The National (band)
The National is an American rock band of Cincinnati, Ohio natives, formed in Brooklyn, New York City in 1999. The band consists of Matt Berninger (vocals), Aaron Dessner (guitar, piano, keyboards), Bryce Dessner (guitar, piano, keyboards), Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).
Founded by Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf, The National released their self-titled debut album, The National (2001), on Brassland Records, an independent record label founded by Dessner and his twin brother, Bryce Dessner. Bryce, who had assisted in recording the album, soon joined the band, participating as a full member in the recording of its follow-up, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003).
Leaving behind their day jobs, the National signed with Beggars Banquet Records and released their third studio album, Alligator (2005), to widespread critical acclaim. The band's fourth and fifth studio albums, Boxer (2007) and High Violet (2010), increased their exposure significantly. In 2013, the band released its sixth studio album, Trouble Will Find Me, which was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2017 the band released the album Sleep Well Beast, which won the band a Grammy Award. Their eighth studio album, I Am Easy to Find, was released on May 17, 2019.
1991–2001: Early history and The National
Matt Berninger and Scott Devendorf met in 1991 while attending the University of Cincinnati's DAAP college of graphic design program, where they also met Mike Brewer, Casey Reas and Jeff Salem. Together, the five of them formed the lo-fi garage band Nancy, named after Berninger's mother, aspiring to sound like Pavement. The band was together for five years, and released one album, Ruther 3429, on Wife Records before breaking up after Berninger, Devendorf, Reas and Salem moved to Brooklyn. Bryan, Bryce, and Aaron were childhood friends who played in several bands together over the years. When their last effort, Project Nim, broke up in 1998, they joined Matt and Scott in Brooklyn via the Devendorf relationship.
When the band was formed in 1999, it was called "The National", although the domain name of the band's website is americanmary.com because, according to Matt Berninger, "[i]t's a song off our first record. We never thought of changing the (website) name, although we should have." Several of the members continued to work day jobs, including being involved in New York's dot-com boom, while performing free Sunday night shows regularly at Lower East Side venue Luna Lounge.
Their first album The National was eventually released in 2001 on Brassland Records, a label founded by band members Aaron and Bryce Dessner, along with their friend Alec Hanley Bemis. When reviewing the album, Jason MacNeil of No Depression wrote, "...The National has created nearly a dozen picture-perfect Americana bar-soaked gems with its debut album. From the opening notes of 'Beautiful Head', the delicate line between polished roots-oriented pop and alt-country has rarely been walked so deliberately with the payoff so favorable."
2003–2006: Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, Cherry Tree and Alligator
The National's second album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, released in 2003, was the band's first collaboration with record producers Paul Heck and Peter Katis, who would later also produce the band's albums Alligator and Boxer. After the release of the album, renowned DJ Bernard Lenoir invited them to perform on his Black Sessions twice on France Inter. Publications such as Uncut and the Chicago Tribune named it an album of the year.
In 2004, they released the Cherry Tree EP. The EP featured "All the Wine," a song that would appear on their next record. The release of the EP garnered further success and landed them on a successful tour with The Walkmen. In the same year, the band quit their day jobs and signed to a new label, Beggars Banquet Records, because the process of running their own label was becoming "too complicated".
Their first album on Beggars Banquet, Alligator, was released in 2005. The album was met with much critical acclaim and featured highly in "Album of the Year" charts in the Los Angeles Times, Insound, Uncut, and many other publications. The album allowed the band increased exposure. NME and Pitchfork ranked Alligator as a top album of the 2000s. Alligator brought the band increased attendance at concerts, including sold-out shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles and Webster Hall in New York. They also played at numerous festivals including the 2006 Pitchfork Music Festival, Reading and Leeds Festivals, Pukkelpop, and more.
