It’s been a great year for the National, but that’s hardly a surprise, is it? Trouble Will Find Me has been widely acclaimed in the end of year love fests – it was number 16 in our list – and firmly cemented their position as one of the biggest, most revered bands in the world. They’ve also collected headline slots and prestigious gigs the way most bands rack up service station loyalty points, and have just announced possibly their biggest yet; sharing a stage with Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
Lined up as the Harvest star’s support act for 2014’s Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park festival, I spoke to a clearly excited Aaron Dessner down a patchy telephone line from Los Angeles about what this means to them, taking advice from R.E.M, and the chances of hearing some new material in the New Year.
DiS: What does sharing a stage with Neil Young mean to you guys?
Aaron Dessner: I think that with Neil Young, there are probably only one or two other artists that mean more to us, or even mean the same. He’s definitely someone that all five of us have listened to exhaustively for as long as I can remember. When Bryan, my brother and I were 14, we used to play a lot of Neil Young songs, and he’s always been someone that we’ve idolised and followed, for pretty much every stage of his career. I have every single album on vinyl, and it’s going to be a total honour and very special for us. When we were asked, there wasn't even a second of hesitation in saying yes.
You’re number 16 in our Album of the Year list. How does it feel that Trouble Will Find Me is getting a lot of critical love in all the end of year reviews?
It’s always odd the way these albums get listed and ranked, like what does it really mean, and how do you employ a qualitative ranking system? I feel like it’s more for a commercial purpose, all of that. I have a handful of records that really matter to me this year, but we’re very honoured to have any kind of attention, especially to be part of some better sites like Drowned In Sound or any publication that takes the time to spend some time with the music and fall in love with it; that’s always amazing and we’re thankful for it. But lists in general? I personally like those that aren’t numbered or ranked, those make more sense to me. Like, “Here’s some records I liked listening to this year.” But of course, we’re totally thankful and honoured!
As you’ve gotten bigger and more successful, and the shows have gotten bigger, how have you adapted the show to suit bigger venues and gigs?
Well, we don’t feel like we’re natural entertainers or showy in any way; it’s sometimes awkward for us when we perform, no matter what the circumstances. But we’ve learned how to embrace it, you know, and use the fear and the thrill of it, and the energy you get from the crowd is very important when you play. Our Ally Pally shows [this year] were some of our favourite shows ever, there was just this wave of energy from the audience. Plus, we’re well prepared after all these years I guess, so we can embrace it and play our hearts out, and you somehow feel actually connected to every single person in the audience. The first group we learned this from was R.E.M. and from talking to Michael Stipe about it, and we’ve been lucky to tour with a lot of great bands; you figure it out. We’ve also got great people around us helping with sound, video and lights, and we’re definitely at a level now where we have to trade off with certain opportunities; you want to play for all your fans, but you don’t want to play any soulless places, so you have to choose the right thing to do. Playing Hyde Park with Neil Young, even though there’ll be loads of people there, it’s going to feel really special
Apart from supporting Neil Young, what does 2014 hold for the National? What are your goals and plans for the year ahead?
Well Matt’s younger brother Tom has done a movie – Mistaken For Strangers – which comes out in early spring, so that’ll be a priority. There’ll be a lot of events and stuff around that. We’re also off to Australia and Asia on tour, New Zealand as well, and then I think we will come back to Europe at some point, not just for the show at Hyde Park. But as far as new music and things like that, I’m not sure we’ll really have time or be focussed on new National songs, although there’s always a lot of discussion about new ideas. So we’ll see.
So you won’t be debuting any news songs at Hyde Park?
Well, actually we might! It wouldn’t be intentional to write a song just for that, but if one comes… Usually at the end of an album cycle there are some songs that just miraculously appear, so I can see that happening. But we haven’t really discussed it, so I can’t promise anything.
Trouble Will Find Me is out now.
For more about the British Summer Time Hyde Park festival, click here.