An oral historical past of The Nationwide’s Boxer

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In Lizzy Goodman’s latest oral historical past Meet Me In The Rest room: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York Metropolis 2001-2011, The Nationwide’s Aaron Dessner reminisces concerning the band’s first apply area being proper subsequent door to Interpol’s, the place they’d overhear them rehearsing songs that might finally land on Flip On The Vivid Lights. Nationwide singer Matt Berninger recollects the day Spin journal photographed Interpol within the hallway of that shared area: “They’d their fits on, and we had our khaki pants and our work shirts. We had been strolling via what was in all probability Interpol’s first photograph shoot. It felt humiliating but additionally motivating. ‘These fucking guys proper subsequent to us?! Yesterday they had been proper subsequent to us, and now they’re in Spin journal?’ That type of shit occurred rather a lot.”

Hailing from Brooklyn by way of Cincinnati, The Nationwide principally remained within the shadows whereas the New York scene heralded by teams like Interpol, The Strokes, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs burst into the mainstream. As these bands exploded (and plenty of shortly light), The Nationwide took its time and discovered find out how to turn into sustainable. It wasn’t till the 2005 launch of Alligator, the group’s third album, that it started to come back near attaining that type of widespread consideration. The Nationwide knew it was on the cusp of one thing larger, however had but to understand it.

Enter Boxer, The Nationwide’s critically acclaimed, commercially profitable fourth album—the one which opened doorways to late-night TV appearances, soundtracks, and, finally, conferences with President Barack Obama. Since its launch in 2007, Boxer has remained evergreen, a still-potent assertion on the gradual fade of youth into the mundane challenges of maturity, in addition to a snapshot of American malaise on the tail finish of the Bush administration. On the album’s 10th anniversary—and on the eve of the discharge of The Nationwide’s new report Sleep Effectively Beast—The A.V. Membership spoke to The Nationwide’s Matt Berninger (lead singer), Aaron Dessner (guitarist), Bryce Dessner (guitarist/pianist), Scott Devendorf (bassist), Bryan Devendorf (drummer), and producer Peter Katis to debate Boxer’s tough start and the rewards of its lasting legacy.

“Drained and wired / We break too straightforward”

In 2005, The Nationwide launched its third album, Alligator, to widespread important acclaim. After a near-nonstop tour across the globe, the band regrouped to determine what to do subsequent.

Aaron Dessner: I believe Alligator was this second the place perhaps the band lastly began to get someplace, you recognize? It wasn’t prefer it was loopy—only a regular progress that occurred with that report, particularly towards the top. After a yr of it being out, it began to seep into folks’s consciousness or one thing.

Bryce Dessner: Alligator was the closest we’ve gotten to a lightning second. We’ve at all times revered a band just like the Pixies who can report in per week and make one thing superb and timeless. We at all times take method, far more time. However I believe that a few of Alligator—like “Mr. November” and “Abel”—had been type of like that. They had been “stay” feeling.

Matt Berninger: It was the primary of our data that anyone cared about, and it was the one which was out on a label that had distribution around the globe. We bought some good opinions and that type of stuff.

Bryce Dessner: Previous to [Alligator], we had been actually solely taking part in tiny, tiny golf equipment. On [Unhappy Songs For Soiled Lovers], we would have began to have the ability to refill Mercury Lounge or one thing. We had little audiences in London and Paris. However Alligator was the second once we began to have a bit extra success on the highway. Though, we had been nonetheless within the van and sleeping on flooring and that type of factor. Nonetheless actually onerous touring situations.

Bryan Devendorf: There was a harsh, five-to-six-week van tour of Europe the place we had been driving ourselves round. It was chilly. I believe on the time we had been exhausted.

Aaron Dessner: We had all give up our jobs within the yr that Alligator got here out. We had toured rather a lot earlier than that, however I believe Alligator began a complete different stage of touring. There was some… not inter-band conflicts, however perhaps some tour pitfalls and tour exhaustion. I simply keep in mind positively hitting a wall. I don’t assume we led to an excellent wholesome place.

