The Big Issue : Edition 450
THEBIGISSUE24JAN–6FEB2014 35 WITH AN AUSTRALIAN TOUR COMMENCING, THE NATIONAL’S MATT BERNINGER TAKES STOCK OF HOW HE AND THE BAND HAVE EVOLVED, AND WHAT AUDIENCES CAN EXPECT. FROM LEFT BRYCE DESSNER, SCOTT DEVENDORF, BRYAN DEVENDORF, AARON DESSNER AND MATT BERNINGER Lyrically, Berninger is fond of recasting borrowed snippets, with Trouble Will Find Me lifting phrases from the 1950 song ‘Blue Velvet’ on ‘Humiliation’, and from the 1983 Violent Femmes song ‘Kiss Off’ on ‘Hard to Find’. While he hopes he won’t get sued for it, there doesn’t seem to be much danger: his usage is always minimal and remade in a new context. And that’s not to disparage Berninger’s own imagination, whether it’s his oblique wordplay or hypnotic choruses. In ‘Pink Rabbits’, he even invents the cocktail of the same name, though he’s since found out there’s already a Pink Bunny involving vodka and strawberry syrup. Berninger named one of The National’s earliest songs ‘Bitters & Absolut’ (2001), while ‘Baby, We’ll Be Fine’ (2005) mentions the fictional drink Sauvignon Fierce, which he thought would be “a funny, cheap, terrible beer”. Yet he’s quick to add: “I don’t recommend anybody trying to make the drinks that I’m talking about, because most of it is just what sounds good together.” That fondness for drink doesn’t translate to a wild touring lifestyle. “I do all my partying pretty much on stage,” he explains. “After that I go hide in the bus or the hotel room and watch bad TV.” Berninger avoids social outings, playing the loner in a way that recalls his ‘Demons’ lyric When I walk into the room, I do not light it up. “I do love coming off stage,” he clarifies, “having done a good show and connecting with a big room of people who are singing our songs. That’s the greatest thing in the world. But everything else around touring is something I have a hard time with.” He adds: “I drink so much wine on stage that I’m done after a performance. I just go away. Like a dog goes off into the woods to die.” One of the new album’s best mantras is It’s the side effects that save us, from ‘Graceless’. When Berninger was quitting smoking via medication, he suffered the side effect of insomnia. He describes an “itchy and antsy” month in which he penned “a weird screenplay about time travel and the Charles M Schulz comic strip Peanuts”. Laughing it off, he demurs, “It was either brilliant or really dumb. I can’t remember. I can’t find it anywhere, and that’s probably for the best.” by Doug Wallen » The National tour Australia 6–14 February.