QRO had the tremendous opportunity to meet with Scott Devendorf, bassist of Cincinnati’s hottest export, The National, at this year’s Haldern Pop Festival (QRO recap), to have a few words about the perils of recording, family values, and the sexy vote…
QRO: Congratulations on the success of High Violet (QRO review). How do you think that High Violet is different from the previous albums – has there been a new approach in the studio?
Scott Devendorf: I do think there has been a new approach in the studio, which was we built the studio, so the whole recording process was different; we were able to spend more time mixing and free time, so to speak, to sculpt the sound. I think it’s different from Boxer (QRO review) where we had to lead from the back and we more or less had everything together whilst we were mixing.
QRO: What are you favourite tracks on the album?
SD: On the record, I think the ones that came across are probably “England”; I like “Terrible Love” on the record, but then the live version is totally different; I kind of like songs based on the recorded version rather than the live version – most of the live versions.
QRO: Don’t you write them live?
SD: Well no, we don’t write them live, just play them in different stages of recording. I think live “Conversation 16”, “Terrible Love” and “England” are all pretty good.
QRO: Do you see a musical direction developing where you’re coming from as result of the debut album to current has been rather different?
SD: I don’t know, I think we kind of think about it one record at a time, so we’re always like, at least for the last three or four records, ‘We’re going to do something before and now we’re going to do something different’. Boxer we tried not to make Alligator, High Violet we didn’t try and make Boxer.
QRO: You’ve collaborated with quite a few artists – Sufjan Stevens (QRO live review), St. Vincent (QRO spotlight on) – is there anyone else that you’d like to work or record with?
SD: I really, really like Victoria [Legrand]’s voice from Beach House (QRO album review); I love the band, their sound and her voice, but I don’t know if she’d want to work with us.
QRO: You played with them recently…
SD: Yeah, we played a show with them in Brooklyn. I saw them yesterday, they were great – that’s someone I have on my list to see whilst I’m here (QRO photos of Beach House at Haldern Pop).
QRO: The National seems like quite a family affair – is there ever a sibling rivalry?
SD: Yeah sure – it is a family affair. There’s obviously two sets of brothers, and now Matt’s brother is coming on the road with us. There’s definitely like a ‘band of brothers’ kind of vibe. We get along; I think it helps with tour and day-to-day stuff.
QRO: Do you think being on tour puts pressure on your relationship?
SD: It probably helps it a little bit, meaning we can spend more time together rather than working at different jobs where we wouldn’t see each other a lot, but at the same point if you see family a lot it can pressurize you, but sometimes seeing family is working.
QRO: Now that you’re all a little bit older and have familial commitments, like [singer] Matt [Berninger]’s baby, do you see it affecting the band? Maybe reflected from the slight lyric change at this year’s performance of “Mr. November” at Lollapalooza?…
SD: It’s because he was running around out in the crowd on the edges of the stage and he was signing “Mr. November”, but you know he was [to] sing, “I won’t fuck us over”, then realized there was this little girl there sitting right there in the flower bed and he decided to change [the lyrics] because he didn’t really feel like yelling that in the young girl’s face.
QRO: Does Matt have alternate lyrics for all the songs?
SD: I don’t know! I didn’t know at the time why he was doing it, then afterwards I understood why he was going it.
QRO: It seemed pretty instinctive to him…
SD: He may have had to do it once before, for a radio performance or something, but I was surprised and then realized why he was doing it.
The National playing “Apartment Story” live at 2008 Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX:
QRO: Have you noticed your fanship changing now you’ve increased in popularity?
SD: Maybe – This summer we’ve spent a lot of time at festivals with some venue shows, so there’s always a big contract between the two. I mean, I like playing festivals for the fact that people who probably normally wouldn’t normally go and see the band might see them, and then playing venue shows are for big fans of the band or whatever.
It’s funny because we’ve playing music for the past ten years and touring heavily for the past five or six and there’s been a big difference, obviously, between touring six years ago and now. I guess there’s more people, and it’s kind of funny because there’s people who just got into the band and just know [High Violet], and then they add random requests for other songs. Then it’s like, ‘Ah no, we’re not playing that right now!’
We’ve been trying to learn some old songs just for our own sake.
QRO: How do you find that now your popularity is growing, that the band has actually got the sexy vote going on?
SD: Sexy? I don’t think of it as a ‘sexy band’. I don’t know – it’s a funny thing; it’s never been an aspect which is important to the band. We’re not calendar material – although we have joked about making an all-male calendar based on the “Mr. November” idea, “Mr. November” being someone – not us, just other people! We’ve met a lot of handsome dudes along the way – it’d be funny to have an all-male calendar.
QRO: You should have yourselves and the crew…
SD: Hmmm, I don’t think so!
QRO: Have you been able to say that you’ve made it and reach the breaking point in your career as High Violet has done so well?
SD: I think we are eternal optimists slash pessimists so it’s never like. ‘Oh yeah.’ I definitely recognize the record is doing well, we’re happy about that, and more people are into the band and we’re more ‘high profile’ – it’s great! But we’re trying to just take it easy – because you never know. You see so many bands come and go in our short ten years in the world of music, so we’re just trying to keep on.
QRO: What do you think has given you staying power?
SD: I think we spend a lot of time not… well, there’s was no meteoric rise to the top or anything, it was just a long process, so I think we’re pretty comfortable with where we are now based on the feeling of how we’ve worked towards that. You know, after ten years – which is not a huge amount of time, but it’s significant in the world of bands. I think in a certain way we’ve earned a little bit of the respect, spending time doing it and I think making better records from time to time, so hopefully we’ve keep on doing for a couple of years.
QRO: What do you feel is your best work? Do you feel that your last work, High Violet, is your best work, or do you have a preference for your other records?
SD: Yeah, I like High Violet. My favourites are probably High Violet, Alligator and Cherry Tree for different reasons but I like all the records and I like playing all the songs with just highlights in between. Of course we just made the record [High Violet], so we’re obviously excited about playing it. We’ve all got out favourite songs to play.
QRO: What’s yours?
SD: Let’s see – favourite songs to play: “Brainy”, “All the Wine”, “Little Faith”, “Fake Empire”… “Terrible Love” is kinda fun… it’s like our ‘rock song’. I don’t know – I generally like playing all of them.
QRO: Do you ever listen to your own music?
SD: No… I find it… [thinks] I think after we’re done it’s kind of like, ‘Ahhh…’ It’s the way of a lot of bands who are not like ‘YEAAH!’, put on your own record. You just kind of make it and are happy with it. But we’re really happy with the record but I don’t find myself putting it on; I get slightly uncomfortable when they come on in a bar or someone plays it at a thing, y’know, ‘Whoa…’
The National playing “City Middle” live at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY on October 12th, 2007: