Being in an internationally acclaimed band seems like enough. Your parents are proud, your distant family members emerge from the woodwork and it seems to keep most musicians busy enough. This is not the case for Bryce Dessner and his fellow bandmates in The National. With a new album in the works, a current tour and a slew of side projects, it’s a wonder they have time to wake up in the morning.
The National is a family affair. It consists of two sets of brothers – Bryce and Aaron Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf, along with frontman Matt Beringer. They started playing together eight years ago and have since put out five albums, the latest of which was declared the album of the year on Paste and a plethora of other magazines and Web sites across the country.
Along with their upstanding titles “musicians” and “artists,” this year the band added labels like “humanitarians”, “philanthropists” and “political clout” to their repertoire. The Dessner brothers produced an album for the Red Hot Organization to raise money and awareness for AIDS research. The band was direct in its political backing of Barack Obama, and their song “Fake Empire” was chosen for numerous campaign appearances and played in the background when Obama accepted his presidency.
“I’m not actually sure how our song got picked for the campaign,” Dessner says. “We were very open about supporting Obama and we did a fundraiser for his campaign. Originally they just played the song without the words, but during his acceptance in Chicago they played the whole thing. I never got to meet him, but there’s always the future.”
The Dessner brothers also birthed a collaboration with Matthew Ritchie this year titled “The Long Count”. Ritchie is, in every possible sense of the word, an artist. His artistic reach spans every medium from painting to sculpture and narrative to massive installations.
His latest project with the Dessners is just as artistically complex, featuring art and music tied in with a narrative of the beginnings of the Mayan Doomsday calendar.
“Everyone has been hyping the end of the Mayan calendar, but we wanted to showcase another side of the story,” Dessner explains.
Among the artists performing in The Long Count are Kim and Kelley Deal of The Breeders, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and Matt Beringer of The National.
Champaign-Urbana’s Ellnora Guitar Festival this weekend features The Long Count tonight at 7 at the Colwell Playhouse, along with The National’s sold-out final show before they hibernate for their upcoming album. Matt Beringer’s seductive baritone pipes and the inevitably cohesive, romantic set by the band will not be one to miss.