R13 talk to Matt Berninger of The National.
R13: So, what are you upto over here in London?
Matt: I'm doing three days of press, I've been walking around a little bit, I've been here many times but usually you're touring so it's nice to be here and be able to appreciate it a bit.
R13: A bit of background on the band, you all relocated from Ohio to New York, what was the draw of NewYork?
M: Well we didn't move to New York as a band, we all kind of moved to New York separately for school or work and then formed the band.
R13: Was music always a part of your life before you moved then?
M: Yeah, I mean I always had a band in college and got into various bands, I think music was a big part of my life. I never thought I'd be in a band when I was growing up but I always appreciated music.
R13: What kind of music did you grow up listening to then?
M: Things like the first time I heard The Smiths and Violent Femmes that was when I started hearing music differently, that was more than just entertainment and changing the way that I thought about music. Later Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.
R13: Which newer groups are you enjoying then?
M: I really like The Grizzly Bears, their new record is just beautiful. Manamana who are a band from Portland , Oregon who just made a really exciting new record. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, obviously The Arcade Fire, I'm not alone in thinking that their record is exceptional.
R13: How are you looking forward to touring with Arcade Fire then?
M: It's going to be really, really nice, the press won't be on us which will be fun, we'll get to play for 40 minutes and then go and see Arcade Fire! I think that they're very nice people and I think we're going to have a good time, we're really looking forward to it.
R13: How do pick a set for a support gig like that then, are you trying to win over new fans or picking tunes that you want to play?
M: Well everyone's there waiting for Arcade Fire so in a way the pressure's off of us, so we're hoping to surprise people. It's a tough one, it's a place where a lot of people can just be talking during the set but we're used to that!
R13: With the new album did you feel any pressure to live upto the success of previous albums like 'Alligator' or do you try not to think about that?
It's not a subject, it's almost impossible to think like that; there's 5 of us in the band and we have enough pressure trying to satisfy our own goals so to add in another level of thinking about what people are going to say, how people outside are going to react, if that were possible I wouldn't even know how to do it that way. We tried not to produce another 'Alligator', because that wouldn't be exciting for us. Even if we tried to produce another 'Alligator', I don't know how we'd have gone about doing it.
R13: How has the sound developed on the new album then?
M: It's a more meditative side I think. 'Boxer' is more of a boat ride than 'Alligator'. It wasn't intentional at all, I think we just stood back and listened to it with a perspective and realised that, "Oh yeah, it's very different to 'Alligator'". We didn't think about 'Alligator' when we were making it.
R13: What are some of the themes might we find, or what inspirations did you have during the making of this album?
M: We were in a certain kind of mood, having been touring with 'Alligator' a lot and we wanted to find our escape. So a lot of the characters are trying to avoid, or desperately trying to hold onto something or reconnect with something that they'd lost or trying to think what life offers.
R13: You're releasing a 7" vinyl copy of 'Boxer' as well, do you think that there's a future for vinyl in the age of downloads?
M: I don't know, I don't really think about how people listen to the songs we write or if they're good on vinyl, it's just personal.
R13: Do you not think that people should listen to albums as a whole rather than downloaded tracks?
I think our records are sold as whole records, but it's because ours are packaged like that. It's gone back to the way it was in the past where singles were important and then the album became a big thing and now it's shifted round again. Albums are the way we think, or I think it's meant to be, but that's just because that's what we're accustomed to, not just the way it should be.
R13: Do you have any singles lined up from this album then?
M: We've have a single chosen, it's just a good song. I don't know exactly what the criteria deciding what should be the first single is but it's a great song and I love it. There are a few more songs that have been chosen as singles, but there are other songs I could have picked like 'Fake Empire' or even the last song, 'Gospel'. I think 'Mistaken For Strangers' was chosen because it's one of the more upbeat tunes and it would sound better on the radio, I don't know why it's that way. I'm very happy with the decision anyway.
R13: The press office have actually told us that the video for 'Mistaken For Strangers' is quite exciting and there are some great videos on your album's minisite here with Vincent Moon, so what can we look forward to in this new video?
M: I'm a bit worried that it seems to be getting a lot of buzz and it's beautifully shot by my brother who is a filmmaker and his filmmaking partner made the video. We tried to expose the energy of the band, it's not a Bjork video. It's kind of low-fidelity concept, there are lots of people holding video cameras getting in shot; I guess it's a kind of meta-video. I really love this video, although we've been told it's not very MTV friendly!
R13: Do you have as many fans in Europe now as in the US?
M: Yeah I think we have a fan base across most countries now. I think it's a particular type of music fan rather than particular nationalities that connect with our music.
R13: Do you notice any cultural differences between US and UK when you're touring?
M: Not necessarily, I think the people at our concerts are quite similar but in terms of broader musical interest you notice which bands are more popular in Europe. It seems that our fans have the same kind of musical taste though but we don't get enough chance to talk to them.
R13: I've spoken to a lot of New Yorkers who could never imagine themselves living anywhere else, are you one of them?
M: To be honest, yes I'm probably one of them. I just fell in love with New York and I think it might to be too hard to fall in love with any other place. London is really cool but when I'm away from New York for a few days I start to miss it, I don't know what it is about New York. I really can't imagine moving anywhere else.
R13: Do you ever miss having a 9 to 5 job then, one where you can kick back and the end of the day and not have to fly to London for interviews?
M: I can't complain, I think flying to London for interviews is pretty cool! I miss that thing at the end of the day where you turn your brain off as when you're touring you're constantly in a van and spending a lot of time on the highway. But I've got such great opportunities touring around the world so no, I don't miss 9 to 5, not much!
R13: Your songs are full of such charming vignettes, have you had any inspirations from these last few days in London?
M: We've had songs about London in the past. I get this great energy walking around London, I think it's just because I'm out of my comfort zone but I've always walked around in fear of what could be around the next corner, it's a sort of dangerous energy when you're walking around the streets of London at night. Maybe it's all in my head but I always feel like this in London, maybe because as an American I feel like a lamb amongst the wolves! We had an old song called, 'On London' about London about getting hit by someone on a bicycle so maybe there will be more like that.
R13: You've playing at Latitude festival this Summer, how do you prepare for playing to such a massive crowd?
M: I don't know, it's a tough thing, most bands would prefer an indoor, smaller venue; festivals are cool but I would prefer people to see us indoors at night where they can really connect with what we're doing. Out of 10000 people in a field, maybe only 1000 people can really be touched by the music and the others are just enjoying themselves.
R13: So you must have had lots of time to read when you were travelling, what was the last book that you read?
M: I've just finished 'Play It As It Lays' by Joan Didion, which was a very sordid portrait of a character in LA and it's a very odd book, I love her power of observation, it's unbelievably acute. So if you want to be a bit creeped out, you should definitely read it.
R13: What's the most inspirational book you've ever read?
M: Probably Nabokov's 'Lolita', it's just a fascinating book on human nature, morality and it's interesting the way he walks the line.
R13 talk to Matt Berninger of The National.