The National talks tour, new songs

The National, with frontman Matt Berninger pictured in centre.

The National, with frontman Matt Berninger pictured in centre.

DARRYL STERDAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:28 PM ET

The National has good news and bad news.

The good news: The critically acclaimed Brooklyn indie-rockers may start work on their next album sooner than expected. The bad news: It might make no difference in the long run.

“We’ve started writing new songs over the past couple of months on the road, which is weird for us,” explains frontman Matt Berninger.

“Before we would wait until after a tour. We’d get away from each other and go off into our corners for several months and recharge. But this time, there are a lot of songs that are already cooking a little bit. We’re getting really excited about the new record already. So we might dive into the writing process right away. I feel like we’re kind of ready.

“Of course, all that being said, it all may change completely — six months from now we might just throw everything away that we’ve been working on and start from scratch. You never know.”

One thing he does know: The band — rounded out by brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitar, with siblings Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums — are about to put their latest album High Violet to bed. Nearly two years after the release of their magnificent, moody masterpiece, The National are playing their final shows in support of the disc, wrapping up with Canadian dates in Toronto and Montreal this week, followed by a six-pack of gigs in New York City.

From a stop in Vancouver, 40-year-old baritone Berninger shared his thoughts on the end of the High road, the creative impact of sleep deprivation and his chances of becoming an astronaut.

Are you tired of playing the High Violet songs yet?

You know, when we get onstage and play the songs, the environment is so energized that I don’t think we ever get bored. The anxiety of performing and singing in front of a bunch of people with lights on you has never felt boring to me. Sometimes it’s felt awful because of exhaustion or anxiety, but I don’t know if we’ve ever talked about getting tired of the songs. We get tired of living in a bus, but not the songs. In fact, after we’ve played a song a lot, I think we start to enjoy it more because we can bend it and play around with it.

Have these songs changed a lot from their initial incarnations?

It’s not that we’re changing the chords. Sometimes the song will be a much more muscular version than on the album or vice versa. They change that way. And often they get worse! So we have to listen to the record again and go, ‘Why have we been playing it three times as fast?’ Occasionally we have to reset ourselves. But we’ve learned to embrace that and not try just to recreate the album. We just see what happens. But it’s nothing like the way Dylan has reinvented his songs so much you almost don’t even recognize them. I don’t want people to think they’re going to come and just hear me growling over a keyboard.

How does the new material you’ve been working on compare with your older songs?

Aaron has given me about 10 ideas so far. He seems to be in some sort of really weird creative space. He recently had a baby, so maybe it’s a lack of sleep. He’s wired differently. The songs he’s given me are much less cerebral and academic and much more immediate and visceral than usual. I’m in love with them. I just spent all night listening over and over to some things he sent. I think they’re some of the best things he’s ever written. And I think it might be because he’s not thinking about it that much. He isn’t putting everything through the filter of Important Music as he has in the past. The music just seems to be working on a pure gut level.

Well, if any band gives off the impression of overthinking, it’s you guys.

Ha! I would agree with that 100%. And I think we all want to just stop thinking for a while. Of course, that could lead to us creating the worst record ever made.

Might this immediacy carry over into the recording?

Maybe. We have a tiny, tiny garage studio in the backyard now. So just the environment and the way we work is becoming much more casual. We might just let the tape roll and not overthink it too much. But if that doesn’t work, we’re going to tinker and lose our minds and fight like we always do (laughs). We’re a band that fights a lot — we all have different ideas of what a song should do and we’re all passionate and stubborn. But we’ve come to be at peace with the way we interact.

We know our personalities create a lot of tension and friction, but we’re not worried anymore about there being friction. We accept it and let it be there.

Slowly but surely, you’ve been getting more popular and successful with every album. How are you dealing with the approach of fame?

You mean, with not turning into rich a--holes? (Laughs) I don’t think we’ve changed that much. I know I’ve gotten grumpier. But that’s just from spending so much time on a bus with a bunch of grown men.

Everybody gets a little grumpy. But when we started the band I was already 30, so I never fell into any of the traps or pitfalls that can happen to young people when they’re in a successful rock band. We’ve done shows with The Strokes and seen the crazy world that surrounds them. It’s great and exciting — your fantasy of what an awesome rock band is. But we’ve always felt like we never will be that big, you know. And that’s OK. I know I’m not going to be an astronaut either.

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