The National on new music: “It’s the whole history of the band, but with a new exploration”

Guitarist Bryce Dessner also talks to NME about attracting Swifties and their upcoming All Points East show

The National‘s Bryce Dessner has spoken to NME about what to expect from the band’s new material, as well as looking ahead to their remaining summer shows.

During their run of 2022 festival dates, the indie veterans have been playing a number of brand new songs. Among them is ‘Weird Goodbyes’, a collaboration with Bon Iver which is due to be released imminently.

Speaking to NME about the new batch of tracks, Dessner said: “We wanted to road-test songs. The journey that we were on from [2003 album] ‘Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers’ through to [2019 album] ‘I Am Easy To Find’ was non-stop. There was no breaking between writing and releasing those albums. Just by nature of various things like COVID and things going on in our individual lives, we’ve been able to take time with the new material.

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“Not only are some of the songs informed by playing them live, but we’ve even been recording them in soundchecks from the stage and recording incredibly loud live guitars.”

He continued: “The songs are quite far along, but we’re discovering things about them in real-time. We’ve got a small studio backstage, so we’re able to get a lot of work done here.”

The National's Matt Berninger, performing live at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, June 3, 2022. Credit: Graham MacIndoe
The National performing live at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, June 3, 2022. Credit: Graham MacIndoe

Quizzed on his previous comments that the new music they’d been penning had a “classic National sound“, the guitarist remarked: “I think that is true, but other things are true as well. What I can say is that we’re at a high watermark in terms of our creativity as a band. There’s a lot happening, and a lot of music. We’re allowing ourselves to dream about it, take risks, try things and give the songs time to develop.

“It’s starting to become something we’re really excited about. It’s hard to say what shape it will take, but there’s a ton there.”

And what about drummer Bryan Devendorf’s hopes that the band might head in a similar sonic direction to IDLES?

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“I don’t know about that!” Dessner replied. “That’s a hard question to answer, but there are some intense moments.”

Dessner also said that there were traces of elements from many of their past records, but also with room to grow.

“The songs are vulnerable and direct like on ‘Boxer’, but with experimental moments like ‘Sleep Well Beast’ and raw moments like ‘Alligator’,” he said. “In a way, it’s the whole history of the band but with a new exploration in it. Some of them are our most accessible, others are more poetic with different arrangements.”

The guitarist also teased that the new material might not necessarily take the form of an album, and that he couldn’t say when more new music might be released.

“I don’t know exactly what shape it will take, because it’s more than a record, but it’s getting close,” he said. “New music will be imminent, but I can’t say when. We have more songs that we need, which is a good thing.”

Dessner
The National in New York City, April 2019 (Picture: Graham MacIndoe.)

Touring through a summer of celebrated festival shows, including appearances at Primavera Sound, Dessner said that it was “great to be back with the band and rediscovering playing together” after the two-year break caused by the pandemic.

“There’s a thing that happens when you’ve been playing a song like ‘Mr November’ for nearly 20 years, month after month and year after year, where it can become a little bit broke,” he admitted. “After time away we were like, ‘How do you even play this?’ We’ve been forgetting bad habits. It’s exciting because quite often now, songs will reinvent themselves on stage.”

He went on: “That’s obviously most true of the new ones. There’s no recorded document and the fans aren’t expecting to hear a certain line or melody. We can do what we want. There’s a song like ‘Mistaken For Strangers’, where the beat hits and it feels timeless. Then there’s another song called ‘Wasp’s Nest’ which is totally different and almost unrecognisable each time we play it.”

The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner on stage at Primavera Sound 2018.
The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner on stage at Primavera Sound 2018. Credit: Matias Altbach

During the COVID-enforced break, frontman Matt Berninger released his acclaimed debut solo album ‘Serpentine Prison‘, Devendorf shared a record under his Royal Green project, The National penned the score for the Peter Dinklage movie Cyrano, and Dessner’s twin brother and bandmate Aaron collaborated with Taylor Swift on her 2020 albums ‘Folklore‘ and ‘Evermore‘.

Discussing The National’s newfound fans as a result of the various projects, Dessner told NME: “We’ve been doing this long enough to see some interesting audience shifts. Maybe a similar moment was when Obama used our music in his first campaign in 2008, when there was a whole new bunch of people hearing our music.

“Through Aaron working with Taylor or some of my film projects, that might bring new audiences. Over 20 years we’ve seen the ebb and flow of that. It’s really interesting to be back and seeing that again, especially after we’ve been isolated because of COVID. It’s wonderful to be back together and working on new music.”

Next week, UK fans will get the chance to see The National making their London return when they headline All Points East alongside special guests Mogwai, Parcels, Villagers, Tune-Yards, Valerie June, Fleet Foxes, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Kurt Vile, Perfume Genius, Lucy Dacus  and many more.

“The last time we played was one of those special, one-in-a-million festival experiences. It was a gorgeous environment, plus in London with the best audience. To be back with so many bands we love like Fleet Foxes is such a special thing for us. It feels like a homecoming in London in many ways, because we have so many memories of playing there throughout our career.”

Do the band have anything special up their sleeves for their one-off London show?

“We’ll probably have some friends come up and join us, for sure,” Dessner added. “We need to figure it out, but there will be some special surprises. It will be a while before we come back, and this is going to be a good one.”

The National play London’s Victoria Park for All Points East on Friday August 26, before Manchester’s Depot Mayfield on Saturday August 27 and Connect Festival in Edinburgh on Sunday August 28. Visit here for tickets and more information.

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