The National's Matt Berninger Discusses Sufjan Stevens, New Album, More

Sufjan Stevens
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Earlier this week, The National announced a May release date for the follow-up to Paste’s album of 2007, Boxer, as well as a sprinkling of tour dates through the spring and early summer. Today, in an interview with Pitchfork, frontman Matt Berninger revealed some details about the album, including part of the tracklist and the scoop on some guest vocals from Sufjan Stevens.

“I know we didn’t want to make another Boxer,” Berninger told Pitchfork. “From the beginning, there was a conscious idea of making a faster and slightly less sensitive record.” Although the band is still in the process of mixing the new LP, which the singer attests is one of the most dynamic and contentious parts of The National’s creative process, there are two new things he’s sure the record will feature: melody and meanness.

“I don’t quite scream my head off in the way I did with ‘Mr. November,’ but I do think it’s cathartic. Boxer was all tension without a whole lot of release. This builds a lot of those same kinds of tensions, but I think there’s at least a little bit of bloodletting in this one. I’m trying to sing out and higher a little more, and the melodies move around a little more… A lot of my melodies are sort of in a limited chanting, murmuring range, which has always worked for me. But I was trying to work on melodies this time much harder than I ever have in the past, and I think that alone has made the songs feel like they release more.”

The album still doesn’t have a name, but fortunately the band has decided against Summer Lovin’ Torture Party, which Berninger says the band briefly considered. However, he did reveal the names of some of the songs he expects will make the final cut. “There’s one called ‘Romantic Comedy.’ There’s one called ‘L.A. Cathedral.’ There’s one called ‘Quiet Company,’” Berninger says.

Fans who caught The National’s tour last year may recognize “Runaway” and “Love Buzz, Ohio,” some new material they tested on the road. There’s no telling if the finished versions of these tracks will sound anything like their earlier permutations. “With us, the songs often change drastically in the last couple of weeks, in the mixing,” Berninger explains. “We know what songs we’re trying to finish, but what exactly the songs are going to end up like is still a mystery. It’s the most frustrating and exciting part of the process.”

Because he expects plenty of shifts in the album before it goes to press, Berninger is reticent to discuss too many details, but he drops some hints about guest appearances. “I will say that Sufjan [Stevens] did something that we are going to keep on a song. He sang some weird little backing vocal melodies—no words. It was on a song that had just the right sort of odd, creepy vibe.” Stevens was featured on The National’s last release, playing piano on “Ada.”

It’ll be at least three weeks before The National is done mixing (and tweaking and fighting about) their new record, but in the meantime, check out some videos of “The Runaway” and “Love Buzz, Ohio” below: