The National's rise to indie rock royalty has taken 11 years, five albums and countless gigs to achieve. Their latest release, High Violet (4AD), has again scored with critics but also debuted at number three on Billboard, a milestone for the hard-working NYC fivesome, who hit Massey Hall Tuesday and Wednesday (June 8 and 9). Guitarist Bryce Dessner discusses life in the studio and their unique path to fame.
What's your reaction to High Violet's reception?
It's been misinterpreted as a downer of a record, and I blame our song titles: Terrible Love, Sorrow, Afraid Of Everyone. People are thinking it's all bleak, but there's humour, uplifting moments and even love songs.
Are reports of infighting in the studio overblown?
My brother [guitarist Aaron] thinks you have to fight to make good music, so on every record he becomes intolerable for the final month. He stops sleeping, and he and Matt [Berninger] always have a couple of big screaming matches. But Boxer was way harder, and I think our fights get blown out of proportion. It's more like working.
What's it like getting famous slowly?
In many cities, like Toronto, we've played every rung of venue. We've played in places where there were more of us onstage than in the audience. We're totally stoked to play Massey Hall. It's one of the best venues in the world.
What's the story behind the sound on High Violet?
Matt, our singer, famously said that we were trying to make a pop record, and he wanted it to be happy. Early on there were some happy and poppy songs, but they didn't survive. We pushed our sound in new directions. Now the question is, "What's next?"