2007–2009: Boxer; A Skin, a Night and The Virginia EP
Their fourth album, Boxer, was released on May 22, 2007, and also received widespread critical praise. The album features contributions from various guest artists, including Sufjan Stevens and Doveman. It was voted as the No. 2 best album of the year by Stereogum.com and the No. 1 album of the year by Paste. The song "Slow Show" from Boxer was featured on the NBC series Chuck and Parenthood, as well as on The CW's One Tree Hill in its fifth season. The song "Start a War" was featured on the series Defying Gravity, Brothers and Sisters, House, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, as well as the film Warrior. The track "Fake Empire" was featured in the Season 2 Premiere of the HBO series Hung, also on the 9th episode, season 5 of "Person of interest", and on the third episode of the second season of Chuck and in the pilot episode of Southland. An instrumental version of the song was featured in Barack Obama's campaign video "Signs of Hope and Change" during his 2008 United States presidential campaign, and the song was also played at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Boxer made numerous "album of the decade" lists, including Pitchfork, Aquarium Drunkard, Paste, and more.
On September 26, 2007, the band performed "Apartment Story" on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. In 2008, along with Modest Mouse, they opened for R.E.M. on the promotional tour for the R.E.M. album Accelerate. That summer they played many festivals in North America and Europe, including Coachella, Roskilde, Sasquatch, Glastonbury, Haldern Pop, Rock Werchter, Optimus Alive!, Oxegen, Benicàssim, Lowlands, O2 Wireless, T in the Park, All Points West, and Lollapalooza.
In May 2008, the band released their first feature-length documentary film titled A Skin, a Night on DVD. The film, directed by filmmaker Vincent Moon, documents the lives of the band surrounding the recording of Boxer and just before a show at the London venue Koko. Along with the release of the DVD was a CD collection of B-sides and rarities titled The Virginia EP. The National's collaboration with Vincent Moon began long before the filming of A Skin, a Night. Vincent Moon discovered the band after the release of their first album and became friends with its members after a show at Paris' La Guinguette Pirate. Soon after this meeting, Moon filmed his first music videos ever, which were for the National's songs "Daughters of the Soho Riots" and "Lit Up". Moon's photography also appears on the cover for Alligator.
On February 17, 2009, a compilation album titled Dark Was the Night was produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner and released by 4AD (the band's new label after Beggars Banquet Records merged into 4AD). The two-disc, 31-track compilation was released for the benefit of the Red Hot Organization, and featured a new song by the National and Nico Muhly titled "So Far Around the Bend". In the same year, the National collaborated with St. Vincent to contribute a cover of Crooked Fingers' "Sleep All Summer" to the Merge Records compilation Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers!. On May 6, 2009, the National performed "So Far Around the Bend" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
The National contributed a track to Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy in September 2009, an album in support of the former Polaris frontman, who lost his wife. They covered the Polaris track "Ashamed of the Story I Told", from their album Music from The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
2010–2012: High Violet
On March 10, 2010, the band performed "Terrible Love", the lead track from High Violet, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On March 24, the band released "Bloodbuzz Ohio", the first single from the album, for free download at the official High Violet website.
High Violet was released on May 11, 2010 in the U.S. to widespread critical acclaim. The album debuted with first week sales topping charts across the world, ranking No. 3 in the US, No. 2 in Canada, No. 5 in the United Kingdom, and No. 3 in Portugal, among others. High Violet is a Gold Album in Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Australia and the United Kingdom. On May 13, 2010, the band appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, performing "Afraid of Everyone". On October 25, 2010, it was awarded a Q award, presented by Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order, for Best Album. During 2011, the band capitalized on the success of High Violet and toured extensively in North America, Europe and Australia. This included festivals in Ireland, Germany and Bohemia such as Heineken Open'er Festival, Reading and Leeds Festivals, Sziget Festival, Rock Werchter Festival, Skanderborg Festival, Electric Picnic, St. Gallen Open Air Festival, and Latitude Festival.
In 2011 The National were nominated for a Brit Award for International Breakthrough Act and an MTV Performing Woodie. Two of its songs, "Start a War" (from Boxer) and "About Today", were featured in the film Warrior. On March 9, 2011 The National released a music video for Conversation 16 featuring John Slattery, Kristen Schaal and James Urbaniak. Two days later Valve announced the band would be contributing an original song, titled "Exile Vilify", for the video game Portal 2, and on April 12, 2011, the band released "Think You Can Wait" from the soundtrack of the film Win Win.
