The National formed in Brooklyn, NY in 1999, when five friends who relocated from Cincinnati, Ohio for work began making demo recordings to blow off steam on weekends. They are brothers Aaron Dessner (guitars, bass, piano) and Bryce Dessner (guitar, piano), brothers Scott Devendorf (guitar; bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums) and Matt Berninger (vocals).
Those early demos eventually formed a self-titled debut album that was released in 2001 on Brassland Records (a label launched by Aaron and Bryce along with their friend Alec Bemis) and that was followed in 2003 with both the second album, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, and the standalone Cherry Tree EP in 2004.
During these years, the band received critical praise and they put the foundations in place to enable themselves to quit their respective jobs and make the band a full-time concern. They signed a worldwide deal with Beggars Banquet and it was with 2005’s Alligator, their label debut and third album, that a wider audience finally (and fervently) discovered them. Coming as a bolt to most, they were soon winning hearts and minds; landing in the higher echelons of scores of year-end critics’ lists, selling out large venues across Europe and the US and appearing on Later With Jools Holland in the UK. All the hard work prior to Alligator was starting to pay off and thankfully for us, one of America’s finest new bands had started to really spread their wings.
Giving themselves very little time to rest, in 2007, they were back with the next chapter – Boxer. A different pitched record to Alligator, it hit even higher and it wasn’t long until the plaudits started to fly in again; “After a few spins, its beautifully arranged songs get scratched in to your soul.” Mojo, “A set of heartbreak hymns...” NME, “It's the rare album that gives back whatever you put into it.” Pitchfork, “Boxer” really feels like an album, in a way few download-and-go Lps do anymore; the songs want to follow each other, to tell a story about a year in the life of love, its ebbs and flows. Thank god someone in America is keeping the torch lit for passion.” Nylon. Their trajectory continued its skyrocket and the oft-sold out venues were now getting even larger and they weren’t just playing festival stages, they were now headlining them. Seemingly, Boxer was another great step; a point underlined when R.E.M. took them with Modest Mouse on a huge coast-to-coast tour and Barack Obama used “Fake Empire”, to soundtrack a prominent campaign ad that also played just before his speeches at the Democratic National Convention and on election night.
In an unusual and most wonderful step, just before closing the book on Boxer, they decided instead of releasing a throwaway single for radio like most, they would release a dual package of the twelve-track Virginia EP on CD and a film of the band by Vincent Moon called A Skin, A Night on DVD. More than a mere curiosity, it was both limited and unusually packaged, and not only featured exclusive studio material, four Boxer demos and four live tracks, it also featured a film by Vincent Moon (who went on to work with both Arcade Fire and R.E.M. to make similar films as well as continuing his famed La Blogotheque Takeaway Shows); it helped expose the band in a different light, giving their fans a rare insight in to their world and how they make their music.
In 2009, again in another detour for the band, the brothers Dessner joined forces with the AIDS charity Red Hot to produce Dark Was The Night, a 32-track compilation focused on the best of independent rock music at the beginning of the 21st century.
The National has recently built a recording studio and is in the early stages of working on the follow-up to Boxer.