Interview :: The National’s Scott Devendorf
February 11th 2014
It’s strange to think that although The National have been making music for 14 years, the brotherly five-piece only really appeared on everyone’s radar a few years ago.
Now they are receiving Grammy nominations for Best Alternative Album, touring the world and starring in a band documentary with a sibling twist.
Katie Davern caught up with The National bassist Scott Devendorf ahead of their Sydney shows… which, in a strange twist of fate, Devendorf ended up missing for the birth of a new baby – just a few days after this interview. Congrats buddy!
KD: Last year, The National played one show at Splendour In The Grass, and now you’re visiting Australia again for The National’s biggest Australian tour to date –what is it that’s bringing The National back to our shores?
SD: Well we only did one show last time (laughs) and this time we have a bunch of shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth. We’re coming to Australia mainly because we hadn’t played any shows on this record other than Splendour In The Grass and we like going there so yeah, we’ll be back in a couple of days.*
How was Splendour In The Grass? Do you enjoy the festival vibe?
Yeah it was great! It was really strange for us, it was our own doing in that basically it was the only show we were playing, and we were in the middle of a bunch of other touring in the US and Canada and we just flew over for that one show and then came back. So it was like, five days of travel, one day to play the concert – so it was really strange. Bad planning on our part but the festival was great. It was very odd, we’d never done that (play one show and then leave), especially with distances – Australia from New York! It was a bit surreal, the weather was amazing and we stayed in a very nice place, so while we were there it was amazing.
You’ve just announced more tour dates for Barcelona, Italy and a few other places. What has been your favourite country in all your travels to visit on tour?
Gosh, that’s a tough question… my favourite country… I really enjoyed going to South America and also to Mexico. It was only a couple of times, but it’s interesting because it’s sort of in our side of the world but completely different. It’s very exciting and the cities are very vibrant and fun. Like we went to Brazil, Mexico, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Chile; those were all really fun. But it’s, again, kind of a brief tour versus a tour of Europe where we’re on a bus for three weeks touring European cities. Which we’ve done many, many times, and I really enjoy doing it, it’s just, you know, become such a thing where it’s like we’ve been to Paris a zillion times, and I love it, each time, but it’s fun to go places you don’t normally get to go to.
Australia is one of those places where it’s like, we only get to go once every tour cycle, so I think it’s awesome coming to Australia and New Zealand. It’s hard to say a favourite city, each one has its own sort of appeal I guess.
Tom, Matt Berninger’s brother has released a film which will be premiering in Sydney the same night of your second Sydney show. What was your reaction to Tom’s film, Mistaken For Strangers?
I mean first it’s like interesting, because it was something where we brought Tom on tour with us just to sort of help touring. And we were meant to have some sort of a comrade in arms on tour, and he was filming while he was doing it which had no real purpose other than just to be, shall we say, funny. Having Tom around was just kind of like comic relief on that level but he was also supposed to be working and then he wasn’t really doing his job but we didn’t really care – he was just fun to have around!
But our tour manager cared because he was actually meant to be working, and so it didn’t really work out – so we kinda had to fire him at some point. Then he took all the footage he had from filming and started to build the story about him and his brother and being on tour with us, and it’s not the typical band documentary. It’s sort of like a brother story – about the brothers in the band, and also Tom and Matt as brothers, so it really came out great. We had no idea what to expect. We thought it would have just been like Tom doing his thing with the cameras but he built it into something that is funny, sad, has a story arc, all that, it’s really great! So we’re excited it’s coming out, but I don’t really like to see or hear myself speak on camera so um… that part personally is odd, but I think it’s fine. I’m happy we’re in it. You know, it’s like a film that’s fun to watch.
One of my favourite albums of 2013 was Trouble Will Find Me. How do you think it compares to your previous albums?
Each time we’re working on a record, we’re always sort of trying to do something a little bit different. That being said, the band sort of at this point, has felt a sonic footprint and if we can ride the following that that takes, the general vibe of the music, you know… But I think that we are always trying to push ourselves to make something slightly different from the record before. It was fun to make the record, it’s been really fun to tour the record so now we can create an entire album which, I can say, we have never done that. We have a great list of songs that don’t translate well whereas this turned out to be quite a good live album so yeah, I’m glad you like it, we like it very much! (laughs)
Did you ever think that you’d be nominated for one of the biggest music awards back when The National was ‘Nancy’ in the early ’90s?
No. (laughs) It was very surreal. It was kind of like ‘wow’; we were impressed by it, we were in awe of it a little bit, we were slightly frightened; but it was really fun to be there and see all these big time celebrities, and get to meet Taylor Swift and huge popstars. I mean, we’re music fans and it was just fun to be there. It’s obviously mainstream and very pop-oriented, but it was cool. We never expected to be invited to that, it wasn’t something on our radar. When we were nominated to go to the Grammys, we were like ‘wow’, it was going to blow our minds! So it was an earlier ceremony when the [Best] Alternative Album was announced and there were like 80 something categories announced into like a webcast version.
Oh yeah, we did get to meet Lorde from New Zealand, which was really cool. We ran into her later, she was at our hotel and I introduced myself and said congratulations because she won a couple of awards and did a great performance. It was cool and she was very nice.
One of my favourite videoclips is ‘Sea of Love’ directed by Sophia Peer which is cleverly based on a music video by Russian band Zvuki Mu (with the addition of a small child) – who is the child firstly? And how involved are you guys in the video clip process in general?
The child is our friend Marshall’s son, and he is awesome. He is a great actor, he is a great air-guitar player and he was sort of the best part of all day. We had to do that same thing over and over to try to get a good full take and he was super energetic and gave it his all every time. So big respect to him for that. We’re pretty historically terrible video-makers. It’s very hard for us to make videos and we’ve often done things and rejected them, and canned things that were like ‘eugh.’
I think on this record cycle, the songs on Trouble Will Find Me – I’ve been enjoying all the videos we’ve been doing for it. So we’ve actually been pretty involved in that and helping to come up with ideas. Bryce actually found that Russian video that we based the video on…so we were like all excited about it cause now it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, now we can just make an attribute to that video as opposed to us coming up with one of our own terrible ideas.’ Sophia’s actually done the ‘Graceless’ video as well, which we’re running around and being idiots and partying. And then we have a new video for ‘I Need My Girl’, which is coming out soon – that’s really really great, that’s also black and white but a lot more surreal, and I think I like it. She’s a great director, she’s a lot to thank – not just us. Well more than us really.
Will The National be slowing down on the touring front any time soon? Will you still be making music together for years to come?
Yeah, we have no plans to stop touring or making music so I won’t worry about that. We’ve already said that we’d do a lot of touring, but we’d do it in smaller segments than we used to. Even though we still have a lot of touring to do in 2014, I can see us taking some breaks after this set of touring just to kind of like regroup and spend some time with the family. I think we’ll definitely do it again; we’ll make another record and continue to tour. Who knows how much touring we’ll do – but I wouldn’t say there’s any conscious idea to slow down touring, other than to take a longer break between this record and the next one.