Bryce Dessner: We had additionally been in a band for six years at that time. Individuals had been beginning to both lose their jobs or have to depart their jobs, some relationships had been beginning to fray. It was a tough time in folks’s lives, I might say. Aaron, my brother, and I had been in all probability turning 30 proper then.

Bryan Devendorf: It was such a haze. I do know that we had been all at numerous factors in our lives personally. Some guys had been married. Some guys weren’t. I don’t assume there have been any youngsters within the image but. We had been in that section of, “Okay, what comes subsequent?”

Matt Berninger: I met my spouse, Carin, as we completed Alligator. Going into Boxer was the primary time that I used to be type of “with my spouse,” and she or he began to turn into part of my artistic world, artistic course of, on every part I did round then. I used to be in a extremely good place. I used to be additionally in all probability in a spot the place we had been breaking apart rather a lot, too. These first few elements of a relationship that is likely to be the true one, that is likely to be the one which lasts perpetually, are the scariest ones.

Scott Devendorf: Prior to now, we had made data only for enjoyable, on the aspect, with no expectations—with no cash, actually. We had been making an attempt to discover ways to be a band and make data. [With] Boxer, there was some expectation to it, however we type of utilized the identical method with songwriting and track craft as we had earlier than. However there was positively, like, “We have to make a very good report.”

Bryan Devendorf: [The internal pressure] was fully self-generated. There was nobody in administration or the label saying, “Hey, guys. We want a single right here.” That was a giant piece of why we had been in a position to proceed and make the report we needed to make, relatively than [the one] another person needed to make or somebody needed us to make.

Bryce Dessner: Going into Boxer, we would have felt some strain to construct on Alligator. There might need been just a little little bit of a sense as effectively that Alligator was actually well-received, however the band remained exterior of the larger actions in music. That was the time of Interpol and The Strokes and far, a lot larger bands. We had been by no means a part of that explosion in New York music.

Matt Berninger: First, we had been within the shadows of the Decrease East Aspect, and now we’re within the shadows of the Brooklyn scene. I believe that’s once we realized, it’s time to ascertain one thing. The selection on Boxer was to color ourselves out of any corners. We simply noticed a variety of bands stepping into corners. Profitable corners, however you possibly can inform they had been corners nonetheless. We knew to not fear about making an attempt to chase the sunshine. Simply make your factor, and it’s gonna discover you.

In the summertime of 2006, The Nationwide decamped to Tarquin Studios in Connecticut, the place they started working with producer Peter Katis on the primary phases of Boxer.

Scott Devendorf: It’s this massive previous Victorian home that’s type of scary, like a haunted home. Not actually haunted, however, you recognize, this massive Victorian home with a number of flooring. We lived there. We didn’t actually go away there ever. We walked round and went to the Cease & Store to select up groceries. It was a fantastic home, as you’d anticipate it to be, however you then get cabin fever.

Peter Katis: Boxer was positively essentially the most centered effort to that time by way of my involvement with [the band]. That was the report we did type of starting to finish [at Tarquin Studios], roughly. We had already labored collectively a complete bunch. We had been pals and stuff. They had been like, “Oh, man, we’re simply so nervous about cash and having sufficient time to do what we wish.” If I am going round slicing offers, I’d simply exit of enterprise, however I used to be like, “Okay, I’ll lower you a deal. Pay me for 2 months, however I’ll provide you with three months. Three months straight to make a report.” For many bands, that’s fairly good.

Aaron Dessner: We hit a wall after we spent all of our recording price range. We bought midway there, after which realized we simply didn’t have it. Alligator had been this breakthrough, and it was tough for us. We knew we couldn’t do the identical factor once more, however we weren’t fairly certain how. We went to Tarquin Studios for just a few months and spent the cash we had and ended up with some issues that had been sturdy, however only a common feeling that we weren’t there but. Possibly there had been an inter-band meltdown. Not private, it was extra simply artistic.

