Over the years, The National have established themselves as mainstays of arena’s and festival’s with sold-out performances and headlining slots around the globe. With the recent release of their eighth studio album I Am Easy To Find, The National has announced their final UK live dates for 2019 after a long and extensive world tour which has included their sold out show at Castlefield Bowl, Manchester on 10th July.
Story has it, that on 3rd September 2017, director Mike Mills emailed Matt Berninger to introduce himself and in very short order, the most ambitious project of The National’s nearly 20-year career was born and plans for a hard-earned vacation died. The Los Angeles-based filmmaker was coming off his third feature, 20th Century Women, and was interested in working with the band on… something, a video maybe. Berninger, already a fan of Mills’ films, not only agreed to collaborate, he essentially handed over the keys to the band’s creative process.
The result is a 24-minute film by Mills starring Alicia Vikander, and I Am Easy to Find, a 68-minute album by the National. The former is not the video for the latter; the latter is not the soundtrack to the former. The two projects are, as Mills calls them, “Playfully hostile siblings that love to steal from each other” They share music and words and DNA and impulses and a vision about what it means to be human in 2019, but don’t necessarily need one another.
The movie was composed like a piece of music; the music was assembled like a film, by a film director. The frontman and natural focal point was deliberately and dramatically sidestaged in favor of a variety of female voices, nearly all of whom have long been in the group’s orbit. It is unlike anything either artist has ever attempted, also totally in line with how they’ve created for much of their careers. It’s complicated, and also kind of not.
You can view the full anonymously-titled companion short film written by Academy Award-nominated director Mike Mills below:
The band released album track ‘Hairpin Turns,’ featuring Gail Ann Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan, alongside a Mills directed music video with vocal performances from Dorsey, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables and featuring dancer Sharon Eyal, co-founder, co-artistic director and choreographer of L-E-V Dance Group.
As the album’s opening track, ‘You Had Your Soul With You,’ unfurls, it’s so far, so National: a digitally manipulated guitar line, skittering drums, Berninger’s familiar baritone, mounting tension. Then around the 2:15 mark, the true nature of I Am Easy To Find announces itself: the racket subsides, strings swell, and the voice of long-time David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey booms out—not as background vocals, not as a hook, but to take over the song.
Elsewhere it’s Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, or Sharon Van Etten, or Mina Tindle or Kate Stables of This Is the Kit, or varying combinations of them. The Brooklyn Youth Choir, whom Bryce Dessner had worked with before. There are choral arrangements and strings on nearly every track, largely put together by Bryce in Paris—not a negation of the band’s dramatic tendencies, but a redistribution of them.
“Yes, there are a lot of women singing on this, but it wasn’t because, ‘Oh, let’s have more women’s voices,”’ says Berninger. “It was more, ‘Let’s have more of a fabric of people’s identities.’ It would have been better to have had other male singers, but my ego wouldn’t let that happen.”
Light Years, another album track has also been released and can be viewed below:
The National is not five dudes,” Berninger says, putting the lie to the photograph accompanying this press kit. “That’s kind of been the core, but the truth is, very quickly with Boxer, Carin started writing. Kyle and Ben, who are our brass section, they became very much creative partners, and then Thomas Bartlett, Sufjan Stevens — the doors have been wide open in terms of people coming in. It’s a big community.”
The National consists of Matt Berninger (vocals) fronting two pairs of brothers: Aaron (guitar, bass, piano) and Bryce Dessner (guitar, piano), and Scott (bass, guitar) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).
The headline shows are: