The National Are the Hardest-Working Band in the World

on September 08, 2017, 2:00pm

The National are the busiest band in the world. This week marks the release of Sleep Well Beast, the band’s seventh full-length album, a remarkable record that takes the anxiety that pervades their work and channels it in unexpected ways, using electronics to broaden their palette and open up their sound. In addition to that, each of the band members has a full slate, whether it’s playing in a number of side projects, scoring films, producing records for other artists, founding and curating music festivals, or producing and organizing massive charity projects like Dark Was the Night or Day of the Dead.

Throughout their work, both inside and outside the band, the five members of The National — singer-lyricist Matt Berninger, twin guitarists and primary songwriters Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and brothers bassist Scott Devendorf, and drummer Bryan Devendorf are extremely active in the greater rock community in 2017. They collaborate frequently with a wide variety of musicians, from legends like Bob Weir to experimental contemporary artists like Buke and Gase.

In a time where music writers are quick to pen thinkpieces on the state of indie rock, The National offer a unique vantage point as a successful band who rose out of the ’00s scene in New York to maintain and grow their relevance over the years, to where in just this past month, they had their first chart-topping hit when single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Alternative charts. “Michael Stipe once said to us, you either need lots of radio hits or none, so we’ve always had none, although apparently now ‘System’ is kind of a radio hit,” Bryce says.

This past summer also saw the release of Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s comprehensive, entertaining, and insightful oral history of the New York indie rock scene in the early 2000s that birthed The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and many other bands, including, to a degree, The National. Compared to peers like Interpol, TV on the Radio, and Grizzly Bear, The National are arguably more popular now than they were 10 years ago, still headlining music festivals in 2017 and finding modest success on the charts. Instead of settling into nostalgia with anniversary tours of classic records, the band are making fresh, relevant music and working extensively with the next generation of rising indie rock artists.

Outside of The National, each member has kept extremely busy with various projects in the four years since their last album, Trouble Will Find Me, was released. Matt made a record with Brent Knopf of Menomena as El VY, Bryan plays in Pfarmers with Danny Seim of Menomena, and both Bryan and Scott teamed up with National touring member Ben Lanz to record two krautrock-inspired records as LNZNDRF. Bryce just finished the Planetarium record this year with Sufjan Stevens and Nico Muhly and has composed a wide array of different pieces in recent years, from scoring a ballet with Justin Peck to collaborating with Ryuchi Sakomoto and Alva Noto on the soundtrack for Alejandro Iñárritu’s 2015 film The Revenant.

“I think, for us, it’s definitely a refresher to be busy on other things,” Scott says of these outside projects. “You just have a different way of thinking about them. With The National, we always have a certain goal in mind, but it sort of refreshed our idea of what that goal was and how you get there.”

“You always learn something by working with someone else, and I’ve been lucky to work with others, as has my brother or Matt,” Bryce adds. “We’ve all worked with really interesting people, and that keeps our own ideas regenerating in a way. The music, when you stop learning or stop self-educating, can get stale. Especially in a semi-successful band, you start to repeat yourselves.”

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Last year saw the release of Day of the Dead, a five-hour tribute album to the Grateful Dead executive produced by Aaron and Bryce that benefited the Red Hot Organization. The album featured reinterpretations of Dead songs from a wide range of musicians, including Mumford and Sons, Lee Ranaldo, Will Oldham, Jenny Lewis, Ahohni, Angel Olsen, Wilco, Perfume Genius, The War on Drugs and many more. A quasi-sequel to their 2009 charity compilation Dark Was the Night, which itself raised over $3 million for Red Hot, the album featured a who’s-who of indie rock musicians both established and emerging. The National served as the house band on it, playing on a number of songs both in the studio and in live performances at Eaux Claires, a festival co-founded and curated by Aaron. Aaron, Bryan, and Scott even spent some time touring with Bob Weir, founding member of the Dead, over the past two years. ”You feel like you’re coming into contact with hallowed ground, with someone who’s seen and done so much and played so much great music,” Aaron says of playing with Weir.

In addition to Eaux Claires in Wisconsin, Aaron co-curates Boston Calling Music Festival in Boston and the newly launched Haven festival in Copenhagen. His brother, Bryce, founded and curates the Music Now festival in Cincinnati, produced last year’s Funkhaus event in Berlin, and helped found Ireland festival Sounds from A Safe Harbour. While many musicians have extra-curricular projects outside their band, the level to which The National, especially the Dessner brothers, are involved in the greater musical community through collaborations, charity projects, and festivals is unparalleled in today’s landscape. “I think, as a band, we’ve always been collaborative, open to the outside, and that’s how we grow is by collaborating and having other experiences,” Aaron says. “Maybe it’s Bryce and I being twins — that we naturally collaborate with each other, so that’s kind of why a lot of these projects have happened.”

