The National is an American indie rock band formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, in 1999, and currently based in Brooklyn. The band's lyrics, which have been described as "dark, melancholy and difficult to interpret", are written and sung by Matt Berninger, a baritone. The band's music is composed and performed by Aaron Dessner (guitar and keyboard), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums). The band has recorded six studio albums; the most recent, Trouble Will Find Me, was released in May 2013 and was nominated in the 2014 Grammys for Best Alternative Album.
Early history (1991-2000):
In 1991, Matt Berninger and Scott Devendorf met 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, but only 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 in an interview with Sixeyes, "it'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 while performing free Sunday night shows regularly at the highly regarded NYC Lower East Side venue, Luna Lounge, throughout the early years, including being involved in New York's dot-com boom in the late 1990s.
The National (2001-2002):
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."
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Cherry Tree (2003-2004):
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 critically acclaimed 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 which included live favorite "About Today," as well as "All the Wine," which would appear on their next record. The release of the EP garnered further success and landed them on a successful tour with The Walkmen.
Also in 2004, 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 Media 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.
Alligator went on to sell over 200,000 copies worldwide.
Boxer, A Skin, a Night and The Virginia EP (2007-2009):
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 (a.k.a. Thomas Bartlett). 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 Magazine. The album has sold over 300,000 copies in the U.S. alone. The song "Slow Show" from Boxer was featured on the NBC series Chuck, as well as on The CW's One Tree Hill in its fifth season. The song "Start a War" was featured on the international science fiction series Defying Gravity, ABC's Brothers and Sisters, FOX's House, NBC's Parenthood, NBC's Friday Night Lights (TV series)and Lionsgate film Warrior. The track "Fake Empire" was featured in the Season 2 Premiere of the HBO Series Hung and on the 3rd episode of season 2 of NBC's Chuck and also 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.
On September 26, 2007, the band performed "Apartment Story" on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
In the summer of 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 also 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.
Boxer made numerous "album of the decade" lists, including Pitchfork Media,Aquarium Drunkard,Paste, and more. It has sold over 300,000 copies in the U.S. alone.
In May 2008, the band released their first feature-length documentary film entitled 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. Vincent Moon's film was widely disregarded by fans who had hoped the film would feature the band and their music more directly, rather than artful attempts. 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's 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.
High Violet (2010-2012):
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.
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 US to widespread critical acclaim. The album also 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. The album has sold over 285,000 copies in the US and 600,000 copies worldwide. High Violet is now a Gold Album in Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Australia and the United Kingdom. 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, including festivals in Ireland, Germany and Bohemia.
On May 13, 2010, the band appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, performing "Afraid of Everyone". On July 7, 2010, it debuted a new, unreleased track titled "You Were a Kindness" at the Tivoli in the Netherlands.
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 on the critically acclaimed 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 Corporation 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.
Trouble Will Find Me and Mistaken for Strangers (2013-present):
Trouble Will Find Me was released via 4AD Records on May 21, 2013 in the US to widespread critical acclaim. The album debuted with first week sales topping charts across the world, ranking No. 3 in the US, Canada and the UK, among others. In its first week the album sold 74,722 copies in the US and has since sold 250,000 copies in the US alone. 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 2014 Grammys.
The album title was announced on February 25, 2013. The title, tracklist and album art were revealed on March 21. The band released the video for 'Demons', the first single from the album, on YouTube on April 8. During a Reddit AMA on May 8 they premiered the video for "Sea of Love", based on Zvuki Mu's video for Grubiy Zakat.
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.
In 2013 they contributed the song "Lean" to the official soundtrack for the movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The band performed "Graceless" and "I Need My Girl" on the March 8, 2014 episode of Saturday Night Live.
"Fireproof" was used in 2 episodes of the USA network's "Covert Affairs" Season 4 - "Vamos" and "River Euphrates".
"Hard to Find" was used in an episode of the USA network's "Suits" Season 3 - "Conflict of Interest".
"England" was used in an Apple iPhone 5S commercial during the 2014 World Cup.
In an interview published in June 2014, Berninger stated 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.
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. "I never sit and fill a journal with lyrics."
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),
In support of High Violet, The National spent summer 2011 playing a wide range of festivals including Heineken Open'er Festival, Reading and Leeds Festivals, Sziget Festival, Rock Werchter Festival, Skanderborg Festival, Electric Picnic and St. Gallen Open Air Festival. Summer 2011 also saw The National take a turn headlining their first major European festival, Latitude.
In October 2011, The National discussed their career with Dr. Atul Gawande and performed an acoustic set with string quartet at the New Yorker Festival. Other participants in the festival included luminaries like Jhumpa Lahiri, Colson Whitehead, and the entire cast of Arrested Development among others.
In December 2012, The National curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Camber Sands.
The National played at a few major festivals in the summer of 2013, including The Boston Calling Music Festival in May, Bonnaroo in June, Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati and two of the biggest European festivals 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. The National returned to headline The Boston Calling Music Festival in September 2014, along with Lorde and The Replacements.
In June 2014, The National played 3 consecutive shows at the Celebrate Brooklyn Music Festival. The band closed the summer of 2014 with performances at major festivals throughout Europe, including Pukkelpop, Way Out West, and Lowlands, and continued to headline festivals in the U.S. and Canada throughout the fall.
Political and social support:
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.
2008 US presidential election:
The band supported Barack Obama's presidential candidacy in 2008. In July of that year, 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 National 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.
2010 mid term election:
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.
2012 US presidential election:
The National were also involved with efforts to reelect President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. On September 1, 2012 The National 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.
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.
Dark Was the Night:
On February 17, 2009, Dark Was the Night, the twentieth Red Hot Organization compilation, was released by 4AD. 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. Performers included David Byrne, The Dirty Projectors, Feist, The National, 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."
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 (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.
The National has been compared to Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Interpol, Wilco, Depeche Mode, U2 and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license