“We’re not as depressed as we appear.”

The Brooklyn-based band are much more than the dour, melancholic indie-rockers that many peg them as. Behind The National’s moody, dark facade is a funny, complex and often intriguing band that has maintained a consistent output across their six albums in which lead singer Matt Berninger is joined by two pairs of brothers: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums respectively.

To celebrate The National imminently returning to tour Australia, and give you more insight into the quintet, here’s 10 things you didn’t know about the talented Americans to impress your friends with at their upcoming live shows.

1. They once played ‘Sorrow’ for 6 hours straight


As part of MoMA PS1 in New York, the National played the High Violet track 105 times in a row, non-stop, in front of a dry ice display. Berninger would later brag that he didn’t even take a toilet break during this time, with the band transforming and experimenting on the three-and-a-half minute long track  to keep themselves awake.

Bryce Dessner on the event: “It was something special for us. There was a weird hypnotic resonance and spirituality to repeating the song over and over”. He also stated that he “reharmonised the chords” at one point but Berninger was “so tired” he didn’t notice. For those with a whole lot of spare time, there are numerous videos of the event, from multiple points of the hours-long set.

Matt Berninger is nicknamed ‘The Dark Lord’ by his bandmates


The frontman’s booming baritone leads to many (and some confounding) comparisons, but none quite as harsh as that bestowed upon by his cheeky bandmates, as revealed in the NY Times. ‘The Dark Lord’, a title usually reserved for Voldemort or Sauron, is another sign that Berninger and co. aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves or acknowledge the reputation they’ve garnered. Other nicknames bestowed on the vocalist by the band include the Naysayer, Mr Knee Jerk, and the genius Mumbleberry Pie.

They ‘accidentally’ recorded Sufjan Stevens on ‘Afraid Of Everyone’


The collaboration between Sufjan Stevens and the band was everything indie rock fans dreamed about, but it was never meant to be as prominent as it eventually was. Stevens offers a quiet falsetto at the beginning of High Violet’s ‘Afraid Of Everyone’ and later adds some more restrained lines, but according to Aaron Dessner, the vocal parts were “almost unintended” as he revealed in a reddit AMA.

“He was playing harmonium and singing quietly in the studio, not into the microphones.” Dessner continued. “So the vocals you hear are captured indirectly through the mics on the harmonium.” What was originally an accident ultimately resulted in the creation in one of the most subtle and brilliant moments on one of the band’s best albums. Sufjans also made a return appearance for the band’s latest record, last year’s Trouble Will Find Me.

4. They made 100 different versions of ‘Lemonworld’


The band are known for their meticulous approach to songwriting, recording, and performing, but probably not to this extend. In referring to the relative ease in recording Trouble Will Find Me, Aaron Dessner related to Alt Music the story of past problems and tensions at the mixing stage

“We literally made 100 different versions of ‘Lemonworld,” he admits. “It’s such a simple song that anyone would rightly wonder why we need to make 100 versions of it, but that was just us trying to deal with these differences of opinion, trying to find something we all agreed on.” Matt Berninger was apparently not content with the final version that was selected, referring to it as “a riddle [they] can’t solve” and “the ugliest, worst-mixed, least-polished song on the record [that] took the longest to get there.”

5. The twins often communicate with ‘Pillow Talk’


The National are what many would refer to as a family band. With two sets of brothers, Berninger must feel a bit left out (that is until his own brother joined up as a roadie to film the documentary Mistaken For Strangers). But it is twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner that share the most impressive psychic bond, with the two often communicating in gibberish and ways incoherent to the other members.

This synchronicity has been dubbed ‘pillow talk’, although Aaron apparently denies they are identical twins, in an interview guitar-makers Fender. “People ask us if we are telepathic, and I would say no in terms of verbally or intellectual ideas, but musically, yes,” Aaron clarified in an interview with Fender. “We sort of mirror of each other. I’ve never had to teach him anything and he’s never had to teach me anything.”