Peter Katis: You know the way if you strategy one thing and it simply appears to not get any nearer? The blokes had deserted songs, then come again to them, then type of re-recorded them, after which backtracked once more. By that time, I believe we had 20, 22 songs we had been engaged on. I needed to make an government choice to say, “Hear! You gotta go. I don’t care what you do or the place you end it. You need to go to your apply area or wherever and simply end recording what you assume is a accomplished report. Once you really feel you’ve completed, come again, and we’ll put all of it collectively and blend it.” And Aaron was like, “Received it! Be again subsequent week!” And I used to be like, “No, no, no! You need to come again ready!”

Aaron Dessner: By the autumn, we disbanded and left the studio with out a report, which was a blow. “Wow, we’ve blown it. We had one good report, and now we’re simply gonna fall on our faces.” We went again to Brooklyn.

Bryce Dessner: I keep in mind recording a variety of overdubs with my brother within the attic. Alligator was largely recorded within the attic of my home on Stratford Highway in Brooklyn, and Boxer was recorded largely within the attic of my brother’s home two homes down. I keep in mind recording the trumpets for “Faux Empire” up there.

Aaron Dessner: We principally arrange just a little Professional Instruments rig, and Bryce and I spent fairly a little bit of time redoing most every part we had completed up within the nicer recording studio. We redid it within the attic. We type of rediscovered some aesthetic charms, issues we had been in search of.

Peter Katis: Individuals had been fairly fried. Three months straight with no breaks. I keep in mind in these three months, I had one week off, and Spoon requested if they might come and do a track with me, and I stated, “Okay.” So my week off was recording Spoon, and I used to be like, “That’s not per week off.” They got here again a number of months later, after which we spent six extra weeks mixing the report. So, it was an odyssey for certain.

Each track on Boxer has a narrative of the way it “nearly didn’t work or was nearly a very completely different track.” Right here, the band members break down how they figured them out.

“Squalor Victoria”

Peter Katis: We’d been engaged on “Squalor Victoria” for months, and it principally appeared like a completed track and it was actually lovely. Abruptly, Matt goes, “Oh, I bought vocals for that.” I used to be like, “You do? I didn’t even know that.”

Aaron Dessner: With “Squalor Victoria,” the music existed for a very long time. Matt needed to jot down to it, however we simply liked the music. We had been gonna perhaps put it on as an instrumental. However he stored excited about it, and actually the day earlier than mastering, Matt lastly sang to it.

Peter Katis: The very first thing he did, although, was he didn’t sing it. He imported his vocals from his demo. In order that they weren’t good. They didn’t line up proper. They had been type of random. There was all this loopy stuff. And I assume I bought upset, and I stated one thing like, “Oh, you’re taking a lovely track and simply ruining it!”

Aaron Dessner: I keep in mind Peter stated, “You ruined the track.” I type of felt like, “Nah, it simply bought method higher.”

Peter Katis: I wasn’t offered with the vocals you hear now on the track. [Laughs.] That was one of many extra heated exchanges as a result of I used to be like, “Oh, we labored so onerous on this!”

“Mistaken For Strangers”

Peter Katis: I keep in mind working extraordinarily onerous on “Mistaken For Strangers.” This was the combat I might have with them on a regular basis: There wasn’t a lot dynamics, and I stated, “Let’s actually attempt to make this extra up and down, extra dynamic.” And we did attempt. There was a variety of modifying, lot of slicing issues out, and I created these bizarre loops from what they performed for the top of the track. There was a variety of work put in to make it much less static, much less same-y.

Bryan Devendorf: I’ve at all times been a thief of beats. I used to be stealing stuff from, like, Sam [Fogarino] of Interpol, and likewise Stephen Morris of New Order and Pleasure Division. The beat on “Mistaken For Strangers” was a reinterpretation of “Take You On A Cruise” off of Antics. I think our version is a little faster, the tempo is a little quicker. But it’s basically the same thing. [Laughs.]

