An interview with The National by @DannyinBelfast

What do Kanye West, Sir Paul McCartney, The Killers and Arctic Monkeys all have in common?

Music lovers out there may well know that they have been the headline act during the current series of ‘Later… With Jools Holland’. Every week the biggest acts from around the world join the host in the studio and last week was no different as The National took centre stage.

Following the commercial and critical success of the band’s sixth album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ – The National are a band at the height of their powers, and the UK leg of their mammoth world tour begins at our very own Odyssey Arena tomorrow night (9th November)

In preparation for what promises to be one of the gigs of the year, I talked to lead singer Matt Beringer just moments before he took to the stage in Amsterdam to find out just what Belfast can expect when the band come to town on Saturday night.

“It’s an opportunity to see a grown man lose his sh*t, under some beautiful lights. Our shows are fun and chaotic and often filled with a certain amount of destruction – and it’s usually my body or the bottle of whatever wine that I’m drinking. I think our live show is different to our records, it’s just more rocky and more messy – in a good way I think.”

Part of the appeal of The National is the eclectic sounds that they are capable of. They are equally at home whether playing guitar-driven rock songs such as ‘Mr November’ as they are with heartbreaking love songs such as ‘Pink Rabbits from their most recent album. But is there one song that sums up the band’s live experience?

“Not really. There’s not really one. We have songs where I’m a gorilla going through a temper tantrum and there are other songs that are very, very quiet and delicate, so it’s kind of a roller coaster ride being at our shows. It’s hard to say or pick one that captures everything. We’ve been doing a live version of the song About Today – that I’m not even sure we’re going to play in Belfast – that starts out really delicate and then at the end it’s kind of a screaming squal of things, but its hard to say that there’s one that really captures it – and I think that’s really the whole point.”

The National may not look like the stereotypical rock band. They don’t possess the flashy glamour of Arctic Monkeys or the Killers, nor does Matt wear sunglasses like Bono. They look unassuming, and you’d be forgiven for not recognising that they are a rock band of 14 years experience if you were to pass them in the street. Though, live they are a different proposition. Does Matt see himself as a rockstar? And is he excited to be back in Northern Ireland?

“I guess so. I’ve been in a rock band for a long time now, we fly all over the world and put on shows so I guess that’s what I am in some regard. I’m not sure what version of a rock star I am – I’m somewhere between Axl Rose and Leonard Cohen, it’s hard to say. It’s a funny thing, I don’t feel good on stage, and being up there, by any stretch of the imagination, is not my comfort zone. Maybe that’s why I drink so much wine, just to escape how awkward and humiliating it can be to be standing on stage, having lights on you while you sing love songs – it’s kind of ridiculous but I’ve definitely learned to love it.

“Of course, we’re really excited to be back. The thing with audiences in the UK, and in particular Ireland, is that they will sing their heads off and are connected in a different way. Some places that we go are quiet – and that’s also nice – but they’re very reverential and you can hear a pin drop the whole show until a song is over. But in Ireland you certainly can’t hear any pins drop – people are screaming the whole time. I have learned to be very careful going out into the crowd in the United Kingdom in general, including Ireland, because there’s a lot more grabbing going on for whatever reason – and I think it’s mostly dudes – so when I do go out in the crowd I do try to avoid the pockets of drunk dudes as they’re looking for souvenirs – they’re trying to take my belt off, and it can get distracting *laughs*.”

The band had planned to take an extended break after a mammoth 22-month tour for High Violet, but were drawn back into the studio almost straight away when they started bouncing songs off each other. But after two massive world tours, it could be time for a break once they wrap this tour – meaning that tomorrow night may be the last time to catch them for a fair while. Is a rest on the cards?

“Maybe. We are all planning that, but that’s also what happened last time. We planned to take a long break and before we knew it all this music started coming. I think we just learned that things happen as they happen – sometimes they happen fast and sometimes they happen slow – and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to overplan things. Everything can change so quickly, and circumstances become different quickly, who knows? I bet we’ll say that at the end of this tour that its now time for a break, but I just don’t know if it will stick or not.”

Fans of The National will have snapped up tickets to this gig as soon as it was announced. However, for newcomers, or just fans of live music in general, attendance tomorrow at the Oddessy should be essential. The band are bigger and better than they have ever been – and with this being the last time they may be in Northern Ireland for a long time – it would be a travesty to not take the opportunity to see Matt and co doing what they do best.

The National play at the Odyssey Arena tomorrow night. Tickets are still available on Ticketmaster.

Interview by Dan Williams.
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