Q&A: Grape Me

Why vino is crucial to The National's creative process.

Matt Berninger's low-octave rumble has the ability to be morose, jubilant, and tepidly optimistic in the same song. His dense, oft-contradictory emotional heft gives The National's music staying power and, when unpacked, results in a manic live show.

Before bringing tunes from the band's most recent album High Violet—which debuted at #3 on the Billboard albums chart in May—to Marymoor Park, the indie-rock crooner (if there ever was one) took a minute to catch us up on his day, his dry cleaning, and his daughter.

SW: What's on your domestic agenda for today?

I'm going to pick up some laundry. I think I might try to wash the car and frame some pictures. I don't know; I might get to one of those things.

You send out your laundry but you wash your car yourself?

Yeah, well, it was dry cleaning.

You've got a 20-month-old daughter. Were you planning on kids?

We knew it was going to happen. Everybody in the band realizes that there are things that are more important [than the band]. And having kids and family and stuff around the band is not healthy, so we schedule the band around that stuff.

Yours is one of the lowest and most serious voices that we're hearing in pop music these days. When you sing "Happy Birthday" to your daughter, do you bring it up an octave?

No, no, no, I feel like she wouldn't recognize me. I've been told that babies respond to my voice.

Have you been doing any writing since you've been home?

We don't really do a lot of writing until we've been home for a while and just kind of forgotten about the band. When we finish a record, it's a relief for all of us to sort of just go away from it and turn off that side of our heads and enjoy the songs.

Is it getting harder to enjoy songs like "Mr. November" that are favorites among your fans?

No, not really. "Mr. November" and "Fake Empire" and a few that we will probably play every night have never felt that way. The anxiety of playing a show and the stress of being onstage with the lights and stuff is really exciting and exhilarating, but it's stressful. So sometimes when you get to a song when you know that you can do this song well, and you're just gonna swing for the fences on this one, that's a real pleasure. We stress out before shows, during shows, and after shows much more than we should.

Is that something that a couple drinks before the set doesn't cool down?

[From] before the show [to] until the show's over, I probably drink a bottle of wine, if not a little more. Truthfully, that's the way I write the songs, the lyrics, and everything, too.

I'm usually drinking wine and loosening my grip on whatever and letting some of the more primal good stuff come out. I will admit that drinking is a crutch in a way. But it's a very, very useful crutch.


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