The National | Music Will Survive

Hammering out rock lyrics and getting past sibling rivalry. 



Comprised of two sets of brothers and a lead singer—Aaron and Bryce Dessner (guitars/bass and guitar, respectively), Scott and Bryan Devendorf (guitar/bass and drums, respectively), and vocalist Matt Breminger—the National are transplanted Ohioans making music out of New York. Drawing comparisons to acts such as Joy Division, Tom Waits, and Wilco, the National combine moody sounds with introspective lyrics to create an atmosphere of near sorrow and intense passion. Breminger talked to us from New York City recently about the band, their latest album, Alligator, and the state of music in general.

Do the familial ties contribute more to band cohesiveness, or do you often find yourself mediating sibling spats?

We all have spats, but it’s really nothing to do with sibling spats. I think it helps us, the fact they have been together their whole lives. And you know, there’s a sense that we’re not really a band. I mean, we could break up but it’s—I’ve known Scott for 15 years and am best friends with him, so its him and his brother, and Aaron and Bryce, and they’ve been best friends with Bryan since they were little kids. So, there’s something where the roots are so deep, that even in the face of all the tension of being on a tour together and all the creative issues and stuff, we’ve known each other so long that I don’t think it will be able to pull us apart. So, yeah, I think it’s a good thing.

Your first two albums had more of an alt-country flavor to them. Alligator seems to be a departure from that sound. Was it a conscious decision to change your sound, or was it just something that happened while rehearsing and recording?

It sorta happened. The first record has more of whatever you wanna call it—Americana element to it—through the slide guitar on a few songs. We never really thought of that record as an “alt-county” record, and definitely I think the second album is far away from that. It wasn’t a conscience decision of, “Let’s do this or let’s not do this.” Alligator is just different because of the moods we were in, and we haven’t really thought of ourselves as part of a particular bucket of music.

Then how would you guys classify your sound?

I don’t know. When people ask, I say “moody rock ’n’ roll” is the closest thing, [or] “delusional rock”; I don’t know what it is. As far as our influences, there’s so many different ones. Bryce comes from a classical background; Aaron was a guitar player listening to Simon & Garfunkel and stuff like that. Scott and I were much more Jesus and Mary Chain and the Smiths. Bryan was a big Deadhead. When it comes to us in studio writing songs, there’s a lot of subconscious ingredients coming together. Luckily, it’s something I don’t really have to answer. People can answer that for us.

Your lyrics are very dense and intriguing. What inspires them?

I try to avoid writing lyrics that I hate. So the stuff that ends up on the record is the stuff I didn’t hate. And some of it, you know—I think it’s really good. I mean, a lot of it is inner dialog and there’s a lot of absurd, pathetic, and ridiculously overblown triumphant things in them. There’s small ugly stuff next to big ridiculous stuff. It’s just kinda whatever’s gonna shine a line on the parts of your brain, the fantasy or whatever. Putting all that stuff and something that doesn’t sound like a bullshit rock lyric. It’s actually kinda hard. I actually fill books with lyrics and I usually cross a lot of it out because I think it sounds like I’m trying to write a lyric. It takes me a long time to pull together lyrics that I think, “Yeah, that’s good.”

Satellite radio has been good to you guys, with Sirius’ Left of Center playing “Mr. November” in heavy rotation. Do see the proliferation of satellite radio as a good thing, or do you think it compartmentalizes music too much and takes away from terrestrial radio?

I’ve never listened to satellite radio, so I don’t really know what it’s like… New York doesn’t have very good terrestrial radio, at least not that I’ve been able to get into. Growing up in Cincinnati, WOXY was one of the greatest things; we were so lucky to be in that area to get that station. Now they went to online only and subscription-based on the Web. I hope stations like that can survive, but it’s tough. I stopped listening to radio, other than WOXY on the Internet. But I still feel that you can easily get a ton of great music; with the Internet and blogs and people in the community, so many more bands are being discovered. It’s a shame that great radio stations can’t survive, but hopefully they will. I think there’s a big shift toward stuff that would’ve never been heard before. I think a lot more people are finding out a bunch, a much broader range of music than they were five, ten years ago… I think music is in a really healthy state. And if those great stations can find a way to survive through the Internet or whatever they have to do… I think it’s crazy that there aren’t enough good radio stations.




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