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Even within The National, the band worked with a score of collaborators on Sleep Well Beast, including Justin Vernon, Lisa Hannigan, Arone Dyer of Buke and Gase, Jan St. Werner of Mouse and Mars, members of So Percussion, and an orchestra ensemble in Paris. This is a trend they have followed on their past few albums, contributing to a collaborative atmosphere. “I don’t know when we started with the open-door policy,” Matt says. “I mean, hip-hop seems like that. Everybody, even Pac, was bringing in all these people. A lot of times, records are curations of solo artists that you just want to do stuff with, and that is a big part of why we do it.” Bryan adds: “It just kind of ups your game, too, when you’re playing with other people, or a super-great singer comes on stage. Like okay, that’s Annie Clark over there; we can’t fuck this up.”

With two pairs of brothers and a close friend who all grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, The National are literally a family, and within that there are certain interpersonal dynamics and roles that tend to pop up. “I tend to referee a bit between my brother and Matt,” Bryce explains about the band’s process. “I’m not the only one who does it. Scott, in a way, is another. We joke that I’m Norway and he’s Switzerland in terms of brokering the peace.”

When it came to Sleep Well Beast, the group put less pressure on themselves and worked to create a more open atmosphere for sharing ideas. “There’s a lot of instances along the recording of people trying or bringing new ideas and also respecting what other people do and not so much worrying about the precious value of ‘this is my idea and I need to protect it with all my might,’” Scott says. “It’s more that this is a group effort and everyone can try something, and if it’s great, it will work out.”

“We kind of pick our battles,” Bryce explains. “We’re not so precious about the music. We write songs, so no one piece of music is ever interesting enough on its own to really merit existing unless the song is good.”

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Scattered around the world, from Cincinnati, Venice, California, Paris, and Copenhagen, the group value the time they do get to spend together and try to make more efficient use of it. When I talk to each member of the band over the phone in mid-August, they’re back at home, fresh off their performance at Haven, a new festival in Copenhagen founded by Aaron and Bryce where they partnered with breweries and chefs to put on a unique experience of collaborative performances.

Over the course of five conversations, one with each member, we talked about the experiences that led to the new album and the overall spirit of collaboration that the band pursues throughout their own recordings, as well as projects like the Day of the Dead and the festivals they are involved with. They talked about touring with Bob Weir, quoting Karl Rove on their new record, reflecting on the early 2000s New York rock scene captured in Meet Me in the Bathroom, and offered their take on the state of indie rock and the music industry as a whole in 2017.

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Through putting together Day of the Dead, playing in the house band on the songs, and touring with Bob Weir, you spent a lot of time in the Grateful Dead catalog, often reinterpreting and reimagining classic songs. What from those experiences did you take back into writing Sleep Well Beast?

Aaron: I wouldn’t say that Sleep Well Beast is sort of our Grateful Dead record or anything like that, but I do think the joy and ceaseless experimentation, and this kind of avant-garde experimentalism was at the core of the Dead. Getting to know Bob really well and seeing the wonder, you can still feel this commitment to improvisation and not doing anything the same way night to night, changing the setlists all the time; all these things that people take for granted about the Dead are actually quite inspiring. They never conformed or tried to make hits, and they became America’s biggest band.

Bryan: It sounds like the cheesiest thing, but he [Bob] likes to play things on the slower side. Well, he doesn’t like to rush. Let’s put it that way. He doesn’t like things to speed up, so he’s like: “If you feel things speeding up, just breathe.” And it totally works. It totally affected what we’re doing now, and I definitely appreciate what we’re doing now a lot more after learning all those Dead songs and knowing what can happen to bands. Just being able to do stuff like that was great.

Matt: One of the big things that they kept repeating around the studio, at least Bryan and Scott did but even Aaron … I could tell it affected him because he toured with Bob Weir, and that is learning not to sweat the static. And I think that’s literally how he would put it. Time, like showing up a little late for something, or messing up a song during a show, that’s all static. None of it matters. For a band like The National. we’ve been uptight and just overthink shit and get so mad, things that are totally counterproductive to have an argument about. His vibe definitely rubbed off on those guys, and I think in a secondary way, me too. We’re all in less of a defensive crouch, so that’s coming from the Dead and that project.

