with Owen Pallett
7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6
House of Blues,
Going into the making of their new album, High Violet, the members of Brooklyn indie rock band the National talked about wanting to create a lighter and more poppy album. That idea was, in part, a response to their being viewed, as drummer Bryan Devendorf puts it, as a "doom-and-gloom band." A band, he says, was categorized as morose, serious, pensive and introverted.
High Violet won't be mistaken for something as sunny and catchy as a Beach Boys album, or something as humorous or twisted as They Might Be Giants or Electric Six. But Devendorf feels that, at least on a musical level, the National followed through on their intent to brighten up the group's sound.
"I think, musically, if you sort of remove the lyrical content and just listen to the vocal melody and the songs, I think `songs` like ‘Terrible Love,' ‘Sorrow,' ‘Anyone's Ghost,' ‘Afraid Of Everyone,' ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio,' ‘Lemonworld,' are kind of like these uncomplicated toe-tappers," says Devendorf.
But even the lyrics and vocal melodies, he says, feel more upbeat than those vocalist Matt Berninger created on the National's previous outing, 2007's Boxer.
"I think Matt kind of wanted to try to be more `upbeat` — and maybe not by changing the content of what he was singing about, but in the melodies he writes," says Devendorf. "He's singing in a higher register a lot of time and the melodies are kind of more immediate and identifiable than on Boxer."
That may be true, but High Violet still sounds like the National. The music may be lighter, but it's still full of burnished tones and rumbling rhythms, all leavened by sturdy melodies. The sound that defines the group presently is something that, according to Devendorf, took a while for the National to develop.
The band, which also includes guitarist brothers Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner, and Bryan's brother, bassist Scott Devendorf, formed in Cincinnati in 1999. Devendorf says it wasn't until their 2004 EP, Cherry Tree — which followed two earlier full-length albums — that the group's sound started to gel.
Several factors helped the band find its stride, including a stepped-up touring schedule and their bringing on board producer Peter Katis (Interpol, Swell Season). Another catalyst for the National was a record-deal offer from Beggar's Banquet Records.
"I think having that sort of carrot — a real offer — `helped creatively`, like we had to do something good, not something that was like a hodgepodge of studio trickery," says Devendorf. "`We were` just trying to make something refined and identifiable and solid."
The National showed signs that they were beginning to find their footing, but on the full-length album that followed, 2005's Alligator, the band fully emerged. That CD got the band noticed by indie-rock-leaning websites and publications. It set the stage for the buzz to spread into the mainstream press, and Boxer was met with rave reviews.
Devendorf admits that he and his bandmates were aware that for the first time there were significant expectations regarding their sound, and those feelings filtered into the process of making the new album.
"Whether we liked it or not, there was some anticipation from listeners or fans, like ‘What's the next National album going to be like,'" says Devendorf. "We didn't know, other than we wanted to do something different than Boxer. Then came that whole idea of doing something lighter and poppier."
One of the fortunate breaks that emerged was the band's sudden wealth of development time. The band now had its own studio, which meant it could spend as much time as it wanted recording. Work on the new CD stretched out for about a year.
"It took several more months than we intended," says Devendorf. "It was our hardest album to mix because we had so much time to work and had so many `individual instrumental` tracks and so many ideas to mix through."
For the most part, the new songs have translated well to a live setting, he says. The character of the shows, however, remains relative to the setting.
"If we're playing a festival, it will be a little, I guess, for lack of a better word, more of the hits," says Devendorf. "When we do our own show at a venue with a proper sound check and more control over the situation, we'll try to play our more, like, moodier, less rock band-sounding songs."