Peter Katis: The second chorus is a double chorus, and the second half of that chorus we added a little arpeggio line, and if that weren’t there, I would find that song unlistenable. They do so much good stuff, there’s so many good layers, but there’s so much stuff there’s no way you can hear it. At the end of that song, I remember saying, “Let’s push the guitars in this part, and in the end, they all go away.” That was certainly never the plan. So at the end of the song, the rocking guitars go away, and you actually get to hear the orchestral arrangements, which is something I’d do repeatedly with their stuff. Otherwise, you’d never hear it.

Aaron Dessner: It was this big song then, but then the documentary that Matt and his brother made, and them using that name, and it took on this extra significance with the family and the dynamic of the brothers. So that’s also meaningful.

“Ada”

Bryce Dessner: The guitar part on “Ada” was too hard for my brother to play, so we both played it. He played the right hand and I played the left hand. There’s a picture of it, I think. Both of us on the guitar at the same time. That was pretty special. It’s just really hard on both hands, so Aaron was like, “Let’s just play it on an old classical guitar.”

“Slow Show”

Aaron Dessner: The end of “Slow Show” didn’t exist. It was something else entirely, and at some point, I just cut off the end and recorded the piano part. I didn’t know how it came to me, the idea of trying to use those lyrics from [“29 Years” off the self-titled debut], but we did that. It’s just worth it.

Bryce Dessner: I remember I was alone. My brother was in London, I think. We had Thomas Bartlett up and he did the accordion hook, and I remember Aaron coming home and he was like, “It’s horrible. It sounds like an Italian village music.” We ended up convincing him.

“Guest Room”

Aaron Dessner: We felt we really liked the music, but Matt wasn’t totally sold on it in terms of what he was doing. I wouldn’t say we forced it through, but it was one that was hotly debated.

Bryce Dessner: Matt didn’t want to finish it, so Bryan and Aaron finished the lyrics and actually sang them themselves, then later we forced Matt to do it. We recently actually picked up “Guest Room” on tour. It’s a real underdog on Boxer. A couple band members don’t like it. It’s got the closest to doing a certain kind of guitar playing. We were always trying to do a Johnny Marr kind of thing.

Scott Devendorf: We’ve revived “Guest Room” a couple times on tour. That song is sort of like a lost classic.

“One time you were a glowing young ruffian / Oh my god, it was a million years ago”

The lengthy production process was heavy on experimentation, bringing in orchestral arrangements and contributions from the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Padma Newsome, while the group even set up a separate studio just to capture drum sounds. Meanwhile, Berninger adjusted his voice to suit those richer, more majestic surroundings.

Aaron Dessner: I remember Sufjan Stevens said to me at a barbecue at some point in the middle of all that—I was telling him how hard it was and how we just weren’t getting there. I remember he just said, “I think it’s probably gonna be really good, because you guys are really struggling. That’s what happens to me.” That was around the time when he came in… I mean, “Ada,” he just came in and he played it. Melody just kinda comes really easy for him.

Bryce Dessner: I had a band with a guy named Padma Newsome who also worked a lot on Boxer, Alligator, and High Violet. He was the guy who used to play violin with us. We had a band called Clogs, and Sufjan was a fan. We used to play these tiny little concerts, and he would come see us. He asked me to play in his band around that time, like in 2005. Annie Clark [St. Vincent] and I were in his touring band. He was like 19 or 20. We all lived in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, and we became quick friends. He’s still my closest friend. We’re like neighbors upstate. Since then, he’s played on pretty much every album, and also on tour.

Aaron Dessner: At that time, Padma Newsome, string composer and close collaborator of Bryce, was thinking a lot about certain kinds of classical instruments that really suited the tone of the song. So there was a lot of dark winds, like bassoon and bass clarinet, and trombones and stuff. At times, the songs would shift completely away, like at the end of “Mistaken For Strangers” where it shifts from this wall of feedback and guitar to this dark, chordal stuff. There’s a baroque thing about it. It’s more arranged than Alligator had been.

Bryce Dessner: To be honest, we never really were able to afford having an orchestra until Trouble Will Find Me. Trouble Will Find Me and Sleep Well Beast we did record with large string ensembles. Everything prior to that was usually done piecemeal. We would have a violin in and layer it, and then a viola, and then a cello, and we would do it like that, like sessions with one person. I think actually the trumpet and trombone on “Fake Empire” were done together. There are moments like “Squalor Victoria,” which are very layered, I would say. The woodwind stuff at the end of “Mistaken For Strangers,” where it’s, like, bass clarinet and bassoon, basically. That was all recorded separately.

