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After finishing their tour in support of 2010's High Violet, the members of the National didn't have any immediate plans to record again. But guitarist Aaron Dessner, whose daughter had just been born, ended up with a lot of time on his hands. He began writing songs in his backyard studio and giving them to singer Matt Berninger, and, next thing they knew, they'd written an album. We recently spoke with Dessner about the making of Trouble Will Find Me.
Westword: It sounds like you guys weren't really planning on making a record after you'd come off the High Violet tour. You started writing demos and took it from there, right?
Aaron Dessner: I had some time at home, and I had a studio in my back yard. My wife had our first child, Ingrid. In the beginning, there's not much that you can do other than...they feed, and they sleep, so you have a lot of time on your hands — time you don't think you're going have on your hands, actually. And you're kind of in this heightened state. And so I would go out in the studio, and I ended up recording a bunch of songs earlier than I ever thought I would have been writing new material.
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Eventually, when I had a bunch of them, I gave them to Matt, and I think that they were really clicking with him on different levels, and he just started writing. And I think because there was no pressure or expectations of making an album, the writing came pretty easily. Some of the songs were written pretty quickly.
It just all came together, and before we realized it, we had thirty song ideas without ever really having a discussion of writing songs. That was cool. Some of them, like "I Should Live in Salt" — I think once that song came together, we realized we were making an album, and then we started sharing stuff with the other guys, and my brother was also writing new music. So we got together, and last summer we played some of the songs, and it was going well, and we thought, "Let's go into the studio." So we did.
I read that you try to reinvent yourselves with every record. What did you do differently with Trouble?
I think this one is much more open and three-dimensional, and there's a lot more air in it. High Violet was kind of claustrophobic and dense, with tremolo and feedback, and that was an idea that we had about the sonic texture that I think is very effective.
But this time, we kind of pulled that away from the sound that we wanted to hear. I think it's more open. Then I think, also, the bases for the songs are more adventurous. Many songs have strange time signatures or odd time signatures; there are songs with mixed meter. There are many cases where there are half bars, and just things that are sort of asymmetrical about the songs.
And I think that's different, and there are more changes and more codas and left turns and things. We felt more freedom to be creative and chase every idea. I think the result is more freewheeling, I would say — just less careful, in a sense. That could have been dangerous, but it worked out.