Berninger once crowdsurfed to the back of a venue and poured himself a drink


The deep-voiced vocalist has garnered a reputation for venturing way out into the crowd at almost every show he performs, as well as a passion for a drink or two while on stage. At one show in Ohio he was able to combine the two, deftly making his way to the back of the standing crowd, before coolly climbing into a bar and taking the liberty of pouring himself a drink, singing the rousing ‘Mr November’ all the while without missing a word.

7. The band are big Game Of Thrones fans


The Brooklynites are huge fans of the HBO produced fantasy show, and even contributed their own version of the most iconic song of the series. The National’s version of the Lannister’s theme, ‘The Rains of Castamere’, played at the end of the ninth episode of season two, and The Dark Lord’s baritone proved to be perfectly suited to the brooding, threatening song.

Speaking about the collaboration, Aaron Dessner told redditors: “The creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff approached us about doing a song. They are fans of the band and super nice guys. We love the show so we agreed to do it.” Just watch your back if it gets played live, especially at a wedding.

8. Matt Berninger used to be high up in a company that designed ATM interfaces


Berninger wasn’t always the charismatic and effortlessly cool ringleader of a world-renowned indie band that he is today. Back in 1996, Berninger was a rising star in Icon Nicholson, a start-up company designing ATM interfaces.

The 42-year explained to Village Voice that he was working as a graphic designer, as “one of the heads of the company” who flew “to Stockholm for meetings with clients”. Luckily for their masses of fans, he quit the job in 2005 just before the band toured Alligator, although he credits the job for helping The National maintain their professional attitude towards music.

“I think that’s part of the reason we worked so hard on this band,” Berninger told Village Voice. “When we’d started, we’d done the professional thing, and did well at it. We knew we could survive in a world as professional adults. I could be a grown man, I could pay my own bills.”

9. They credit themselves for reforming Pavement


At the start of 2009 the band sang that they were “praying for Pavement to get back together” on ‘So Far Around The Bend’. By the end of the year, Pavement had reformed. Coincidence? We think not.

The track was released as part of the Dark Was The Night compilation, curated by the Dessner twins and raising money for the Red Hot Organisation. The National would even go on to support Pavement for some of the influential US indie band’s reformed shows, and in their Reddit AMA, Bryce Dessner claimed Stephen Malkmus had heard the lyric.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Matt Berninger took credit for getting the iconic band back together: “I’m pretty sure I’m the one who got them to reform. You’re welcome!”

10. ‘I Should Live In Salt’ is about Matt Berninger’s brother, but he doesn’t know it


The sometimes troubled and most-times entertaining relationship between brothers Matt and Tom Berninger is documented brilliantly in Mistaken For Strangers. The film, directed and shot by Tom – the younger ‘metalhead’ sibling – shows the tensions and differences between the two, during the period when Berninger Jnr joined his more famous brother on tour.

Matt took his turn to document their relationship on Trouble Will Find Me’s opening number, telling NPR: “he was on my mind a lot while we were making this record because he was living with my wife and I at the time.”

“We’re very different brothers. Whereas I might be kind of buttoned-up and ambitious, he’s more lax in his approach to the universe,” explained The National singer. “We love each other a great deal, but there’s often a lot of conflict between the two of us.”

The song is about the two getting to know each other as adults, and the guilt Matt felt when he left for college (“I should live in salt for leaving you behind”).

Tom Berninger, however, took a much more literal interpretation of the song, with Matt saying: “When he heard the song, he thought the song was about salt.”

The National Australian Tour 2014

Thursday 6th February – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide. Presented by Handsome Tours.
General public tickets on sale now.

Friday 7th February – Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney. Presented by Sydney Opera House. 
General public tickets on sale Thursday 5th September, 12pm AEST.

Saturday 8th February – Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney. Presented by Sydney Opera House. – SOLD OUT
General public tickets on sale now.

Sunday 9th February – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne. Presented by Handsome Tours.
General public tickets on sale now.

Tuesday 11th February – Riverstage, Brisbane, Presented by Handsome Tours.
General public tickets on sale now.

Friday 14th February – Belvoir Amphitheatre, Perth. Presented by Perth Festival.
General public tickets on sale now.

For Handsome Tours pre-sale head to handsometours.com/pre-sale
For further information visit handsometours.com

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