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The National takes old-school road to fame

By Courtney Devores
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/05/13/54/19iodI.Em.138.jpeg|246
    Frazer Harrison - Getty Images
    Musician Scott Devendorf of the band The National performs during Day 3 of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2011.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/05/13/54/DKHuM.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Frazer Harrison - 2011 GETTY FILE PHOTO
    The National will bring its first Charlotte show to The Fillmore on Wednesday
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/05/13/54/13NZY3.Em.138.jpeg|212
    Mark Metcalfe - GETTY
    Matt Berninger of The National performs for fans at the 2013 Splendour In The Grass Festival in Byron Bay, Australia, in July.

More Information

  • PREVIEW

    The National

    WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday.

    WHERE: The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.

    TICKETS: $45.50.

    DETAILS: 800-745-3000; www.livenation.com.



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 year’s Bonnaroo.

The National – which plays its first Charlotte show, at the Fillmore, on Wednesday – is atypical in many ways.

“We’re 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 weren’t 20 years old. We were late 20s or 30s.”

The members seem as mature, smart and personable as the music they’re making. It helps that they aren’t hard partiers. Devendorf’s brother Bryan plays drums. Twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner play guitar. Unlike infamous brother bands Oasis and the Black Crowes, the National isn’t plagued by clashing siblings.

“We have little fights, but mostly support each other. It’s creating an internal dynamic that’s 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 Berninger’s 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 wasn’t exactly what Tom Berninger expected, but that’s why his movie has been well-received at recent film festivals.

“I think it’s 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 didn’t.

“(Tom) set out to make a rock documentary. Our touring is not Motley Crue. He didn’t get what he wanted from that angle, but more valuably he was able to capture things about family and his relationship with Matt, and that’s more what the film turned out to be about.”

The film undoubtedly sheds light on a group that – like the classic bands it’s compared to –maintains a bit of mystery, whether that’s through a quiet presence or Berninger’s vague lyrics (Devendorf says the band doesn’t ask Berninger to explain them). Devendorf describes the National’s 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. They’re never flat. I hope that’s what people get out of it,” he says when asked why he thinks the National’s music resonates with an ever-growing fan base without a clear hit. (2005’s “Mr. November,” which became an unofficial anthem for the Obama campaign, is the closest.)

“I’ve been told the records aren’t immediately a great pop song type of thing. It’s not (about) singles. We try and create a world with each album. It’s an old way of thinking of it. If you can get into that concept, you can get into the band.”

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