Thursday, August 29, 2013

Erica Rivera Interviews The Lower 48 (Again!)

Q&A: The Lower 48

Ben Braden, Nick Sadler, and Sarah Parson are The Lower 48, a band formed in Minneapolis in 2009. Their debut EP Everywhere To Go was followed by a move to Portland and a full-length album Where All Maps End in 2011.

The trio hails from academic, Midwestern families, and approaches music-making Socratic method style. While formerly folky, The Lower 48’s sound recently morphed, due to the influence of ‘60s garage rock—and growing up.

We spoke to 22-year-old frontman Braden in anticipation of The Lower 48’s self-titled album release show at the Triple Rock.

Q: A lot has happened in the past year with you guys!

A: A lot has happened. It’s been an unbelievable amount of unpaid work, countless hours of playing shows and recording. It’s been a blur. We all quit our jobs and have just been doing the band. It’s been a year of poverty but also happiness. It’s the best year yet.

Q: Based on the song “That’s What I’ll Say,” it seems like you’re leaning more towards pop than folk now. What prompted that evolution?

A: It’s a lot more pop-rock-and-roll. It wasn’t intentional. I think it’s because we’re out of the safety net. We’re long gone from Minnesota. We’re a West coast band now. It leaks into the art you make. The reason it sounds pop-y is because it’s just more polished. We’re becoming, like, real adults. [Laughs] Sort of. Not fully yet. It’s getting there. The product, the outcome, the music that comes out of it is much more honed.

Q: The image of the band has changed, too.

A: We started getting into the suits and it became a contest of who can look slicker. Then we landed a couple of really great licensing deals this year—which is the bread and butter of bands these days for money—so we went out and got some really nice clothes. We wanted to have a classic look—a blank canvas for the music. It fits our new style.

Q: Describe your bandmates. What are their personalities like?

A: Nick has become our showman. He’s probably the most beautiful member of the band and he’s extremely talented at a wide range of things. He plays trumpet, harmonica, drums; he sings perfect harmony. He is fantastic at anything he tries. It’s almost frustrating to be his best friend. He’ll be like, “Let’s play some pool” and he’ll kick my ass right away. He’s a very sweet guy, too. He’s really caring and looks out for everybody.

Sarah is the most mysterious member of the band. She’s got one of the most amazing singing voices I’ve ever heard. She got this fucking unbelievable guitar this year, a ’67 Gibson, an old mama guitar. She’s been wailing on it. People say getting an instrument inspires a different kind of playing and that’s definitely the case with Sarah. She shreds. She doesn’t really know scales or what she’s doing high on the neck but she has such a good ear she never plays a bad note.

She’s the most rock-and-roll of the band. Now that I think about it, she almost pushed the new look and the rock-and-roll harder than anybody else. She started going down that road and we had to catch up.

Q: You’re calling the show at the Triple Rock a “homecoming” yet you’ve said that you don’t consider Minneapolis home anymore. Which is it?

A: I personally don’t feel like Minneapolis is my home but I think our band started there, so [you could] say that about the band.

Q: Is there anything that the Portland music scene has shown you that you weren’t getting in the Twin Cities?

A: To be honest, Minneapolis is way better. People in Portland hopefully won’t read that! The first year in Minneapolis we had a bunch of support right away but it took us a long time to get that in Portland. There were some cold, cold years in terms of support from the scene. There’s just more people who are young and cool-ish and doing art [in Portland]. There’s a lot of competition. It made us fight through the pack. And I really think we have. We’re doing really well now. It took a while. We’re starting to just surface.

Originally published on in Aug. 2013.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Erica Rivera Interviews The National

Big Time Trouble
The National's frontman on mortality, new LP "Trouble Will Find Me."

“I’ve found my way into a rock band without actually ever learning to play an instrument,” Matt Berninger, the 42-year-old frontman of the National, said with a chuckle by phone last week. “In a weird way, it’s part of the chemistry of how the National works.”

A real-life band of brothers (Berninger’s backers are siblings Scott and Bryan Devendorf and twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner), the indie-rock quintet from Cincinnati took the long road to fame. The National’s self-titled debut was released in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2005’s “Alligator” that critics started paying attention. Subsequent albums “Boxer” (2007) and “High Violet” (2010) catapulted the band — which visits Roy Wilkins on Tuesday — onto the charts and into sold-out venues.

The National’s sixth LP, “Trouble Will Find Me,” was released in May on 4AD (a division of Beggars Group, which Berninger called “the biggest label in the world because of Adele”). The album received massive critical acclaim, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart.

While the details in Berninger’s lyrics are mostly fictional, he said the morose emotions that saturate “Trouble” are autobiographical. Sentimentality and melodrama are nothing new in the National’s catalog, but these 13 songs are especially ripe with reproach, regret and resignation.

“A lot of the songs on this record flirt with different ideas of mortality and that was coming from a very, very real place,” Berninger explained, likening the album to a blurry collage. “I’ve been thinking about existence and future non-existence. A lot of it is just cathartic digging into the things that cause a certain amount of anxiety and making something beautiful out of that stuff, whether it’s social anxiety or nervousness about death or fatherhood or how to be a good person.”

The album may also mark the first time Berninger has openly acknowledged that his songs are inspired by real people. Berninger describes “I Need My Girl” as a simple, sentimental ballad about missing his wife and 4-year-old daughter while on tour. “I Should Live in Salt,” with its “You should know me better than that” refrain, is about his brother, Tom.

The theme of brotherly love — or lack thereof — is further explored in Tom’s new documentary, “Mistaken for Strangers.” The film, which spanned eight months of the National’s “High Violet” tour, is less of a behind-the-scenes look at a band rising to stardom than a meditation on sibling rivalry.

While Matt thought the footage would be used for a music video or “silly clips” on the group’s website, Matt’s wife encouraged Tom to dig deeper. “That stuff that was kind of uncomfortable … told the most interesting stories,” Berninger said.

“Mistaken for Strangers” went on to open the Tribeca Film Festival in April and has earned praise from Rolling Stone, Variety and Pitchfork.

“It turned into something much, much bigger, much more interesting, and much more beautiful than I had ever really dreamed,” Berninger said of his brother’s endeavor. The entire band was blown away when they saw the final cut, he said, adding, “It was one of the most interesting and important creative things I’ve ever been involved in and I’m really grateful the movie existed.”

While Berninger is reluctant to “dig into my family too much” in his music, he said fatherhood has changed his perspective on career success and how others perceive the National.

“It’s made me less guarded and less worried about what the image of a band is [or] whether the songs I’m writing are cool. It made me realize that the band is not the most important thing, so I’m OK to take weird chances.”

As for mistakes? Berninger doesn’t seem to believe in them. As evidenced in “This Is the Last Time,” a song about vicious cycles, Berninger said, “If you keep coming back to it, maybe it’s not a mistake.”

Originally published on in Aug. 2013.