You know The National first for Matt Berninger's voice. That low, sonorous baritone, alternately crooning and screaming.
Then the lyrics - almost impossible to parse at times, and chock full of imagery of dark city nights, birds and cocktails. Modern fairy tales.
Then, listen to the intwining guitars, the insistent drums, the throbbing bass. A brass section and piano spike through.
And it can be nobody but The National. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Cincy quintet released another dark and intense full-length LP called Trouble Will Find Me this summer, which they'll perform Sunday at the Murat. We caught up with bassist Scott Devendorf to chat about a variety of topics before that show.
On their video for "Sea of Love" which is a tribute to Russian band Zvuki Mu:
"My brother's [Bryce Devendorf, Scott's brother and drummer for The National] girlfriend, who's French, sent it to us and we were like 'This is awesome.' We always have a hard time making videos because most videos are kind of terrible and ours are usually terrible. And we liked that one a lot so we were like, 'Let's do a cover of a video.'
"We never agree on much and seldom agree on video concepts, and we all liked that one and thought it would be fun to shoot that one. The results were great. We knew what they were going to be because it was basically the same video [as Zvuki Mu's 'Grubyi Zakat']. We actually just finished shooting another video - it's completely different but was fun too- - while we were in Cincinnati actually, the day before the show we shot the video.
"That little dude [in the 'Sea of Love vid'] is our friend Marshall Curry's son. Marshall Curry is a documentary filmmaker. He helped us work on the Mistaken For Strangers movie a little bit and so his son volunteered his time. And he's a pretty good actor."
On lyrical and musical themes that run throughout albums:
"There's always water everywhere in the songs and I like water. ... I guess I gravitate towards, not towards particular themes in our songs, but to each particular song's meaning or what I think a song's about even though it's not about that. Like I like "All the Wine." I like 'Humiliation.' I like songs like that..."
"I think, musically, there are some reoccurring themes that we kind of deal with. For a while there where a lot of songs that kind of had this crescendo rock [style]. I think that there [are sometimes] reactions when kind of playing the song live because when we're writing them we aren't always thinking of the live performance. We're first and foremost kind of crafting them. Then we have to figure out how to play them when we're all done recording them and how they translate into a live setting. I think that is interesting because we don't know which songs are going to work, or not really work, or translate as an idea musically and lyrically. Or what songs that people are basically going to like and what songs we're going to enjoy playing. Sometimes those are the same things but sometimes they're different..."
On adapting the new songs for the live show:
"I think we were really worried about some of the quieter songs like 'Slipped.' And we haven't played 'Hard to Find' because it's hard to play just from a timing perspective. It's a little dreamy..."
"That's the only song we haven't played from the new record. Most of them are pretty effective live. I think bigger songs are always louder. 'Demons' is weird because it's a song that we really enjoy and people really like. But when we play it live it isn't a song that people really clap along to. It's a funny song to play [because it's in 7/4] so you can't exactly dance along to it. I guess we kind of wrote them this time or recorded them more together than we have on the last couple of records. Just doing that and learning them early has helped us figure out how they're going to be played live. It's always the same thing; it's not our primary concern when writing so it's a reaction when we're done to figure it out..."
On mellowing with age:
"The records seem to get mellower with age, as we do. We like that aspect of the band and of [Berninger's] singing and delivery. I think as a band we are thinking of that and we aren't going to want to put people to sleep. And our music is generally on the mellower side with these sort of moments of color and 'explosion.' Some of the songs on the new record have turned into more screamish. Is that a word? Screamish?"
On their recording of "The Rains of Castamere" for Game of Thrones season three:
"We didn't know exactly how that was going to be used and we didn't write that song. It was basically just us performing music. I know we did do some recording of music and they have a whole orchestra and music writing side to the show [so] they wrote the music and the lyrics. The lyrics come from the books. It's really us just performing this really intense, medieval dirge. We actually did not know that it was going to end up in that intense scene. I actually have not seen [it] but it has been described to me. I know the song's intense. Then, it's coupled with this slaughter of an entire clan."