Friday, October 04, 2013

Recap: Exploring songwriting with The National and The Recording Academy

Last night the Bay Area chapter of The Recording Academy hosted a special evening with Matt and Aaron from The National, as part of an ongoing 'exploring songwriting' series. 

At the onset, Matt mentioned that The National has been a band for 14 years, but that it took eight before the band garnered any real attention. Overnight success is rare in this industry, even when you're a master of your craft. (Shout out to my former colleagues at Paste for what I think was The National's first major cover story and 'Album of the Year' nod?). 

The duo played four songs, including "Pink Rabbits" and "I Need My Girl" from the new album Trouble Will Find Me, and sat down for a Q&A about what it's like to be songwriting in a band with five "smart and stubborn" people.

Here are some of the quotes I caught through the evening. 

"It took a few years before we knew what we were doing -- the alchemy of the band.... We never wrote big hooks... we weren't influenced by that desire.... But eventually we did write infectious songs."

Aaron: "You realize you have to have a sense of conviction because if you release a record and you tour, you're going to live with those song for two years, so you better have conviction, and you better love it.... The first two records [The National and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers] were really about figuring it out."

Matt: "I will pop [an instrumental] track on Garage Band and mumble along.... It's hard to tell which pieces of music will create the chemistry I can connect to.... For each record, we have 50-60 pieces of music, and only 20 I connect with."

Matt: "You get five people who are smart and stubborn... pulling it in different directions.... We were afraid the band would break up. We were desperate to make it good...Boxer, we got thru it... though Aaron's lung collapsed..."

Aaron: "We call our songs ugly ducklings... It takes a lot of hard work, and faith that you will get [to a final product]."

Matt: "I'm never worried I'm going to write a sad song. I always do... But it is never depressing; it is cathartic... Once lyrics start to get fleshed out we think, 'Maybe the strings are too much now'.... We have to be careful of the melodrama."

Thanks to The Recording Academy and the band for the insight.

If you're a musician or otherwise involved in music creation, definitely consider membership in The Recording Academy. I've been to a number of events like this and they just keep getting better. Great people in attendance, too.