Considering that The National are taking some time off, you’ve probably seen their name mentioned a lot lately – what with frontman Matt Berninger‘s anticipated solo record and guitarist Aaron Dessner having a big hand in Taylor Swift‘s alt-folk opus ‘Folklore‘. Now, drummer Bryan Devendorf arrives with the surprise release of his new project Royal Green, but he’s not here for any headlines or glory!
“I’m trying to keep it low-key,” he tells NME, hours before the record is due to drop. “I’m just the drummer checking in!”
Out on streaming services now, the self-titled album consists of four originals and three covers of the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac. NME caught up with the drummer to talk about stepping up to the mic, inspiration, collaborators, and what’s next for The National.
Hello Bryan. When did you first feel the need to make a solo record?
Bryan: “It’s been a long time in the making. The primary recording began 20 years ago! I’ve been working on it over time. I found an old CD in my parents’ car that had the original demos, then I took that and gave it to Nate, who’s my other chief collaborator on the record, and he resuscitated it from an old CDR.”
So it’s been on the backburner for a while, eh?
“Exactly. It’s not a quarantine record or anything, but it just happened to coincide with this strange time.”
What can you tell us about the ‘feel’ of the album?
“For me, it’s a nighttime, nocturnal, quiet record. Broadly speaking, I’d maybe call it psych-folk with some electronic undertones!”
Nice, and what inspired the lyrics?
“The lyrics were written by a friend, and I adapted them. I definitely relate to them. It’s quite introspective. It’s trying to not take itself too seriously, but be serious about it! There’s a nostalgia theme to the whole album. I’m taking stock of my life and memories and putting them to song.”
Why did you cover these three particular songs by Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac?
“Honestly, because I found the chords on the internet and it was in my wheelhouse to play them! ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac is one of those songs I heard on the radio when I was three or four. It blew me away – her voice, the drumming, it was all so appealing. As for The Beatles song, well, all my life I’ve been accosted by people saying, ‘Hey man – you look like John Lennon!’ I liked The Beatles as a kid and thought this song was cool so I set it to different chords. The Dylan song reminds me of a transitional time in my life when I was trying to develop a more permanent relationship with my current spouse.”
And your National bandmate Aaron Dessner is on the album too, right?
“Yeah, he plays acoustic guitar on a track called ‘Breaking The River’. He’s always been a really nifty guitar player, so why not?”
Do you think some of that Taylor Swift success and magic will rub off on you?
“I certainly hope so! That just came out of the blue. Because of all the NDAs involved, I didn’t know who the project was with. I just sent some beats in and was like, ‘Hey, this sounds cool!’ I’m on the record just as a contributor with one of my drum beats.”
It must have been surreal to see that all take off with no idea of what you were working on?
“Oh yeah. He just kind of pitched it to me like, ‘Hey, I’m working on this major label project, I can’t tell you who it is but can you send me some beats?’ It was surreal for sure.”
What can you tell us about the other collaborators on Royal Green?
“Nate Martinez, he’s my buddy. He can do no wrong. He’s just a calm presence. He’s short and I’m tall, and that always works. He added all of these atmospheric synths and sound design work, that was cool. Then there’s Josh Kauffman [Muzz, Bunny Light Horseman] who plays bass. He’s just one of those guys who’s developed over time into an amazing player. I met him 20 years ago and now he’s producing records for people like Bob Weir. My sister-in-law also does some spoken word on one song too!”
Do you have ambitions to tour this record?
“I do, but kind of on more of a local sense. I want to play brunches and low-key events in Cincinnati. I’ll start from there. I’m strummy and mellow so I don’t think a dark nightclub is the right venue.”
What else are you working on this year?
“I’ve have an instrumental project called LNZNDRF which I’m in with my brother [National bassist Scott] and two other guys. We just recorded an improvisational double-album which I think will be out in November. The National are just working behind the scenes. I’m sending beats and sketches around. We’re just going to quietly chip away at new material, but everyone has stuff going on. Aaron has Big Red Machine coming, Matt’s got [solo album] ‘Serpentine Prison’ on the way, but hopefully next year we can reconvene and see each other in person.”
How do you want the next National album to sound?
“I think it’s back to the drawing board. We’re starting from the bottom of the mountain. Personally, I’ve always wanted to strip it back and do minimalist stuff like IDLES – they’re one of our new favourites. I love their production and their music. I want to make something that’s fun to play and organic. A lot of the time we get caught up in layering and stuff. But yeah, the elusive, stripped-back rock record – let’s hope we can make it!”
‘Royal Green’ is out now. Order the album and merch bundles here.