Aaron Dessner of the National on the possibility of the next record being radically different
In advance of the National's show tonight at Red Rocks, we spoke with Aaron Dessner. We printed the excerpts from our chat with him in this week's paper, and today on the blog, we have the full Q&A. Dessner talks about what could be in store for the band's next album: "There's an interest in making something radically different again," he says, adding that there's been talk of recording a much rawer kind of record that is less layered and more visceral and loud. Continue on to read about that and a whole lot more.
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. 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 expectation 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, "Lets go into the studio." So we did.
From what I gather, it sounds like making Trouble was much more relaxed than making previous records.
It was. We all lived together in this barn in upstate New York for six weeks. It was like being at camp or something -- waking up every day and eating and being together and staying up late drinking together. We hadn't done that in a really long time. It allowed us to focus, I think, in a different way and shut out a lot of the distractions of the city, which was very positive.
And right at the beginning of the sessions, there was a tornado, right?
Yeah, that was crazy. We had set up to record and everything was miked, and we were all ready to go, and then this tornado came around the barn and tore up all the trees and brought down all the power lines; and actually, a tree landed on the neighbor's house. It was kind of a weird scene. The power was knocked out for a week. So the first few days, we just sat around strumming acoustic guitars in the dark. That was kind of fun, actually. Eventually the power came back, but it was a funny beginning. And then the hurricane came a few weeks later, and that stopped recording for a few days also.
Did any of those natural disasters seep into the record at all?
I think there's a lot of imagery... "I love a storm, but I don't love lightening/All the water's coming up so fast, that's frightening." Matt uses a lot of water metaphors, I think, and a lot of ways to kind of... A lot of different emotions and tears and things, and I think that may have been something that was in his mind because of what was going on with the weird natural disasters and things. It certainly gave us a bunker mentality in the studio that was kind of interesting. You just kind of hunker down in there and it's a nice cozy feeling.
I guess there was a little less tension making the record as well versus High Violet, right? It sounds like you have Matt have gone at it in the past.
We were more relaxed this time. There were a few battles, but for the most part, we got along. I mean, we get along well as people, but it's just when we're collaborating on any kind of project, and it means a lot to you -- it's very personal music, and words are very personal -- you can run into movements where you're pulling in different directions. We both have different perspectives on things. But this time, it was smooth, and it was working so well that I think it kind of flew by without a lot of interpersonal tension, which is good.
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.
Before, you were talking about how you wrote thirty songs when you started this album. Is anything going to happen to those other tracks that didn't make the album?
I think so. There are some of them that are quite strong. You never know what happens to bands. This could be our last record or we could make a bunch more. It just depends. Some of the songs deserve to be heard so hopefully we will finish them. But I also think there's an interest in making something radically different again, so some of the stuff that we were writing might not make sense on the next record. I think it will see the light of day. There's definitely a few songs that I think are quite strong that we had been working on but didn't quite finish. So hopefully we will finish at some point.
As far as doing something radically different in the future, do you have any idea what that could be?
There's been talk of recording a much rawer kind of record that is less layered and just more visceral and possibly just loud. This one is very beautiful and considerate and delicate and emotional, and then sometimes we want to play with raw force and not be so delicate. I have a feeling of that's where we're going to go next, but we'll see.
How do you feel the documentary, Mistaken for Strangers, turned out?
It's an amazing film. Matt's younger brother traveled with us for almost two years and was not effective at his job -- he was actually fired -- but he's aspiring filmmaker, and he had a camera and was filming us all the time. I think we thought he was making a documentary about the band, but really, when he started putting it together, it became more about him. I remember we all kind of realized that early on that he is a compelling character -- a gifted, kind of magnetic, very funny, charming guy, and he should be on the screen. He's easy to relate to and easy to laugh at him or with him.
He eventually put together this movie that's hilarious and emotional, and I think you learn a lot about the National, through it but it's not really about us, except we're in the background, and obviously our music is a setting for this story, which is really kind of Tom's struggle to do something that he can be proud of, essentially, and to make his brother proud of him. So it's kind of Matt and Tom's story.
I think it's going to be released early next year in theaters, hopefully in March or April. That's exciting because none of us thought it would be anything more than just a little tour documentary. They didn't show the band the movie pretty much at all until it was almost done, so we had no idea.... They kind of kept us out of it on purpose to make it so they didn't have to worry about other people's opinions or anything. I think what came out is really special.
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