The National have always seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Bruce Springsteen — the arc of critical acclaim (and modest sales) through their first three albums alongside the blue-collar determination of touring. With the release of 2007’s Boxer, The National landed in the ears of everyone on the planet with an album that Pitchfork named “Best New Music” when that christening could make or break an artist. Boxer, along with 2010’s High Violet and 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, should be atop everyone’s indie rock primer alongside Radiohead, Arcade Fire, and Interpol.
Fast forward 12 years, and The National have graduated to bonafide festival headliners — who even curate their own fests! They just released the latest in a string of acclaimed records, I Am Easy To Find.
Below, The National’s frontman Matt Berninger dives into the city of their birth, Cincinnati. Matt’s theme of Cincinnati Nights is a perfect look into Cincinnati when The Breeders and Afghan Whigs ruled the world.
Matt Berninger’s Top Five Albums From His Cincinnati Nights
Ohio in the early ’90s had a very intense and intimidating rock scene. I was in my twenties and going to every rock show in Cincinnati and Dayton that I could. Around this time is when I met Scott and we started the band Nancy with Casey Reas and Mike Brewer. Members of Brainiac came to see us play once in Casey’s basement and left after two songs. Meanwhile, Bryan and the Dessners had a different band balled Project Nim that was this academic hippy thing.
These are some of the bands we would see around town and then suddenly in magazines and on MTV. We realized that Seattle was dying and everything cool was coming out of our neighborhood now. But we weren’t really in the scene, just fans and students of it all. Bryan literally took lessons from the Afghan Whigs’ first drummer. Another completely different kind of scene happened around us later in New York.
Seeing this band perform was something that would re-wire your idea of a rock band. They were doing things both musically and performance-wise that seemed entirely free and unburdened by self-consciousness and insecurity. And it was organic and honest and fearless and unhinged. They were channeling something very healing and potent. They were way out on a strange limb all by themselves.
There was a black and white photo of Kim Deal in a flannel shirt buttoned all the way up that I was in love with. The Pixies were the coolest band on the planet and she lived 45 minutes away. And here’s this other band she has with her twin sister, and the cover is a naked Vaughn Oliver wearing a huge eel as a dick. The Breeders are badass and brilliant and singular.
A school teacher with a shitty attitude and a drinking problem makes records for years in his garage with his pals, and they’re brilliant. This was the record when everyone noticed.