The band’s frontman Matt Berninger talks about death, documentaries and playing the same song 108 times in a row.
The Brooklyn-based quintet The National on the release of their new single Sea of Love.
The Brooklyn-based quintet The National have perfected their eloquent melancholy over the course of six albums. The latest, Trouble Will Find Me, reached No 3 in both the US and the UK charts upon its release back in May.
Why call this record Trouble Will Find Me?
The album is partly about how we react to daily troubles – the mundane ones and the more significant ones. I’ve been ruminating on the idea of mortality and a few of the songs bump up against that in playful ways. The record also deals with romantic and social anxieties; all those tangles that we can’t quite figure out.
Tell us about Mistaken for Strangers, the documentary film your brother Tom made while on tour with The National.
Tom’s movie is about himself, really. It premiered at Tribeca in April and it’s a beautiful film about struggling to get out of other people’s shadows – my shadow in his case – and find your own creative life. Tom was living with my wife and me while he was editing the film – he still is, actually. It’s a really good living situation, but also a little contentious at times. Our song I Should Live on Salt is about that a bit. Tom didn’t get it, though. He thought it was just something about salt [laughs].
The film’s title implies you are very different people – are you?
We are. Tom’s nine years younger than me and I think it’s a bit strange for him that I’m in a band that has two sets of brothers, but not him. I went to college when he was just a little kid and I had been his hero a little bit. I guess I disappeared from his life maybe when he needed me most, but we’ve become close again since he made the film.
Your wife Carin Besser used to be fiction editor at The New Yorker. Does she edit your lyrics?
Well, she definitely has a lot of input. Carin’s a published poet with an amazing brain and a great ear for tone and imagery. We met while the band was writing [the 2005 album] Alligator and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my writing started getting better around then.
Back in May, the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson got MoMA in New York to commission a performance piece that required The National to play the song Sorrow for six hours straight. How did that come about?
Ragnar loved the song and he had been listening to it on repeat in his studio. We did a little bit of research on him and it became clear that he takes things that are dark or melodramatic and finds the light or humour in them through repetition, so there was a kindred spirit there.
Six hours, though. That must have been tough?
It was weird. We played Sorrow 108 times and around the 98th or 99th time I choked up a little bit for whatever reason. Things were swimming around in my head. But it wasn’t a painful process – I think we found it a bonding thing; one of the best experiences we’ve had together as a band. We won’t do it again, though.
• The National’s new single Sea of Love is out tomorrow.
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