On April 20, 2011, The National played Starlight Theater in Kansas City, Missouri. During the show, the band played "About Today", and dedicated the song in memory of Gerard Smith of TV on the Radio, who had died earlier that day of lung cancer. On December 8, 2011, the band performed on Q (the CBC radio show) in front of a live audience. Two new songs were performed for the first time: "Rylan" and "I Need My Girl". The third song performed was "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" which featured Justin Vernon of Bon Iver who was also on the show. On March 24, 2012, members of the band, Scott Devendorf, Bryan Devendorf and Aaron Dessner, performed with Bob Weir in a live broadcast concert, The Bridge Session, at Weir's TRI Studios to bring awareness for non-profit organization, HeadCount.
The National recorded The Rains of Castamere for the Game of Thrones season 2 episode "Blackwater". They also recorded a cover of the song "I'll See You in My Dreams" for the HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire, and a cover of the "Thanksgiving Song" from the Fox TV series Bob's Burgers. On December 9, 2012, they debuted three new songs "I Should Live in Salt", "Humiliation", and "Graceless" at the All Tomorrow's Parties event in Camber Sands, United Kingdom. The track "Runaway" was used in the 2013 film Warm Bodies.
2013–2016: Trouble Will Find Me and Mistaken for Strangers
The band announced their sixth studio album, Trouble Will Find Me, on February 25, 2013. They released the video for "Demons", the album's first single, on April 8. During a Reddit AMA on May 8 they premiered the video for the song "Sea of Love", based on Zvuki Mu's video for Grubiy Zakat. Trouble Will Find Me was released via 4AD Records on May 21, 2013. The album debuted with first week sales topping charts across the world, ranking No. 3 in the US, Canada, and the UK, among others. Following the release, the band embarked on a world tour in support of the album. Trouble Will Find Me earned a Best Alternative Album nomination in the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. Aaron Dessner has described the album as the first one the band "really enjoyed making."
On February 28, 2013, they announced the upcoming release of a documentary chronicling the lead singer's brother Tom Berninger's journey of touring with the band. The film, titled Mistaken for Strangers, premiered at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival on April 17. Mistaken for Strangers has been described as "a funny, eccentric and finally deeply poignant depiction of art, family, self-sabotage and the prickly intricacies of brotherly love." The film had a theatrical release in theaters across the United States and Europe.
The band additionally played several festivals in the summer of 2013, including The Boston Calling Music Festival in May, Bonnaroo in June, Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati, and major European festivals such as Roskilde Festival and Rock Werchter in July. They then returned to North America for Lollapalooza and Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in August, St. Jerome's Laneway Festival in September, and Austin City Limits in October. That same year, they contributed the song "Lean" to the soundtrack for the film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The band performed "Graceless" and "I Need My Girl" on the March 8, 2014 episode of Saturday Night Live. Several of their songs were used on television, including "Fireproof", "Hard to Find" and "England". In June 2014, the National played three consecutive shows at the Celebrate Brooklyn Music Festival. The band closed the summer of 2014 with performances at major festivals throughout Europe, including NorthSide, Pukkelpop, Way Out West, and Lowlands, and continued to headline festivals in the U.S. and Canada throughout the fall. The National returned to headline The Boston Calling Music Festival in September 2014, along with Lorde and The Replacements. In an interview published in June 2014, Berninger stated that the National would try a new approach to writing and recording an album, with plans to start in October 2014.
On April 2, 2015, the National released the single "Sunshine On My Back". The song is provided as a free download for renting or buying the band's documentary Mistaken for Strangers at its official website. The song comes from the Trouble Will Find Me recording sessions and features Sharon van Etten. The band headlined a handful of festivals during 2015, including Eaux Claires, a music festival held in Eau Claire, Wisconsin curated by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon and The National's Aaron Dessner. They also headlined Treasure Island Music Festival. In his review of the festival, Consequence of Sound's Zack Ruskin described the band's performance as "a masterclass in a band that has fully come into their own" and wrote that it "proved once again why they are one of the most exceptional and impressive rock bands of our time."