Peter Katis: I always wanted to push them more in the direction of doing sort of the orchestral stuff, but not in a fancy classical way. I loved that they used alternative instruments. As I hoped I would gain even greater control and influence over what they did, in fact, I gained much less once Aaron built his own studio. I wanted them to make a record that really got rid of guitars but made it possibly very aggressive, heavy music, but with orchestral instruments. They went the opposite way.

Bryan Devendorf: We had recorded the Alligator drums at another studio in Brooklyn. And Peter… was not pleased with the basic tracks. For good reason; they weren’t good. He massaged them into being.

Aaron Dessner: We recorded Alligator on a board in Red Hook with another friend, and that board was a crappy board that had been flooded. When we brought in Alligator to Peter to mix, he said, “Guys, I’m sorry. This sounds like bad demos. You guys got signed to Beggars Banquet, and you’re gonna release a bad demo record.” I remember he brought me into the basement to tell me that because he didn’t want the rest of the band to hear it.

Peter Katis: On Alligator, we put together a record that I think, uh, that sounds a little, uh… I’m not sure. But people appreciated it, even with all of its flaws. And I agree! You don’t need a sonically perfect record to enjoy. In fact, some of its weakness may be kind of cool.

Bryan Devendorf: The big reason why I went in to record Boxer at Tarquin was because Peter said, “Look, I want to get the drum sounds right.”

Aaron Dessner: I know that Peter wanted to capture Bryan’s drumming at the highest fidelity possible. So “Mistaken For Strangers” and “Apartment Story” and “Brainy,” some of these songs that have great drum parts, we recorded those at Tarquin. Peter did amazing work on Boxer for sure.

Scott Devendorf: We set up a whole B-station kind of world. It was called Bongo Island. We would basically record percussion there.

Aaron Dessner: It was actually just studio B down in the basement of Peter’s house where Bryan would get really stoned and bang on pipes and just record all kinds of things.

Peter Katis: Bongo Island: “Where Overdubs Go To Die.” Whoever wasn’t recording in the main studio was recording downstairs all day, three months in a row. We probably used two or three takes from that, but some good stuff! Scott’s secret weapon: his clangy little guitars in the pre-chorus of “Mistaken For Strangers.” Those are a key element.

Scott Devendorf: I think I recorded some guitar—maybe the guitar from “Brainy” that I played was recorded down there on the island. Just the idea we can work and record almost anywhere. Not to say we predicted any of that with Bongo Island, but I think it was the early stages of the home recording studio.

Aaron Dessner: There was a lot of trepidation about the fact that Matt wasn’t screaming. The big songs on Alligator were “Abel” and“Mr. November,” as far as live, and even going before that, “Murder Me Rachael” and “Available,” or “Slipping Husband.” He had been doing that and found that place in his voice. There was a lot of potential or just, like, a visceral catharsis about it. Then I didn’t think he wanted to be pigeonholed by that, and rightfully so.

Bryce Dessner: That was a big change on Boxer. Matt kind of became known… like, Alligator was literally him screaming to be heard. We were playing these clubs where nobody was there to see us. And he was just, like, literally screaming his head off. And he basically told us ahead of time with Boxer he wasn’t gonna do that. I think we spent the entire two years it took to make trying to convince him to do it. [Laughs.]

The result was an album full of rich, richly diverse songs, from the stately “Fake Empire” to the slashing “Mistaken For Strangers” to the slow-burning “Ada.” Naturally, everyone has their personal favorites.

Scott Devendorf: I like“Brainy” a lot. I think that’s because it’s such an arpeggiating guitar thing, and the interaction between the instruments on that. But we don’t play it that often.

