It was the best of times, it was the best of times.
What’s shakin’ my little suitcases? It’s been a coon’s age since I rapped ‘atcha but what can I say, the doc is back off the wagon. Been working, some. Been writing less. All this meager living and restaurant work makes a man drink delicious beers. And all that sex makes a man weary of the typed page. But enough of all that. Stuff your sorries in a suitcase, that’s what I always say! Last Friday, I went and saw The National at First Ave in Minneapolis, my current place of residence. The folks at the A.V. Club-Twin Cities were even gracious enough to let Dr. Unken do a write-up! What chivalry!
Anyway, after the show I greased myself down in Pabst Blue Ribbon and slipped backstage to meet up with Aaron Dessner, guitarist, bassist, multi-instrumentalist and general man about town for Brooklyn’s The National. I will admit that we were both drunk. I will admit that it was an impromptu interview, and I will admit that Justin Vernon: that crazed tornado of all things good, was running around weighing me up with weedy genius maniacal eyes…But I asked a few questions anyway, and Aaron’s responses were surprisingly lucid…
(Author’s Note: WARNING: WE WERE KIND OF DRUNK)
D.S.- What are you drinking?
A.D.- Budweiser. Although, a few minutes ago I was drinking Stella…
D.S.- I remember watching something, an interview or something, where you said that your songs are simple on guitar and that, more or less, the complexity lies in the rhythm or time signature…Now that was from a while ago, I believe it was after Boxer, Do you think that still holds true now?
A.D.- I do think that…well I think that basically there’s this tug-of-war in the band. We wanna make music that, night after night, we’re not bored of. It’s not academic, it’s just that if it’s too simple…”Lemonworld” is a perfect example of this: it’s not interesting musically but it is a great song because there’s this sense of something, music or meaning, which you can’t put your finger on…For us it’s these subtleties…We always back into songs: there’s no formula there’s usually something about it though..not overt…A lot of the time it’s the drums, Bryan is usually doing something to pull you in…He wont just jam, he settles on a part, but there is something there…The best National songs are this mix…There’s something in the music electric, something that’s pulling you along, something emotional, something that tugs on you and you can’t try to write those. They just sort of happen.
D.S.- I saw you here about a year ago when you were still touring off of Boxer. How do you think that this performance compared to that visit in 2009?
A.D.- I would like to believe that we put forth a better performance now but you know every tour is difficult, it’s hard to say. I feel like we lay it all out there, that’s the attitude, and sometimes it does it and sometimes it doesn’t.
(we both take big sleepy fun drinks from our beers, then Justin Vernon passes dancing with a troupe of people on their way outside.)
Tonight was special because we had one of our favorite musicians on stage with us and we think he’s amazing. I think in twenty years Justin will be thought of as the Neil Young of our time…And last night we got to stay at his house and we met his family, and that sort of makes you believe in all of this, that there’s some sort of community, some connected aspect to it.
D.S.-You guys are a Brooklyn-based band, but via Cincinnati, Ohio where you’re originally from. What do you think about this idea of “The Third Coast,”? You know, this belief that the mid-west or Minneapolis and other landlocked cities can have a viable cultural scene in spite of the powerhouse effect of the East and West Coast. Do you believe in the, like, idea that other places might maybe have a vital perspective and shouldn’t be just an artistic fly-by zone?
(Editor’s Note: Wow, reading that…just…wow)
A.D.-I mean I think we were very much being in that sense of things. (Editor’s Note: That’s the best sentence I have ever transcribed for an interview.) My brother started this Music Now festival in Cincinnati. It’s a pretty dead city for music, but my brother started this festival and Justin played there and The Dirty Projectors and Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens…We travel all over the world, but where you’re from, I mean that is important, and The National doesn’t play in Cincinnati. I do think that there is this thing in Minneapolis and Eau Claire and Detroit, this renewed urban living thing, buying property…This is a mid-western tour: Milwaukee, Columbus, Detroit; it’s really interesting. There’s a lot happening.