There’s no more iconic venue to play in Sydney than the Opera House forecourt — a stage that American band The National will take to in early February. Last here for a “whirlwind” headline set at Splendour in the Grass 2013, the band is set to return for a longer jaunt across the country.
Capped off by their latest set of brooding anthems, last year’s Trouble Will Find Me, The National have a discography spanning 13 years and six albums. Their subtly melodic, melancholic tunes laced with heart have seen them go from an Ohio-based indie band to a sought-after headlining act.
Music Feeds recently caught up with bassist Scott Devendorf to chat about the band’s upcoming Australian tour, how Trouble Will Find Me is being received on the road, what he listens to on the road, and about the album that made it all ‘click’ for The National.
Music Feeds: You’re playing the Opera House forecourt. Did you guys get a chance to look around that area when you were in Sydney?
Scott Devendorf: Each time we were there we’ve spent some time in the area. Actually, last time or the time before, Matt took us all down there for drinks at the bar, which was great but a little soon with the jet lag. It’s a very nice opera house and a very nice forecourt, so I think it will be cool.
MF: You’re music is atmospheric and lends itself well to the outdoor stage. Do you enjoy playing outside?
SD: Yeah, we do. It kind of depends. It is more challenging sometimes, sonically, but I do like it, particularly if the weather’s nice. But it’s kind of hit or miss. Sometimes it can be rough and sometimes it can work very well.
MF: Last time you were here it was for your headline set at Splendour in the Grass. Are you bringing a different show down here this time?
SD: Definitely. We were there only for the one show which was a sort of whirlwind for us, but yeah it will be a different set. We’ve been doing a lot of elaborate video production. I’m not sure how much of that will be travelling with us, it’s a little tricky going so far abroad but I hope some of it will be intact, especially for Sydney. Set-wise, it will be different too.
MF: Does having more than a decade’s worth of songs to play with make creating the set list more difficult?
SD: I think it’s easier in the sense that we have more to choose from. The sets have been quite long, almost a two hour set. There’s probably nine or ten songs every night from the new record, plus a lot of stuff from the other albums, so it’s usually like 25 songs a night. I guess in a way it’s easier to make a set because you have a lot to choose from, but that’s a lot of songs to play. But I like long concerts.
MF: Are you finding you’re brining a lot of the older songs back into the set?
SD: Yeah, there’s definitely been some fan requests for songs that we haven’t played for a while that we’ve brought back. We like to keep ourselves entertained as well, we don’t want to play the same set every night. There’s probably ten songs that get played almost every set. With the lighting and stuff there’s a lot of elaborate organising going on as well, so we have to make sure everyone’s on the same page because a lot of that stuff is done live as well. If we come up with a new song, we have to come up with something to do with that.
MF: Have you found any surprises in terms of what’s been received well from the new album, Trouble Will Find Me?
SD: It’s one of those records where we can now play every song on the record. The only song we weren’t playing for a while is called Hard to Find, the last song on the album, because it is a little hard to play [laughs] and Matt sings in a much higher register and it’s in an odd time signature. So it’s one of the harder songs to play, but also one of my favourite songs, so I’m glad we can play it now. Some of the big songs were easy from the beginning like Don’t Swallow the Cap and I Should Live in Salt. They worked out really well live.
MF: Do you feel like there was an album in your career where everything clicked? Where the live shows were going down well and you’d found your shtick?
SD: I think Alligator, because the way we wrote it and the way we were touring at the time meant part of it came out of touring and part of it came out of being in the studio together. And then after that, the follow-up, Boxer, which I love very much, but it was a very hard album to make because we did it very differently. I love how it came out, but it was just a different way of working. Boxer was very orchestrated and a difficult recording process, but High Violet was hard in different ways. But there was something about it that was easier to play. The new one [Trouble Will Find Me] was much more of a pleasure to make. Everyone was feeling it in terms of the recording and the working together thing.
MF: Every album there has been a subtle change, but speaking broadly, you’ve been a consistent band. Do you try and isolate yourself from music and the trends when you’re recording?
SD: Yeah. I’m not sure if I try to. I love new stuff and listen to everything, but when it comes to recording time it’s really hard to expose yourself to everything that’s going on right now because then you start to second-guess stuff or you start to wonder. We just try to do our own thing. Sometimes we listen to stuff, but then it can be like ‘Oh man, that song’s good.’ I try to not expose myself to it to avoid any disappointment [laughs]
MF: Do you still try and keep up with new music outside of recording?
SD: Oh yeah. There’s a bunch of great stuff. I actually just heard the new War on Drugs record. Listening to that a lot. I’ve been driving around for the last two weeks. It’s a really good ‘driving around a lot’ record. This is the best time to listen to music because we’re just in the middle of touring and it’s enjoyable to listen to stuff. I really like the new Cass McCombs record, Big Wheels and Others. I’ve been listening to William Tyler a lot. That record came out last year or the year before but we didn’t get to listen to it because we were recording. Oh man, what else is there? Oh, there’s a new record by a band called People Get Ready that’s coming out this year. It’s a small band but it’s really good. We’ve played a couple of shows with them in the past. Is that enough? [Laughs]
MF: What’s on for the rest of the year?
SD: I think we’ll wrap up the tour in about autumn and by then, everyone will have been touring on and off for 20 months. We’ll probably take a break and then we’ll start writing again, I think. We have a movie coming out too so that’s another big thing, we’ll see how that goes.
Gallery: The National – Splendour In The Grass 2013, 27/07/2013
The National: "'Alligator' Was The Album Where It All Clicked" - Music Feeds
The National February 2014 Australian Tour
Thursday, 6th February 2014
Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Friday, 7th February 2014
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney
Saturday, 8th February 2014 – SOLD OUT
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney
Sunday, 9th February 2014
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Tuesday, 11th February 2014
Friday, 14th February 2014
Belvoir Amphitheatre, Perth