Even in a good space, The National pens dark tunes

CorrespondentJune 6, 2013 

The National.

COURTESY OF DIERDRE O'CALLAGHAN

  • More information

    Who: The National, with the Dirty Projectors

    When: 7 p.m. Monday

    Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, 500 S. McDowell St., Raleigh

    Cost: $34 and $47.35

    Details: 919-996-8800

The latest album from The National, “Trouble Will Find Me,” finds the Ohio-based band at its most relaxed, and its material more varied than usual.

“The reason for that is that we approached things differently this time,” singer-songwriter Matt Berninger says. “Unlike our prior albums, we didn’t have any agenda. We didn’t even intend to make an album when we ended up making this album.”

Just like trouble, songs will find Berninger and his bandmates. “Without even trying we came up with half of an album’s worth of material,” he says. “It was liberating. We didn’t care about image or if a song sounded like a National song.”

The result is an album of eclectic pop-rock. The tunes range from creepy to pretty to inscrutable. The band, which also includes twin guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner and the brotherly rhythm section of bassist Scott Devendorf and drummer Bryan Devendorf, even includes a piano ballad, the catchy “I Need My Girl.”

“Prior to this album, I never would have been OK with having a song like ‘I Need My Girl’ on a National album,” Berninger says, in a call from Providence, R.I. “I would have been uncomfortable with it or slightly embarrassed, but the funny thing is that it’s one of my favorite songs on the album. We’ve grown up a lot with this album. This is what happens when you don’t put pressure on yourself. The songs just come organically.”

What changed for the band is the realization that their band isn’t all that matters.

“That used to be the way it was,” Berninger says. “But when you become a father, things change. We realized that the band is not what is most important. The band is secondary to our families. That put us in a good space.”

But don’t file The National, which will perform Monday at the Red Hat Amphitheater, under ‘dad-rock.’

Berninger still pens dark, depressing material. “I can be as miserable a writer as those who I’ve loved like Tom Waits, Morrissey and Nick Cave. They’re great at what they do.”

Berninger is perhaps the most laconic singer in rock, save Stephen Malkmus. “I’ll admit that Malkmus is one of my heroes,” Berninger says. “I got into Leonard Cohen at the same time as Pavement came out with ‘Slanted and Enchanted.’ Malkmus made Pavement what they are. His style of writing influenced me, and I love what Cohen did. He would write about the most base and sometimes sexual subjects, but his songs are so beautiful. Malkmus and Cohen are both fearless writers, who happily make fun of themselves in song. That’s what it’s about. You can go in so many different directions as a songwriter. It’s good to take chances, and I think we’ve done that.”

The band has also stuck its neck out politically. The National played shows supporting Barack Obama’s presidential runs in 2008 and 2012. “We’re all liberal guys, and we went out and showed people what we believe in,” Berninger says. “That might have rubbed some conservative fans in the Midwest the wrong way, but we had to do it.”

As a result, The National had the chance to rub shoulders with such rock icons as Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe, each of whom stumped for Democrats. Springsteen and Stipe are also big National fans.

“That’s pretty incredible,” Berninger says. “But the most important thing I picked up was from Michael Stipe who said to appreciate what’s happening now, and I do that. I know how special this is.”

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