"I don't necessarily feel that gender is at all the point. It was about what a person is"
Showcased at a run of ‘A Special Evening With The National’ events last month, ‘I Am Easy To Find’ saw 20th Century Women director Mills and The National team up to inform one another’s work. In their own words, “the movie was composed like a piece of music; the music was assembled like a film, by a film director”. Alicia Vikander has the starring role in the stirring and emotive 25 minute arthouse movie, telling the journey of a woman from birth to death. The album also features a cast of strong female voices to portray this, including Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey, Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables of This Is The Kit and The Brooklyn Youth Choir.
With the band now sharing the movie online at IAmEasyToFind.com, Mills and frontman Matt Berninger sat down to talk to NME about taking inspiration from women for the project. Once again, Berninger worked on the lyrics with his wife Carin Besser.
“I always feel like I’m writing about myself, even when it’s being channelled through a character,” Berninger told NME. “My wife was writing lyrics too, and we both do the same thing. I can tell that she’s writing for me through my voice, but it’s also her trying to explain something to me about how I am. I feel that’s the way that Mike’s films are too.
“Mike’s movies were always really effective and important to me. They always show so much empathy for everyone, even the bit characters. I just felt that Mike would understand the water we were swimming in. It didn’t matter that he’d never made a record. His films are more sound than imagery sometimes.”
Asked about how he relates to the band’s music, Mills replied: “To me, it’s a lot of questioning of ‘How did I get here? How did this happen? Who am I in relation to you? Are we connected?’ It’s such a primal feeling.
“Some of these lyrics were written before we met and before we came up with the film idea, but you can put them on to different ideas of Alicia and the character’s life. They really feel like they were custom-written for her leaving home, her first feelings of alienation as a child. General feelings of alienation are the ones that I gravitate towards.”
With Mills’ work often driven by strong and independent female protagonists, Berninger said that many of their new songs were born when considering all of the different perspectives of who will impact on a young woman’s life.
“Seeing the film with Alicia, I think I started really empathising not just with her character but all of the other characters,” said Berninger. “I started to feel like I was really writing from the husband and the father. I have a 10-year-old daughter, so I started writing from that perspective. A bunch of new songs bloomed that were just inspired by the film.
Berninger continued: “Somebody asked me recently if I see the character the film as genderless, and I said no. I don’t necessarily feel that gender is at all the point. A lot of people asked us if this record was an attempt to have more of a feminine perspective. It probably has that, but it was necessarily what we were trying to do. It was about what a person is.
“Mike decided that he wanted Alicia to embody this, but I was very much empathising a lot with that character when I was writing. Maybe that’s because I sympathise with my daughter so much and I don’t feel that separated from her fears and needs. I understand all of her anxieties because I feel like I gave them to her. I passed them on, like ‘You’re welcome’.”
Watch the movie below, and our full video interview with Berninger and Mills at the top of the page, as they go in-depth about their ideas, strong cast of female collaborators, the songs that made the album but not the film, and what the future may hold.
‘I Am Easy To Find’ will be released on Friday, May 17. The National recently announced details of a UK arena tour for winter 2019.
Full dates are below. Tickets are on sale from 10am on Friday May 17.
7 December – BRIGHTON, Brighton Centre
8 December – LEEDS, First Direct Arena
9 December – CARDIFF, Motorpoint Arena
10 December – NOTTINGHAM, Motorpoint Arena
The National will also co-headline Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park with Florence + The Machine on Saturday July 13. Visit here for tickets and more information.