In the 60s, 70s and 80s, the climb from bar band to arena was often a long, arduous one that built character or fostered self-destruction.
Bands spent years building a fan base before success struck.
In the modern era of viral overnight hits, the National has made a steady, old school-style climb with intelligent, dark indie-rock. Since 2001, the Brooklyn band has released six critically adored albums and has gone from playing intimate bars to selling out six consecutive nights at The Beacon Theater in its hometown and performing on the main stage at this years Bonnaroo.
The National which plays its first Charlotte show, at the Fillmore, on Wednesday is atypical in many ways.
Were very persistent to a fault, explains bassist Scott Devendorf. We measured our success through a bunch of small things. There was a sense of achievement every time we got to go on tour in France, or this small label picked up our record. It bolstered our confidence. Along the way, we kept working several years at day jobs and having a sense of realism about it. When we started, we werent 20 years old. We were late 20s or 30s.
The members seem as mature, smart and personable as the music theyre making. It helps that they arent hard partiers. Devendorfs brother Bryan plays drums. Twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner play guitar. Unlike infamous brother bands Oasis and the Black Crowes, the National isnt plagued by clashing siblings.
We have little fights, but mostly support each other. Its creating an internal dynamic thats been important to us, says Devendorf, whose parents retired south of Raleigh. The fact that the band is a family has helped us stay together.
Family is the theme of Mistaken for Strangers, the recent documentary by vocalist Matt Berningers brother Tom, who filmed the band on tour while working as an assistant to their tour manager. A metal head and horror fan, life on the road with the National wasnt exactly what Tom Berninger expected, but thats why his movie has been well-received at recent film festivals.
I think its amazing, says Devendorf, who knew the Berningers growing up in Ohio. He helped to lift spirits, and it was nice for Matt to have a comrade, whereas all the (rest of us) each had brothers and he didnt.
(Tom) set out to make a rock documentary. Our touring is not Motley Crue. He didnt get what he wanted from that angle, but more valuably he was able to capture things about family and his relationship with Matt, and thats more what the film turned out to be about.
The film undoubtedly sheds light on a group that like the classic bands its compared to maintains a bit of mystery, whether thats through a quiet presence or Berningers vague lyrics (Devendorf says the band doesnt ask Berninger to explain them). Devendorf describes the Nationals latest album, Trouble Will Find Me, as more direct lyrically, while the band plays with odd time signatures that are less direct than your average pop song.
We always try to inject as much feeling (as possible); the songs need to have an emotional tug for us. Theyre never flat. I hope thats what people get out of it, he says when asked why he thinks the Nationals music resonates with an ever-growing fan base without a clear hit. (2005s Mr. November, which became an unofficial anthem for the Obama campaign, is the closest.)
Ive been told the records arent immediately a great pop song type of thing. Its not (about) singles. We try and create a world with each album. Its an old way of thinking of it. If you can get into that concept, you can get into the band.
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