingly enough, the lead singer of The National, Matt Berninger, has a brother, Tom, who is an artist. They have very different lives! And someone has made a movie about them, and that movie, Mistaken for Strangers, will open the twelfth annual Tribeca Film Festival on April 17.

According to the film festival’s website:

Adrift in life and fuelled by the desire to create, Tom Berninger accepts his brother’s offer to come on The National tour as a roadie and decides to chronicle his experiences with the band. Although Tom starts off with dreams of making a rock documentary (you can watch the portaits he made on each of the band members), a different story emerges as tensions among the band members lead to unforeseen drama. Following the band from Berlin to Paris to Los Angeles to a 2010 Obama rally in Madison, Wisconsin, Mistaken for Strangers is not your typical road documentary.

This often-hilarious and poignant film (think American Movie meets Dig!) offers audiences an intimate and humorous look into the very different lives of the two brothers against the backdrop of an international rock tour. Is Tom too self-sabotaging to make his artistic aspirations come true? Can Matt stay patient enough with his frustrating little brother to help him finally finish something for once in his life?

Yes, this movie sounds much better than anything that could be made about my family. To celebrate the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival and Mistaken for Strangers, The National will perform a concert following the film’s premiere on April 17.

The film festival runs in New York City from April 17-28, and the full schedule of films will be announced on March 5-6. Tickets for the general public will go on sale March 11. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Dirty Projectors Stream Rare B-Side

Still touring in support of last year’s album, Swing Lo Magellan, which topped a few critics’ best-of lists last year, Dirty Projectors have unveiled a track otherwise only available on one of a couple hundred 7” records pressed for a winter show at Carnegie Hall. The song is called “There’s A Fire.”

There wouldn’t be a B-side without an A-side, of course, and that was “Offspring Are Blank,” which back in December got an environmentally concerned music video that you can watch right here, if that’s your thing:

Dirty Projectors also are soon the launch the spring leg of their latest tour—you can catch them between now and mid-June, when they play Bonnaroo. But if you wanted to be really Caucasian about it you’d see one of their dates with The National.
 
4/19: Portsmouth, NH @ Portsmouth Singer-Songwriter Festival
5/10: Napa, CA @ Bottle Rock Festival

5/17-5/19: Gulf Shores, AL @ Hangout Festival

5/24-5/27: George, WA @ Sasquatch Festival

6/6: Columbia MD: Merriweather Post Pavilion
*
6/7: Philadelphia, PA @ Mann Center for the Performing Arts
*
6/8-6/9: New York, NY @ Governor’s Ball

6/10: Raleigh, NC @ Red Hat Amphitheatre
*
6/11: Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
*
6/12: Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom

6/13: Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall (Early Show)

6/13: Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall (Late Show)

6/14-6/16: Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo


*with The National

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.