March 23, 2009

Sixeyes Interview: The National's Matt Berninger 2009

Do you know The National? If you're a longtime visitor to Sixeyes, then you likely do. Their last record, 2007's Boxer, earned record of the year honours from several respected music biz types and even lowly blogs such as this one. As lauded for their music (from intimate and delicate, to dense and vibrant) as for front man Matt Berninger's throat and lyrical imagery, which has a habit of velcroing itself to your memory, The National have spent close to a decade trying to get your attention, so don't make them wait any longer, pick up a copy of Boxer, Alligator, or the Cherry Tree EP, or earlier works... and get to know just a smidgen about front man Berninger right here and now. Or easier yet, give the mp3s offered here a listen, I've uploaded the band's live radio gig from 2007 that offers up Boxer in it's entirety, and then follow the above suggestions on music you need to hear.

Also, the band is hitting the road come this May, get the details and links to purchase tickets right here.

BUY The National's music here.

Check out the charity comp Dark Was The Night curated by The National members Aaron and Bryce Dessner here.

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The National's Matt Berninger Interview 2009

Sixeyes: Since a brief spring tour is just around the corner for The National I’ll try to focus on that upcoming event: How exactly does that feel for you? A tour looming on the horizon, I mean. Is it akin to being 10 years old with Christmas, and time off school, right around the corner? Or is it closer to finally seeing your girlfriend after a month apart, BUT you’ll be meeting her parents for the first time.

Matt Berninger: It's not like those things. To be honest, I don't love touring. I love doing the shows but the travel and lack of normal sleep does me in. I also drink a lot when we perform which usually isn't a problem but after 8 or 9 nights in a row it becomes one. I often think we might be better off setting up in one location and play every Wednesday night. If we play too many shows it starts to become a little Broadway. I'm still working on the Predator musical.

Sixeyes: Will this tour include any extra talent to add colour to the band’s already well honed sound, such as Thomas (Doveman) Bartlett or Nico Muhly?

MB: Thomas is coming but not Nico. Padma (Ed: the band's veteran multi-instrumentalist sideman) should be there too if we can track him down. He goes off the grid when we have down-time to a remote town somewhere in Australia called Malacoota. We'll also have Ben (Lanz) and Kyle (Reznick) with us on trombone and trumpet. It'll be a dude ranch.

Sixeyes: A few ‘new’ songs have been circulating the web, the most notable being “So Far Around The Bend”, off the Dessner brothers produced Red Hot compilation Dark Was The Night, although live versions of “Karamazov”, and “Saints” have popped up on forums as well. Are these actually new songs that were written post Boxer or were they left off Boxer, as they didn’t quite fit that album’s vibe? And are there any songs that have been earmarked for your next album?

MB: We have a bunch of half-baked ideas that we've started to play live but I have no idea if they'll end up on the next record. The two you mention have already been reinvented a couple of times. Lately we've been calling them "The Runaway" and "Stonewall Jackson". I've been mumbling nonsense on both. We usually chop apart and throw away most of what we start with so there's no telling if they'll survive. We don't normally play unfinished songs live but we're going to try some of that on this tour. We're trying to change our process of writing and recording for this new record and see what happens. We don't have any clear goals in mind other than to avoid repeating ourselves. "So Far Around The Bend" was written specifically for the Red Hot comp. It doesn't represent a new direction. We haven't really found a direction yet.

Sixeyes: Why would a band change a successful formula? I wonder why you guys have changed the way you bring the songs to life? Is part of it an attempt to not sound like the last record?

MB: It's not so much about the last record. We just want to be excited and surprised. If we stay in familiar territory we'll get bored and pretty soon find ourselves trying to write songs for the market. That happens with even the greatest bands. I don't think the bands even realize what's happening to them but you can hear it on the records. We're paranoid about that.

Sixeyes: The National has become very successful over the release and subsequent tours of the past two albums (Alligator and Boxer) and I understand that the band is now a full time job for you. I wonder when does being in a popular band ever feel like work? I know it must at times, but when does it feel like work to you?

MB: It can get stressful and tiring but it never really feels like a job. I've had a lot of different jobs and this isn't like any of them. It's more like a safari. Sometimes it's a cool adventure and other times you're just lost and afraid of dying.

Sixeyes: Is screen writing something you have an interest in? I've heard rumours that you've been working on a script with your brother. Is there even a tiny kernel of truth in that?

MB: It is true. My brother Tom and I have been working on a movie for a while. We've been writing it for Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Lipton, Emily Blunt and Charles Grodin. They haven't asked us to write it, we're just writing with them in mind. It's really really good but I can't say what it's about because some Hollywood dickbag will steal it. It's NOT a quirky relationship dramedy.

Sixeyes: And to finish this all off: Part of being in a band, and a successful band at that, is dealing with the press (or pushy bloggers) and that means questions, lots of questions. So, I wondered if there were any queries that truly stand out in your memory, for whatever reason? Be it idiocy, genius, or sheer bizarreness.

MB: I don't mean this to be snarky or clever but the Pop Quiz style questions (ED: which I emailed to Matt along with these interview questions) are the hardest things to answer. I understand that it's an invitation to be witty but I have a hard time with them. It takes me too long to come up with funny responses so I usually just answer them directly which makes me sounds like a boring a-hole. You'll see.

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Those POP QUIZ questions, the short mess of midterm queries that Mr Berninger refers to above, seem to have brought back memories of his awkward and oily teenage years. But don't think he wasn't breakin' my balls, or yankin' my chain with that last answer... he was (until I started to cry, that is). That Pop Quiz train wreck will appear tomorrow here at Sixeyes.

And for those of you who like to take BIG bites instead of tiny little mp3 nibbles, here's the White Session in zip file format.

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