Aaron: The main thing I hear in Sleep Well Beast is that we wanted there to be space in the music for expression and experiments. It’s less tightly wound, and it’s less tightly constructed, so there’s more open space and it allows for more interpretation. There’s definitely more experimentation on this record than anything we’ve done before. Maybe that’s coming out of the whole Day of the Dead and working with Bob.

What goes into curating a music festival like Eaux Claires or Music Now? Is it a similar process to recruiting people to play on projects like Day of the Dead or Dark Was the Night?

Bryce: They’re all different, I would say. They’re all so different within themselves. Eaux Claires is a bigger outdoor festival and then Music Now is a small sort of contemporary music thing, but I’d say the seam between them is that we tend not to like these festivals that are just “Oh, come tour and present your record.” It’s like, come do something, come get involved, come collaborate, come try something new.

We just did Haven in Copenhagen, and we each played on like 20 different shows and tons of new things happened, tons of improvised music. It’s truly a way to, on one hand, keep things interesting for us, but then also maybe expose people to artists they’ve never heard before. Someone like Buke and Gase has played several times with us at events like this, and they’re one of our favorite bands. Or This Is the Kit — I’ve known Kate since she was 15, and my brother produced their records, and she’s someone we love to have because she’s always up for new things.

Aaron: All these events that we’ve gotten involved with, and other projects like Day of the Dead and Dark Was the Night, whether it’s a charity project or music festival, I think for me and Bryce it’s mainly an opportunity to collaborate, to bring a community together of artists. Some are more underground, but the idea that I keep coming back to is about discovery, learning, and having the opportunity to play with other artists and learn from them and also connect with audiences in a different way. It’s not so much about starting festivals or curating it as much as it’s just about collaborating and having a chance to work on new ideas.

Bryce: We tend to be curious about certain genres co-existing that maybe don’t normally, which is why you always get a mix of maybe more contemporary classical or experimental electronic or maybe a hip-hop singer — these things that typically get separated in a festival sphere, and it feels more interesting to have them co-existing.

Aaron: You don’t get those opportunities very often as an artist. The industry is designed in these routines where everything is very streamlined and you see the same thing in a lot of places whether you’re playing a festival in who knows where, but a lot of the time they’re presented in the same way. Bands get up, play for 45 minutes, and then get on their way and there’s not a whole lot of interaction. I think for us, when we have opportunities to put these things together, it’s because we’re interested in creating opportunities for ourselves and for our friends and other artists to interact and collaborate.

Bryce: We don’t necessarily want to mash them up musically, but I think that the career of a musician is so caught up in social media, the public image you’re presenting, and the press image, and it’s like, “Wait a minute. Who are you?” What are your interests? What excites you musically? Who’s the person behind that band? That’s what we’re curious about, process and getting deeper inside the music. On one side, it seems like artists who are better known want to do something different, not having to play a certain song. On the other hand, it might be artists who are far lesser known and don’t get the chance very often to collaborate with people outside of their field or whatever it is, so we tend to be enablers of those things. We realize we’re lucky to be in this situation that we’re in, that we can help sometimes do that.

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Photo by​ Lior Phillips

Many artists focus on their own thing — just touring and playing — but The National, whether it’s in the number of musicians you bring on your records, play with in other projects, or work within festivals, you stay connected with the scene at large. Is it an effort you make to keep involved within the community and work with new artists?

Scott: We definitely do that. We know we’re not spring chickens or anything, and it’s so fun to see people be excited about making music or listening to music. We consider ourselves somewhat elders in a fairly young scene of musicians, not from that we know that much more of anything, but we have had experiences touring and playing. I think it’s important if people have questions, and we’ve learned things from touring with bands in the past. That stuff is a kind of esoteric knowledge, like industry craft specific. It’s fun to talk to people about what we experience but also to learn about new music or new ways of working.

Aaron: We’ve been a band since 1999, and touring a lot since at least 2001, so part of it’s just that we’ve been out there meeting people, and there is a community of artists we’ve come up with. Having been involved with these charity projects like Dark Was The Night or Day of the Dead, it does involve a lot of collaboration but also community, and it’s part of what makes things meaningful, I think, and sustainable. This feeling of working together and being aware that we were helped along by bands back in the day like R.E.M. and Arcade Fire. We benefited quite a bit from learning from other bands, and that goes into the creative process as well.

