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Matt Berninger of The National discusses writing with Taylor Swift

09 August 2023, 16:17 | Written by Tyler Damara Kelly

The National's vocalist and primary lyricist Matt Berninger discusses creating The Frankenstein and writing with Taylor Swift.

In a recent interview with Variety, Matt Berninger who makes up The National alongside guitarist brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and bassist Scott Devendorf and drummer Bryan Devendorf – who are also brothers – discussed the evolution of bringing songs from the studio to the stage.

"Being on stage is not a naturally comfortable place — I’ve always found it challenging to find that right area where I’m genuinely connecting to the songs and not trying to think too much about being in front of people and performing," Berninger says.

"I’ve tried to figure out how how to just be OK with it being weird and sloppy and strange, to really get into to that untethered mental space, to sustain that and do a two-hour presentation of songs," he adds, before recalling the time when The Nation performed in the art exhibit A Lot of Sorrow with artist Ragnar Kjartansson, where they played the song “Sorrow” over and over for a six hour marathon.

"Oftentimes I’m on stage now and I’ll remember that weird and I crave it a bit, to be able to be in that place where you suddenly forget where you are and are not conscious at all," he explains, noting that those experiences in which you're pulled away from space and time, feel like church. "Not necessarily holy, but sacred in this way that very rarely happens. I grew up going to church all the time — I don’t anymore, but this is my version of it now."

Earlier this year, The National collaborated with Taylor Swift on the track "The Alcott", which features on their album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. Berninger describes the crossover as "a really organic thing".

Dessner has collaborated with Swift for quite some time, and extensively on the 2020 albums Folklore and Evermore, and Berninger says he has been running in the same circle as Swift for over a decade. "It made a lot of sense and working on the songs with her was easy and fun," he reveals. "I write really slow, but I know she writes really fast, so when she wrote for “The Alcott,” we sent her the song and she sent it back quickly with almost all of it written out, and all the melodies and countermelodies, which we didn’t know she was going to do."

Berninger goes on to describe Swift as "incredibly gifted" and talented at her craft. "It’s like finally getting to dance with somebody that you’ve watched dance on television forever, and then suddenly you’re on the dance floor with them. For me, singing with her and writing with her was surreal but felt natural. The connection was just really genuine and joyful."

First Two Pages of Frankenstein is out now via 4AD.

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