The National on brotherly love, baseball and experimental music

The National on brotherly love, baseball and experimental music

Jun 7, 2011 |  by  |  Event, Music
About the author
Sabrina (who is old as fuck) has more energy than a Duracell bunny, and uses it to dance in the newest clubs, eat too much junk food, play all the videogames, examine apps and shop - even though she has more than enough clothes. Sorry Earth.

Last Wednesday was the European première of The Long Count, a multimedia performance by the indie rockers from The National. It was part of the Holland Festival, which is held from the 1st to the 26th of June. The brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner (who both play guitar in the band) teamed up with video artist Matthew Ritchie to create something that was just incomprehensible. It’s inspired by Popol Vuh, a text about the creation of this world which includes the Maya calendar, or the Long Count.

Standing ovation

On stage was a big white screen which resembled a bird spreading its wings. The drawings by Matthew Ritchie were projected on the screen, filling the stage with shapes and colours. The brothers Dessner were sitting next to each other in the front, playing their guitars completely in tune. Accompanied by the voices of Kelley Deal (from The Breeders), Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and their own lead singer Matt Berninger, they delivered a performance which fulfilled all my needs. After a standing ovation I got the chance to speak with Bryce Dessner about the Long Count.

How did you get the idea to do something about Popol Vuh?
“Well, we wanted to collaborate with Matthew and just needed a story. The music needed words and since Matthew has done a lot of epic narratives, when this idea surfaced it seemed right.”

You incorporated the ’76 World Series, when the Cincinnati Reds defeated the New York Yankees. How does that fit into the story?
“Aaron and I used to play baseball, we’re from Cincinatti and were born in 1967. Since we’re Reds fans, we wanted to include that in the story. Besides, Popol Vuh is about two brothers as well. So we translated this into sort of a baseball game on stage where Aaron and I hit a guitar with baseball bats.” They admit the story is actually about them: “It’s about twins in general, about us and our lives.”

The singers were really well chosen, all the voices were hauntingly beautiful. How did you select them?
“Matt, did you hear that?! Hauntingly beautiful! We should put that on your card!”  Matt laughs and thanks me while Bryce contuines: “Of course Matt is our singer in The National, so that was a logical choice. Plus, we had a specific role for him in mind as ‘lord of the underworld’. We’ve known Kelley for a long time, she is an old friend and we like her voice. It’s very classic. Shara, an old friend as well, is basically my favorite singer all time. Her schooling is classical; some of the pieces she sings are soprano, and she does that so well.”

I saw you drifting away at times, like you were soaking up the music. How different is this from playing with the National?
He laughs: “Was I drifting away? Well, I just like the transgression. It’s like an art-rock world.” So far The National doesn’t have any plans to do anything similar to play with a string quartet. “It’s special to do something like this. We did something with art before, but that was when we were followed by a filmmaker (A skin, a night – a film by Vincent Moon). This is our own project. We could do something like this with The National though, the band’s pretty versatile and we really enjoy experimental music.” When asked if his own music with The National influences this project, or maybe the other way around, he replies: “The Long Count is a conversation with our last album, High Violet. You can hear some of the music interact.”

The Long Count is well known for its prediction the world will end next year. My final question was what he would like to achieve if the world really would end in 2012, to which he responded: “Getting to know my brothers baby. It’s as easy as that.”

Photos by Rutger Houweling

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