ACL Interview: The National

5:30pm, AMD stage

ACL Interview: The National
Photo by Gary Miller

At their 2010 taping for the Austin City Limits television show, the National subverted the dramatic, melancholy pall of their music with a determinedly joking and irreverent set. It revealed not only a keen self-awareness of their reputation and ethos, but also how the Brooklyn quintet has successfully matured within the expectations of their brooding ballads.

"Didn't I fall off a chair at that show?" recalls frontman Matt Berninger, correctly. "I do remember enjoying that. I have fun onstage every time. It doesn't always really look like I'm having fun, because I go into a weird head-space, drink a lot of wine, and get inside the songs. Usually it looks like I'm a violent psychotic gorilla.

"As a writer, I'm relatively self-aware of my tendencies both personally and as a writer, so I sometimes make fun of myself and some of the melodrama, but while embracing it."

Likewise, the National's sixth LP, Trouble Will Find Me, strikes throughout with a levity that undercuts the band's heavy angst without dissolving it, confronting a mortality where before the band's drama was woven between lonely streets and last calls. Berninger also acknowledges the influence of fatherhood, and his renewed relationship with his younger brother, Tom, whose new tour documentary of the band, Mistaken for Strangers, has garnered festival acclaim for its poignant and personal family portrait.

"No one in the band, including me, expected there to be such a good movie out of this whole process," offers Berninger of the film. "It's not really a profile of a band on tour at all. It's a story about people and brothers and family, and how tricky that can be, but how essential our ties to each other are. It's a beautiful movie, and I'm so proud of him for what he did."

Check out part two of our interview with the National.

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ACL Fest 2013