An interview with The National

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Paul John Caña

Paul John Caña

The National was a band recently in Manila to play at “Febfest 2014,” an indie music festival held at the Metrowalk Tent in Pasig. They are comprised of Matt Berninger (vocals), twins Aaron (guitar and keyboard) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) and Scott (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).

The group from Cincinnati, Ohio has been critically acclaimed for their thought-provoking songs delivered through Berninger’s powerful, soul-stirring baritone voice.

In April, the band made history by taking part in a performance art piece at the Museum of Modern Art

(MOMA) in New York City. In collaboration with Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, the band performed their song “Sorrow” over and over again for six hours straight. The National has also extended their fanbase because of their contributions to film and TV, most notably with fantasy hit Game of Thrones and the second instalment of the Hunger Games series, “Catching Fire.”


Just minutes before the band went up onstage, MOTS had the pleasure of sitting down with fellow music journalists in roundtable interview with Berninger and Aaron Dessner.

Here are the excerpts:

Much has been said about your performance at the Museum of Modern Art where you played the song
“Sorrow” 105 times . . .

Matt Berninger: Actually it was 108 times.

What made you decide to do that performance?

Aaron Dessner: It started because the artist (Ragnar Kjartansson) was a fan of ours and particularly loved that song. It was his idea and MOMA pitched it to us. He’s somebody who knows who knows (humor and sadness) mingle, the drama and darkness, and the lightness of life. The sadness and funniness of every beautiful and awful situation often are tangled up together. All his stuff is like that, so when he pitched it, he knew that the song “Sorrow” is both dramatic and sad, but also there’s something sweet and warm and uplifting about it, so he wanted to know what would happen if that song was just put on repeat. And we went through all these different emotions while we did that for 6 hours. We laughed and sometimes we got emotionally worked up in different ways. So we trusted him that he knew what he was doing.

The National comprised of Matt Berninger (vocals), twins Aaron (guitar and keyboard) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) and Scott (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums)

The National comprised of Matt Berninger (vocals), twins Aaron (guitar and keyboard) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) and Scott (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums)

What did you learn about yourselves when you did that?

AD: I think everyone in the band agrees that it was one of our favorite moments as a band. We’ll always remember it. The fact that we agreed to do it and the fact that we got through it and that itwas beautiful and transcendent. I feel like that was the day we realized that that these songs we write have something more than we can understand.

Tell us about working on the songs for the film Catching Fire (“Lean”) and the TV series Game of Thrones (“The Rains of Castamere”)

MB: The Game of Thrones thing was kind of us inhabiting this whole new fantasy universe. Aaron and I went to LA and worked with their composer and we just sort of went with his vision and get into this fantasy headspace and deliver that song in a way that felt like were in Game of Thrones. I associate with the Lannisters. I’m not sure why. That’s awful. (Laughs). Maybe it’s cause I’m blonde. Both of those things were really fun things to do. Whenever we’ve written things that are outside of our records, like we did a song for a video game and other movies, it lets us step outside our little shells a little bit. It’s been fun and healthy.

E-mail pjcana@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @pauljohncana

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