Bryan: We’re definitely a consortium. Aaron and Bryce do the lion’s share of that effort, the networking side with other musicians. I don’t know if there’s anything really done by design. I think they’re just naturally drawn to do stuff. They’re driven, more ambitious, and kind of competitive, too. I think that’s one piece of it. “Well, if Bryce is going to do this well, I’m doing to do it, too,” or the other way around.

Matt: Part of it just naturally has to do with all the bands that we know and have traveled with, toured with, opened for, or had open for us. There’s just a big network of artists. We’ve stayed connected. The reason I did EL VY with Brett is because we toured together 15 years ago and just stayed in touch, and we’ve been sharing ideas for a long time. Everybody’s got these kinds of relationships.

Aaron: I just don’t think there should be so many boundaries and borders between people in general, but also artistically, it’s a helpful thing when you open your process up and have ideas bouncing around from other people. These sort of chemical reactions with different people, that’s a big part of our existence as a band. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of artists in the studio, and I learned as much from them as they might learn from me.

Usually, I probably learn more from people I’m “producing.” I think if you get too in love with your own shadow or your own sound, you atrophy, unless you’re Keith Richards and find lightning in a bottle. I think for us it’s always been a good thing to discover and embrace other artists and collaborate. Whether it’s someone you know or someone totally underground, I think it’s all meaningful and we thrive on that, and the more we can do that the better.

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From a standpoint of looking at the industry since Trouble Will Find Me, there has been a big shift to streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. Has that shift affected the business side of things for you in terms of how you sell records and make money, or has it been more stable?

Bryce: We’re lucky that we have a really healthy relationship with our label, 4AD. We get along with them really well and they’re great people and good to us. We don’t have a tortured relationship with the music industry..

Scott: For the time being, touring is more sort of the thing that keeps the lights on in our camp, but it is important. The streaming thing, I think, has slightly improved as labels have gone to bat and figured out rates for the artists. I think it’s still way off from what it should be because there’s all these service providers that don’t make anything, but they provide it I guess, and good on them, but the equation seems to be off. It’s interesting to see how it has been changing, and I don’t know if it’s been changing rapidly, but it is improving.

Bryce: I think that our fans are, in a way, more dedicated, and they tend to find the music wherever it is. Because we built our following so gradually, it’s not like we benefited by any one thing. I do think it seems like the online thing is shifting, that bands are able to do a little better with that now. It’s hard to say, but slowly the revenue is catching up there, so hopefully that will translate into something healthier for bands to keep existing.

Scott: I mean for us, it’s more that we make records and it’s good that people get to stream them and listen to them, and the more the better as far as access to listen to any band, not just our band. I’m happy that I can find some obscure record from the ‘70s on Spotify or Apple Music or Soundcloud, all these things. I like the discovery aspect of it all from a listening perspective, but the economics of it probably need a polishing.

On “Walk It Back”, there’s that quote from Karl Rove featured where he says: “People like you are still living in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will, we’ll act again, creating other realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.”  What was it about that quote that made you want to put it on the record?

Matt: I think it was the second time that Ron Suskind used that quote, and apparently Karl Rove still doesn’t cop to having said it. According to Wikipedia, it’s him, and I don’t know exactly when he said it. In the song, I attribute it to a certain day and say it was written on a whiteboard with a red sharpie. I just made that shit up. That’s my version of fake news to make him sound like an idiot. The second time Suskind published that quote was right after Trump won, a day or two afterwards. I remember, it was in the Times; I remember that quote just really haunting me and I kept rereading it because it’s an admission of the plan to change the nature of what we understand as truth, and do that through the media, radio, and propaganda.

Bryan: The quote speaks for itself, and it’s just so alarming. That’s true. That’s how the world works. There’s no such thing as objective truth anymore. It’s scary.

Matt: Once you control the idea, control the people understanding this reality, then you can do whatever the fuck you want, right? So that’s what Karl Rove was saying 10 years ago when he was already in the White House and he’s saying this to The New York Times. They’ve been up to this for so long, and all of this, Donald Trump, he is the product of a very long game plan for conservatism and religious extremism. But mostly it’s not even that, it’s just corporate interest. All corporate interest is figuring out a plan to change what we understand as truth, and that’s why we’re in this state where no one knows what to think or feel or believe. They’ve been building Trump, whether they knew it or not, for 30 years, and that’s what Karl Rove talking about: “What if we can lie and get away with it, we win, so fuck you.” So it stuck with me.

