This week, The National could score their first UK No.1 for their seventh album, Sleep Well Beast, out now on 4AD.
It would represent a step up from 2013's Trouble Will Find Me, which hit No.3 as their highest charting LP yet and has sold 99,657 copies so far. Their biggest seller is 2010's High Violet, which sits on 126.623 sales.
Before the release of Sleep Well Beast, Music Week sat down with the group's manager, Brandon Reid, to dissect the campaign.
The National, comprised of frontman and songwriter Matt Berninger Aaron Dessner (guitar, keyboards), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums), played before Foo Fighters on Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage earlier this summer and are poised to return for a run of sold-out shows. In other words, they're thinking bigger than ever before. Here, Reid unpicks the story of the campaign so far...
Does it feel like The National are making a big leap with this record?
They’ve been a band for 18 years and it continues to be a reality that they’ve got an insanely dedicated cult following. They’ve done Saturday Night Live, so no one in America can say that they haven’t been presented widely, and we’ve definitely done the gamut of UK opportunities over the years. The National appeal to people that are firstly interested in lyrical meaning and songs that have continuously recurring themes, people find new things with repeat listens and that’s not something that you find a lot on Top 40 radio. Our upcoming UK shows are all sold out. Over the course of those two weeks that’s 30-40,000 tickets.
What constitutes success this time around? Are you hoping to see a no.1 record?
Yeah! This is their seventh record; the guys are excited to achieve new things for themselves. The band, specifically Aaron and Bryce Dessner, are easily the most professionally driven and passionate people that I’ve ever worked with and they just want to feel like they’re outdoing themselves and are continually. If we can continue to feel collectively that we’re expanding our audience and pushing the needle, then they’re going to feel pleased. Creatively, which I would say is most important to them, they had a really great time working on this record. It wasn’t without very tense moments or creative arguments, but they just really rallied around each other and allowed each member to make their best contribution and put forth the best version of their work.
Have the good reviews been well-received in the camp, then?
Any artist is subject to some percentage of how they look at their own work, how they feel about it, how their friends and family feel about it and then how the public feels about it. The National are, I would say, mostly concerned with how they personally feel about what they made, but for sure they want the public to like it. It’s interesting times we live in too, because The National are known to be such a progressive band and America is under this awful, domineering force and it feels like the public really wants a National record right now. It’s a group of people that the public knows, you know, Donald Trump won by such a miniscule margin and, obviously, a decent percentage of the people that thought it was a good idea to vote for him probably would again now, even after seven months of the guy being president. So The National are speaking to a large audience base of people that are like a little disenchanted right now.
So you’re saying the band’s message could win them a new audience too?
From a fan’s perspective, looking at all of this political turmoil, it just feels like The National are one of those bands that you can actually find some solace in, and for some reason it does something more. There’s something going on in The National that feels a little bit deeper. I would say Radiohead are the same – you could look at Hail To The Thief-era Radiohead where they were reacting against the political climates in the UK and in America. I remember when that record came out and it hit me hard, I was like, I needed this. It fires you up and gives you a little bit of will to carry on.
Are you and the label doing anything differently this time?
The main people at 4AD that we deal with – Simon Halliday, Nabil Ayers and Jason White – the one thing we’ve done is try to have a particularly open dialogue about ideas. Previously the band was sort of closed off in how they were operating in conjunction with the label, but with this record we started strategising together early on. The band were sharing music with the label in a much more advanced way. Martin, Simon and Nabil actually came to the studio, I think, before the end of 2016. There was actually a Pitchfork article recently about the idea of why indie artists are now considering more than ever moving into major label arrangements and one of the things that they knew in this newer version of the major label world, as with records from Grizzly Bear and The War On Drugs, is there’s much less label intervention in the making of their records. Whereas, The National are on an indie label and the team is and has been now for many years very hands-off in allowing the band to develop their vision. However, parallel to that we discuss the process and their ideas about potential single contenders, what could take a song from just being an album song to a single through potential edits or whatnot. Simon and I were talking about song details in the process and that feedback was getting to the band through me, and it was all very comfortable and felt very organic.