amplifiers (which are based on tweed 5F6-A Fender Bassmans made
between 1958 and 1960), assorted Fender valve amps—mostly vintage—and a number of effects boxes, both standard and unusual:
a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, a Boss DD- 5 Digital Delay, a Klon
Centaur overdrive, a Crowther Hot Cake distortion, an Electro-Harmonix POG Polyphonic Octave Generator, and others. Then
there’s the private studio they built in the detached garage of
Aaron’s Victorian house in Brooklyn, which gave them the luxury
of recording High Violet at an unhurried pace.
A typical National song has a rudimentary framework—four or so
chords, mostly triadic and diatonic, and a melody with few notes.
Despite this simplicity—or maybe because of it—the band’s compositional process is not an easy one. “It’s almost like the way a
sculptor works—where there’s a big stone and we’re slowly chipping
away and uncovering the song,” says Bryce.
The process is highly collaborative and fraught with an extensive
series of negotiations. A single song’s gestational period can last as
long as several months. As the music’s primary creators, Aaron and
Bryce typically germinate new song ideas on guitar or piano, record
them in Pro Tools, and give the files to Berninger, who listens
with obsessive repetition to the music on his earphones, mumbling along with lyric and melodic ideas—an activity that’s earned
him the nicknames “Mr. Sony Headphones” and “Mumbleberry
Pie.” Because of his propensity to reject outright or completely
Although the Dessner brothers often share their gear, Aaron’s main guitar is a 1979 Epiphone Sheraton. Photo by Keith Klenowski