Aaron Dessner: That’s tricky. That album feels really complete to me. I think all of them have had their moment. I love the architecture of “Brainy,” and I love Bryan’s drums. No one can play it like him. But “Green Gloves” might be the one. If I had to only have one of those songs on a desert island, it would probably be “Green Gloves.”

Peter Katis: I remember “Green Gloves” was a track I definitely appreciated. There’s little re-voicing of things and touches throughout that song. I just don’t think that song would have the same emotional content without those little details.

Bryce Dessner: I mean, I love a song like “Green Gloves.” I think it’s one of our most classic songs. Just musically, I really love it.

“I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away”

The cover art for Boxer depicts The National in an intimate, sparsely lit setting playing to a small, loving audience. Using it was a joke that became a reality.

Bryce Dessner: The cover of Boxer was taken at Peter Katis’ wedding. It felt like it was out of some sort of 1950s novel—Revolutionary Road, something like that. I remember it was in Westport, Connecticut, at some kind of beautiful—but maybe a little stuffy—church. The woman who took that photo was Abbey Drucker, [Interpol lead vocalist] Paul Banks’ girlfriend at the time, back when he had that ferocity of, like, a real rock star.

Peter Katis: Towards the end of mixing, Scott said, “Oh, look at this picture.” It was a picture of them playing at my wedding, and then someone just said as a joke, “What if that was the cover?” And Scott mocked it up and was like, “Oh, this is so ridiculous. It could work.” Because it looks like a staged shot, and it’s a completely random shot.

Bryce Dessner: We were actually on stage. We were playing “Daughters Of The Soho Riots” at his wedding, which is one of the only positive long songs we have.

Peter Katis: [Abbey] was just going to get a drink, and she snapped one picture and that was it. She was in fact a photographer, but there was no intention there at all.

Filmmaker and photographer Vincent Moon shot a documentary entitled A Skin, A Night that chronicled the production of Boxer. It was released in 2008 alongside the compilation The Virginia EP. 

Matt Berninger: Vincent Moon, man. He’s one of the most beautiful human beings. He’s a great-looking man. We met him. He pulls up on a scooter in Paris and literally the scarf is flying behind him. He’s got a beautiful woman with him. He’s got this camera, and he’s like, “Okay, guys!” He filmed us skinny-dipping in ponds. He got us to do stuff that we never would have done if he weren’t so cool. I think he also redefined a lot of music videos. I really do think Vincent Moon changed the dial of the idea of what a music video is, and how to make a music video. He’s a pioneer for sure.

A Skin, A Night is as much of an abstract expression of his own work of art than it is anything a documentary about us, which is why it’s good. I wouldn’t have made Mistaken For Strangers with my brother and my wife if it had not been for working for him. That’s why my brother’s movie was more about him than it was about us. Same deal.

In 2008, the Barack Obama presidential campaign used an instrumental version of “Fake Empire” in a promotional video. The band later played at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and at Obama’s victory rally in Grant Park in Chicago, giving the song a surprisingly enduring legacy.

Bryce Dessner: It wasn’t even the first single. “Mistaken For Strangers” was the first single. I think “Fake Empire” was the first song we put up online, and even at that point, that was sort of a novel idea, you know?

Aaron Dessner: The song existed for a year and a half without the fanfare part, and I always thought it wasn’t done. But it didn’t make sense with more words or anything, and finally, we had that idea. Padma Newsome wrote the fanfare and we recorded it, and then it finally felt done.

Bryce Dessner: I remember recording the trumpets for “Fake Empire” up in [Aaron’s attic]. That song just felt unfinished and then we did that, and it was like this really amazing moment.

Scott Devendorf: It got its little, whatever, Obama bump in 2008, which we were overjoyed about. We were excited he won the election and that they were using it at that thing in Chicago. We were like, “Oh my god, this is like nirvana.”

Matt Berninger: My friend Hope Hall was working on his campaign. She was a filmmaker, and she knew a lot of the people on his campaign that were National fans. So she was the one who used that song in a little promotional film called “Dreams Of Hope And Change.” We’re grateful to her, because then we got to meet him three times since then, and it kinda became a part of his thing.

