James Berry asks Aaron Dessner of THE NATIONAL, ‘Where’s Your Head At?’
“I’m going to try and figure this out,” mutters a dazed Matt Beringer grappling with the microphone stand through his shirt like some kind of befuddled and ineffective escape artist. Incidentally, he doesn’t. “Sons and daughters!” screams an audience member, curiously. “That’s a different band,” states Matt, correctly, as the band slide into ‘Daughters Of The Soho Riots’, partially meeting the confused request. These 30 surreal seconds of their recent ULU gig are as representative of the experience as any other. The National’s tthird album ‘Alligator’ is one of 2005’s clear standouts; engaging, poetic, confessional, comedic, intricate, hopeful, expansive. But in a live setting the gravity of the album’s perfection evaporates, leaving more disparate strands to drift together like molecules in a Petri dish. And they do drift together, sometime ambivalently, sometimes unavoidably. It’s a different experience, but no less hypnotic. Those looking for a tight reading of the album may leave disappointed, but seeing them from this angle too makes for a more complete picture. And no one part of the gig could exist effectively without another. Just prior to setting off on this UK tour, we asked guitarist Aaron Dessner where his head was at…
How are you? Where are you now? What can you see?
I am tired, but well. I am in Houston, Texas on tour. Looking out the window, I see a strip mall, fast food restaurants, a power plant with tall smoke stacks and the highway. A lovely vista! Not surprising at all.
What was the last thing you ate?
I had Mexican food for dinner last night. Good Mexican food can be found in Texas.
What was the next album you intend to buy?
The new My Morning Jacket album. I am curious and they are from Kentucky. We are from Ohio and we share a border with them. Kentucky was Confederate state in the Civil War while Ohio was Yankee. You have to know your enemy. Kidding.
What was the last movie you saw?
Unfortunately I saw ‘Elizabethtown’ yesterday with the band. When you are on tour and stumble across a cinema and have two hours to spare, you don’t have the luxury of being picky. Orlando Bloom was awful and Kirsten Dunst was almost as bad. The only thing that could have saved the movie was sex, maybe. And there was none of it.
What are you most looking forward to?
At the moment, I am looking forward to our upcoming European tour.
What do you hate right now?
At the moment, the endless suburban sprawl of Texas.
What was the last thing you liked that you saw on TV?
The indictment of Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis Libby.
Where or how do you feel most comfortable?
I have been traveling in a van and sleeping in hotel rooms for the past several months. I rarely feel that comfortable, but if I do, it is because I am sitting somewhere quiet drinking Makers Mark or coffee.
What would you class as your most defining moment?
I don’t know if I have one. 12 years after the fact, I am still excited about scoring a last second winning goal on a full volley from a corner kick when I was a senior in high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. I still watch the video when I go to my parents’ house.
What are your plans for tonight?
We are playing in Denton, Texas, just outside of Dallas. All I can think of is the Silver Jews line, “How do a million steers, into building made of mirrors, Oh Dallas! Shine with the neon lights!”