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Obviously everyone in the Trump administration are openly horrible and doing all these things, but it almost seems like there’s a bit of collective amnesia to what it was like during the Bush administration and this quote reminded me that nothing exists in a vacuum. Boxer came out towards the end of the Bush years and got picked up by the Obama campaign, and all these people like Rove and Donald Rumsfeld, this all just happened eight years ago.

Bryan: And now Bush seems to have been rehabilitated. It’s strange. And of course, fucking Reagan, are you kidding me? He’s a god now to some people. It’s outrageous.

Matt: People keep joking like, “Hey, doesn’t George W. Bush look good right now?” And I’m like, “No, he’ll never look good either.” They’re all part of the same team, and Trump has been a part of that team, and they’ve been nurturing and courting Trump and every one of those other white supremacist neo-Nazis. Literally, we have a Nazi sympathizer as our president today. The Republican party has been a Nazi sympathizing party for 30 years. The whole southern strategy is a way of channeling racism and KKK for political benefit, for corporate benefit. So they’re all responsible. Trump isn’t just a thing that came out of nowhere. They built him, they brought him to us, they put him there, and they still have him there. They’re not taking him out either, so let’s be honest.

Bryan: That’s history. The only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. The neo cons, and now the alt-right or whatever, whoever’s cranking up the war machine. It’s like Jesus Christ, dudes, been in there five months and we’ve got two wars brewing? Are you fucking kidding me? It’s terrible. It’s so negligent.

Going back to the record, there is a lot of looking back to the past on it, references to ghosts of girlfriends from Cleveland, a line about getting high enough to see our father’s houses or “mother’s arms when she was young and sunburned in the ‘80s.” What was your headspace when you were writing that?

Matt: I have an eight-year-old kid now. I feel like I know what I want. I have a much better sense of who I am and what I am and how to be a decent version of that, so this record had a lot of reflection, connecting the dots on stuff. Emotional dots, physical stuff from Midwest to the East Coast, now West. I was feeling how my chemistry and perspective evolved and shifted because of place. I was one man in Cincinnati and then I spent 20 years in New York and became an entirely different man, and now I’ve been out here [Venice, CA] for four years and I’m a dad and a husband, so a lot of the record is trying to peel it open a little bit and connect it all.

There’s so much shit going on, and I can’t separate the personal from the political, and I’ve been saying this a bunch, but it’s like a song about politics is for me a song about fatherhood. I got a kid whose rights to the autonomy of her own body and choices of who she loves and what she can do is being attacked and threatened, being taken away right now, today, by a bunch of old white guys, so it’s so personal. I don’t know how artists separate politics from their art. I don’t know. I can’t do it, and I’d never try.

meet me in the bathroom The National Are the Hardest Working Band in the WorldYou contributed to the book Meet Me in the Bathroom, which came out earlier this summer, and I was wondering what it felt like for you to read that story, which really wasn’t long ago, presented as a form of music history?

Scott: It wasn’t really that long ago, which is the weirdest thing, but at the same time, it was. I guess at least 10 years or more. Some of it’s a bit of a blur for us because we were charging along, doing our thing, and not so much thinking about the course of history.

Matt: I actually read that, and it was so funny to read something that, like I learned a bunch of shit about that whole history from that book that was happening where I was sometimes in the same room. Like, I had no idea they were doing that back there! There’s a Strokes show at Don Hill’s, and there weren’t a lot of people there. It was a sparse crowd, and reading that book I’m finding out everyone was fucking in the bathroom, and I remember waiting in line just having to take a piss and not knowing what the fuck was going on in the bathroom.

Scott: We were sort of Zelig-like characters in some ways in that time period because we weren’t partying with The Strokes. We were going to their shows and really thinking, Oh, that’s an awesome band, and we were just sort of starting our band. It sort of encapsulated a very nascent period in what we were doing.

The book romanticized that early ’00s New York scene, and I feel that both fans and journalists look to that as a peak for indie rock. You’re still involved: releasing records and working with other musicians, whether it’s on your albums, at festivals like Eaux Claires, or through projects like Day of the Dead. Do you see there being a similar movement or community happening in the “indie rock” scene currently?