On October 16, 2015, the band debuted a new song called "Roman Candle" (which would later be released as "Walk It Back" on Sleep Well Beast) at Troubadour in Los Angeles. In an interview published in November 2015, Berninger expressed the band's desire to play their new songs in a live setting before recording them: "Over the summer of 2016 we're going to do a lot of shows with the new stuff and then record the next National album."
On March 2, 2016, it was announced that the band was to headline Latitude Festival in the United Kingdom. The same year they headlined such festivals as Byron Bay Bluesfest, Auckland City Limits, Field Trip, Down The Rabbit Hole, Super Bock Super Rock, Latitude Festival and Longitude Festival. They also played Free Press Summer Festival, Tinderbox, Pistoia Blues Festival, and the first annual Panorama Festival in New York City. In August 2016, Berninger indicated that the new album had electronic influences while they premiered the song "Prom Song 13th Century (Frankie & Johnny)" featuring St. Vincent.
2017–present: Sleep Well Beast and I Am Easy to Find
On May 11, 2017, the single "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" was released after two days of mysterious teasers. At the same time, a new album was announced, titled Sleep Well Beast, which was released September 8, 2017. The album's second single, "Guilty Party" was released on June 28, 2017. The band released "Carin at the Liquor Store", the third single from the album, on August 8, 2017. On August 29, 2017, they released the fourth single, "Day I Die".
The band scheduled a worldwide tour in support of the album, which began in September 2017. In August 2017, "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" became the band's first song to reach number one on a Billboard songs chart, reaching number one on the Adult Alternative Songs chart. On November 28, 2017, the album was nominated for two Grammy Awards: for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Recording Package, later winning the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. While on tour to support the album, The National performed new music during a performance in Zagreb, Croatia.
On March 5, 2019, in an interview with Indie88 in Toronto, Aaron Dessner confirmed the band's new album would be called I Am Easy to Find, and was scheduled for release on May 17. He also debuted the album's first single "You Had Your Soul with You". The band also announced a Mike Mills-directed short film of the same name starring Alicia Vikander, which uses different arrangements of songs from the album as its soundtrack.
On April 4, 2019, the band released their second single and closing song off I Am Easy to Find titled "Light Years", accompanied by a music video starring Alicia Vikander. On May 1, 2019, the band released their third single from I Am Easy to Find titled "Hairpin Turns", accompanied by a music video. The band released a cassette box set titled Juicy Sonic Magic for Record Store Day Black Friday on November 29, 2019, which featured their set at the Hearst Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California in September 2018. In 2020, the band contributed to Taylor Swift's ninth studio album, Evermore, appearing alongside Swift on the song "Coney Island". The album was co-produced by Aaron Dessner (who also co-produced Swift's eighth album Folklore).
Aaron and Bryce Dessner write and develop the music which Matt Berninger then responds to, building lyrics on the music Aaron and Bryce have written. Matt has said that the melody and the rhythm come first and then words and imagery will start to stick to a melody, stating, "I never sit and fill a journal with lyrics." Kitty Empire in The Guardian characterised the band as exploring "literate rock that presents at first as artily sombre, and eventually as one of the most nuanced 21st-century iterations of what used to be known as "college rock".
The National has been compared to Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Interpol, Wilco, Depeche Mode and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The band's lyrics have been described as "dark, melancholy and difficult to interpret."
- Matt Berninger – lead vocals (1999–present)
- Aaron Dessner – guitar, bass, piano, keyboards, harmonica, mandola, backing vocals (1999–present)
- Bryce Dessner – guitar, keyboards, piano, backing vocals (2001–present)
- Bryan Devendorf – drums, percussion, backing vocals (1999–present)
- Scott Devendorf – bass, guitar, backing vocals (1999–present)
- Touring musicians
- Ben Lanz – trombone, synths (2007–present)
- Kyle Resnick – trumpet, background vocals (2007–present)
- James McAlister – drums, percussion (2019–present)
The National supported both of Barack Obama's presidential candidacies in 2008 and 2012. In July 2008, the band designed and sold a T-shirt featuring Obama's image above the words "Mr. November," a reference to both their song from Alligator and the month of the U.S. presidential election. All proceeds were donated to Obama's campaign. On October 16, 2008, the band played a rally for Barack Obama on Fountain Square in their hometown of Cincinnati with The Breeders. Buses for early voting were available before the show to take voters to the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
On September 28, 2010, The National played in front of over 25,000 people before a speech by President Obama at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin. On September 1, 2012, the band opened for the President at a campaign rally in Urbandale, Iowa in front of a crowd in excess of 10,000 people. In October, the band traveled to Ohio where they played two free shows and visited university campuses as part of Barack Obama's GottaVote campaign to encourage young adults to register to vote and to cast their vote for Obama.