Aaron Dessner: It’s sort of evergreen, musically. It’s almost like a nursery rhyme. It’s a complex rhythm. I remember when Bryce first played it on the piano, it was backstage in Florida, and we were opening for The French Kicks or Kala, or something. There was this upright piano, and he was tapping out this 4/3 rhythm. It’s just somehow always nice to play. It doesn’t get old. I wouldn’t say it was a protest song or anything. It was just sort of like an “escape this reality” type song. Now it’s poignant again, which is super depressing.

Matt Berninger: Yeah, it’s a political song. It’s funny, it was written about when George W. Bush won, and it’s also a weird song about trying to unplug and not think about politics. So to have the president play it right after he wins—the first black president play it in Grant Park after he wins—and being a part of that playlist that night… Are you kidding me? I can’t wait to tell my granddaughter about how that happened.

Bryce Dessner: The craziest memory I have of Boxer is election night 2008 and, like, a million people texting me from Grant Park saying that Obama was playing it before he walked out. That’s kind of like my Boxer memory. It was like, “Holy shit. Really?”

Matt Berninger: I can’t overstate how lucky and awesome that whole thing was and still is. Every time we play in Washington, a lot of the West Wingers from their whole administration show up. That’s how I know a lot of people that I work with at Planned Parenthood. We’ve been lucky to know a lot of different, really fascinating people because of that little thing. I wrote a song because I was terrified about George W. Bush, and the next thing you know, a few years later, we’re talking to Obama.

Although Boxer was a critical and commercial success upon release, The National still felt uneasy upon finishing the record, colored by the lingering stress of its creation.

Matt Berninger: That album… We fought a lot. It caused a lot of anxiety. But the second we mastered that thing, I loved it and I wore it out. I always do that when we finish a record.

Aaron Dessner: We remember the making of that record as very difficult, but I think it’s probably why it was good. We didn’t just toss the record off. Alligator had been much faster to make; it was, like, maybe six weeks or something. Boxer was the first record where it really took us almost a year to make it, and then ever since it’s sort of been like that.

Matt Berninger: Aaron had a crisis because he knew if this was a failure, this would be the end of the line. But he pulled it off. Aaron can sometimes internalize the anxiety of, “We might disappear overnight, and we can’t let that happen. This might ruin our career but we can’t let that happen.” Thank god he’s like that. I’m a lot less like that.

Aaron Dessner: There were moments where I don’t think we knew when we finished that record. We just ran out of time and ran out of money. I stayed up all night the day before mastering because we were still working on it. And we rode down in the middle of winter, in the freezing cold, driving down 95 to New York to master it. And I just remember feeling like, “I have no idea if this is any good.”

Scott Devendorf: We always loved Boxer, but when we finished it, we were just like… you never know. Sometimes you finish something, you’re too close to it. You’re just exasperated with it. It’s hard to get perspective on what it is at the time. But the best things come of that, you know? When people don’t really know what they’re doing when they’re doing it, and it’s just like, “Oh, look.”

Aaron Dessner: We never felt like, “Oh, we’ve got an amazing record” or anything, and that’s because you lose sight of it all when you’re so deep in the minutiae and the creative struggle. Everybody definitely gave everything they had, and thankfully it worked out.

Bryce Dessner: We definitely didn’t expect Boxer to catch on the way it did. I actually remember our label—they didn’t reject it, but they weren’t happy, which is part of why it’s called Boxer. Like, “Fuck you,” you know? We love our label, but at the time, they were kind of underwhelmed. I think on some level they thought we would be the next Interpol or something. But we didn’t have a big U.K. radio hit on there.

Peter Katis: With one or two days left of mixing, we thought it was the end of the world. Because someone had a conversation with somebody at the record label who told them someone very high up was not pleased with the record, and they weren’t even sure if it was releasable. And it was just like… after all that work, and all those months, it ended on the biggest down note. “The label doesn’t even like it. This is a disaster.” People were saying, “Fuck it! We’ll buy it back and put it out ourselves!” And then the next thing you know, it’s a huge hit. So I guess the point is, don’t throw in the towel too quickly.

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