Matt: There’s always these little pockets of collaboration and competitive little teams and communities. I started a band with Scott and these other guys, Casey Reas and Mike Brewer, called Nancy in Cincinnati in, I can’t remember, ’93 or something. Bryan, Aaron, and Bryce also started a band in Cincinnati around the same time, or maybe even earlier, called Project Nim. Anyway, in southern Ohio, Dayton, and Cincinnati around then, there was Afghan Whigs, The Breeders, Guided by Voices, and Braniac.

We played a show in Casey Reas’ basement, our band did, and a couple Braniac members came and left after a song or two. I remember my dad, if my memory serves me right, got into an argument with Juan Monasterio because he was talking during one of our songs, and then he left after talking to my dad. Bryan learned drums from Steve Earle, who was the Afghan Whigs’ first drummer.

We saw from that that Greg Dulli can get signed to Sub Pop and then whatever they shifted to and have a massive record, and he’s from our town. Bob Pollard or Kim Deal and her sister, who live 45 minutes away, can be big international rock stars. I think people in southern Ohio tasted it, like that’s possible.

Aaron: I think it’s sort of two-fold. On the one hand, The National as a band definitely has grown as a creative force and has obviously gotten much bigger over the years. You can’t compare where we are to where we were then because we were a baby band then, totally in the shadows or almost unknown at least in the very beginning. With The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Interpol, and all those bands, we were definitely not the cool kids on the block by any stretch. I know Matt saw a bunch of the early Strokes shows, and they were just lightning in a bottle. It was something to witness, this epic, iconic rock and roll, but I think then they burned very brightly, and that’s well documented. I think we’re more like the turtle; we joke that we’re marathon runners not sprinters.

Matt: We had to figure out who we were. Our other bands were totally different from each other, and this band was something we didn’t know what to do with yet or how to be, but we were witnessing around us, again, all the bands in our neighborhood becoming superstars. Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, and then later there was another version of that in Brooklyn with Grizzly Bear, and that was the one where we came out of the shadows, I guess. So then everywhere, definitely in Europe, it was like, “You’re a Brooklyn band, you’re a New York band,” and we rode that like, “Yes we are,” when the truth was we were a Cincinnati band, and I don’t know what we are now.

Scott: I think every time has its thing. I think I would prefer the sort of now to then, to the sense of, I feel like all the access that was granted via technology being more affordable to do stuff has really come to roost. Now you can collaborate with people and do fresh things. I feel like there was a very “cool” factor to what was happening around that time. It wasn’t necessarily “style rock.” There was quality music being made and it was very intense, but it was also very insular in some way like a tight group.

I know all of the bands were friends and interacted, but I don’t think there was any sort of desire to work together to make something. These bands had specific ideas, not unlike Ramones or Talking Heads in the ‘70s, not uptight but some sort of frantic moment, and there’s a lot of reasons for that, all of which were valid, not to discount. But I do sort of prefer this idea that there’s not this wall between bands, like you’re some artist with a specific vision and it can only be that. There’s an idea of making music together that can go across generations.

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Aaron: I think the feeling now is that there are these vibrant communities of artists that we have a lot of close connections with and there is a very strong sense of interconnectedness amongst our peers and a lot of exchange of ideas. It’s a different time and so much has changed and luckily, we’ve been able to do this over a long time and been quasi-healthy about it, though not without it’s pitfalls. I’m always excited by new things, and I think there’s amazing music being made today as there was then.

I’m not sure there’s been anything quite like The Strokes, or I think of them specifically just because of what it felt like to hear those first two records initially. I’m constantly inspired by my peers and whether it’s small underground artists or people you know like Bon Iver, Sufjan, Sharon, Courtney Barnett, St. Vincent, or Solange’s last record, Frank Ocean. There’s all these people making incredible stuff right now.

But as far as that feeling of the early 2000s, it was something to be alive and young at this moment in rock that did feel special.

Scott: I’m a fan of the new way rather than trying to recreate a stylized version of the past. It’s like, let’s make something new, and, of course, it’s going to contain familiar elements, but at least everyone gets involved a little more.

Matt: Seattle, Cincinnati, Lower East Side, Brooklyn, Barcelona, who knows where. These are pockets that pop up. New York in the ‘70s was another one. They just catch fire, and some of it’s driven by press, some of it’s just driven by competition, and some of it’s driven by collaboration. Frankly, my favorite record is a Brooklyn band right now, Big Thief. I love that record so much, so even though people don’t talk about this Brooklyn thing anymore, that’s super healthy still. You can always package it later on after it’s over.

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