2008 Safe Space NYC
In 2008 the band designed a T-shirt for the Yellow Bird Project to raise money for Safe Space NYC, an organization which provides safe refuge for underprivileged children and families in Southeast Queens.
Dark Was the Night
On February 17, 2009, Dark Was the Night, the twentieth Red Hot Organization compilation, was released. Curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner, this album comprised songs by bands and artists such as Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Beirut, David Byrne, Sufjan Stevens, Spoon, The Dirty Projectors, Feist and the National, among others. Over one million dollars of the proceeds from album sales were donated to the Red Hot Organization, an international organization dedicated to fighting AIDS.
On May 3, 2009, Aaron and Bryce Dessner curated a concert for Dark Was the Night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Other than the band, performers included David Byrne, The Dirty Projectors, Feist, and several other artists who contributed to the compilation. Red Hot Organization founder and director, John Carlin, was quoted as saying, "Dark Was the Night encapsulated the spirit and creativity of a new generation of musicians whose work struck a chord and got people to actually purchase the album and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight AIDS."
2013/2014 Trouble Will Find Me Tour
The National have supported Partners in Health throughout the Trouble Will Find Me tour by working with Plus One to donate $1 from ticket sales at select shows to raise money for Partners in Health.
Day of the Dead
On March 17, 2016 the band announced Day of the Dead, a charity tribute album to the Grateful Dead released on May 20, 2016. Day of the Dead was created, curated and produced by Aaron and Bryce. The compilation, which took four years to record, is a wide-ranging tribute to the songwriting and experimentalism of the Dead, and features over 60 artists from varied musical backgrounds. It has 59 tracks and is almost 6 hours long. All profits will help fight for AIDS/ HIV and related health issues around the world through the Red Hot Organization. Day of the Dead is the follow up to 2009's Dark Was The Night (4AD), a 32-track, multi-artist compilation also produced by Aaron and Bryce for Red Hot.
Day of the Dead features collaborations and recordings from a diverse group of artists including Wilco, Flaming Lips, Bruce Hornsby, Justin Vernon, the National, The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo, Jenny Lewis, The Tallest Man on Earth, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Perfume Genius, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Senegalese collective Orchestra Baobob, composer Terry Riley and his son Gyan Riley, electronic artist Tim Hecker, So Percussion, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and Bela Fleck.
Of the 59 tracks on the compilation, many feature a house band made up of Aaron, Bryce, brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, Josh Kaufman (who co-produced the project), Conrad Doucette (of Takka Takka), Sam Cohen and Walter Martin. The National have three tracks on the album: "Peggy-O", "Morning Dew" and "I Know You Rider".
A Day of the Dead live performance took place in August 2016 at the second annual Eaux Claires Festival (August 12–13) featuring the band as well as Jenny Lewis, Matthew Houck, Lucius, Will Oldham, Sam Amidon, Richard Reed Parry, Justin Vernon, Bruce Hornsby, So Percussion, Ruban Nielson.
Other benefit concerts
The National have played numerous benefits for a range of organizations, including MusiCares, Artists for Peace and Justice and the Robin Hood Foundation. They have also played at Philip Glass's Tibet House US (an organization that is dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture) at New York's Carnegie Hall twice: once in 2009 and once in 2014. The annual show is organized to help raise money for "the cultural institution" of the Tibetan heritage.
In October 2015, the National played two shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles benefitting Cooperative for Education and their Thousand Girls Initiative, which is a program aimed at supporting the growth of educational opportunities for girls in Guatemala.
- The National (2001)
- Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003)
- Alligator (2005)
- Boxer (2007)
- High Violet (2010)
- Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
- Sleep Well Beast (2017)
- I Am Easy to Find (2019)
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