From his home on Long Island, Scott Devendorf of The National lists off
a playlist he’s made of some of the bands he’s been listening to: Shame,
described was “sort of a weird, British Fugazi,” Mac DeMarco, and Destroyer,
the band from Canada that he and his brother Bryan Devendorf like. The National
is one of the biggest acts in indie rock right now, with its eighth full length
album, I Am Easy to Find—a robust
16-track collection of collaborations hailed as the band’s most ambitious yet,
featuring vocals from Gail Ann Dorsey, Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables, Mina
Tindle, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
The five-piece Cincinnati-born, yet largely New York-based band—which
includes twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner (the latter of whom had a Grammy
before The National would)—have expanded their sound, reach, and sense of
freedom for creating whatever the hell kind of music they want, pleasing longtime
fans and continuing to make new ones.
And yet, individually and together, it seems that The National manages
to remain true to themselves, what they like, and to the people that love their
music. Each member is part of a sum that makes up a truly great band. I had the
opportunity to talk to Mr. Devendorf, who was quite warm and open, about where
they are, what they are up to, and where they might be next.
Just last week, you were in Philadelphia
for a small show at Union Transfer, which was recorded for Sirius XM. It’s
really cool that you chose that particular venue for such a special show.
Oh, I love that venue…. We played there before, on the last record,
and we’ve been to Philly many times. Our sound engineer and now our manager, he
grew up in Philly, and we have sort of a strong tie with him. And actually, a
lot of the people we work with are from or live in Philadelphia, which is
interesting. Three of our engineers went to school in Philadelphia.
The setlist for the Union
Transfer show was great, as they all are. Can you talk about how you put together
a set list for something like the Union Transfer show versus larger stages at a
festival or arena?
The set list for the first few shows that we’re doing [on this tour]
are introducing the new record-type of shows, so that’s what we’re mostly
playing. Union Transfer wasn’t the whole record, nor was the show we recently
did at iHeartRadio… it depends. For the first five shows we played the whole
record front to back, and as time goes on we’re going to mix it up with older
songs from Sleep Well Beast, and the
whole catalog, I guess. Aaron usually makes the setlist, but we try to make
them as different as possible, which is sometimes hard to do, as we have a lot
of songs now, so we have to weave in old songs. But it’s fun. We did a show in
Austin that was sort of a good model for us going forward, which [was] just
other songs that we never play for an entire set! We were near the end of the
tour and were like ‘Hey, let’s put a set list together of all the songs that
people ask for and we never play,’ and we kind of did that. And that was really
enlightening for us, and fun. We hope to mix up it more, I guess, given the new
It’s interesting to hear that
is a good model on your end, since the people who are going to your shows
certainly want to hear the songs you don’t play very often, and the new album
has “Rylan” on it, a song everyone hopes you’ll play, as it was previously
[Laughs] Yeah, we will play that quite frequently, it seems. But
I think even the songs we like to play are good songs, too. Even more than
people like to hear sometimes (laughs).
So it’s fun to change it as much as possible.
So I had read a headline,
from the New York Times, that the
band was poised to perhaps take a break from touring or recording, and that
Mike Mills, who you worked with on the album as well as a short film, kind of
brought everything back together. Is that true?
It is true! We had finished touring in mid-October 2018, and prior to
that Mike had contacted us, maybe a year or more before, I think…. When Sleep Well Beast came out, he was
interested in doing a music video. And we were like ‘Well, we’d love to do a
music video…. whatever you want to do.’ Because we’re big fans of his movies,
and he’s a super-sweet dude….So,
he had approached us asking to do a music video, and we were in the middle of Sleep Well Beast, so we weren’t needing
to make videos, but we were needing to do something, and we wanted to work with
him. So we were like, ‘Here are a bunch of unfinished songs that we have recorded
and some of them we are planning to use.’ Of the new songs, we played probably
four or five of them on the Sleep Well
Beast tour, near the end… “Light Years,” “Quiet
Light,” and a couple more…. We sent him what we had. And he took them
and sort of started to abstract the songs and put them over this musical film
he was making that we later saw and were really excited about. [Ed. Note: Mills’
film is also titled I Am Easy to Find]
If you had to describe the
difference in process or experience between recording or creating this album
from the one previous using three words, what would they be?
Three words (laughs heartily).
“Much smoother than?” (laughs) Or, “Less fighting between [us].” Nah, it
was good. Like, I think
having the movie as a touchdown and an inspiration really helped us. The movie
is great and did help inspire a lot of lyrics and helped inspire the themes,
and just kind of what the album was about in general. I think once we kind of
had the film as a jumping off point of sorts, it was really inspiring to
Do you all have any pre-show
rituals? Or, even just something you do often, since you’ve been together for
(Laughs) Well, we don’t do a group hug, we don’t do a high-five, or any
team-building exercises. I know why…. I guess it is because we’ve known each other
longer than the band, so the ritual is just sort of getting together, and
talking right before we go on. I’d say my brother is the only one with a
ritual. He actually practices before we go on, like these drumstick exercises…
he’ll drum on practice pad. Matt makes himself a nice cocktail, and plays DJ in
our room, which can be distracting, because he switches songs a lot, in the
middle of the song, and it’ll be like, “What are you doing?!” Anyway, everyone
just sort of mills about, until we get the show on the road, as it were. But no
Two-parter: What did you eat
in Philly around your Union Transfer show that particular night, and are there
any recent food memories that you have from concert dates?
Yes, and yes…. In Philly, my cousin, before the show… we had some
drinks and some salad. But when I returned to the venue, cheesesteaks of the
meat variety were available. I’d missed out on that because I went to meet up
with my cousin. But let’s just say cheesesteaks were eaten by many people. But
you know what, my brother is obsessed with ramen noodles and finding good ramen
in any city we go to. So we were just in New York, and this is his memory, but
I will share it, because I do love this place. He went to Mr. Taka, this awesome
place in the Lower East Side. And it’s awesome. He went there twice in 24
hours. I get to go whenever, since I live here, but since he lives in Ohio,
it’s like a specialty. So we have good memories of finding ramen, and he’s
usually pretty successful.
I appreciate your time. Any
words for your fans, or to our readers?
A million thank you’s for caring about us at all. We’re happy that
anyone enjoys our songs and get something out of them. We’re lucky to have
pretty dedicated fans who are wonderful people. So, thank you, everyone.
The National perform Tuesday,
June 11 at the Mann Center in Philadelphia and Wednesday, June 12 Prospect Park
in New York City. The album and short film I
Am Easy to Find are out now from 4AD. For more information, go to