The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger is often seen on stage with a mic stand in one hand, and a glass of red wine sloshing about in another. So it seems fitting that their next New Zealand performance will be at Auckland’s Villa Maria Estate in February.
Pack a picnic, the deckchairs, and a blanket - you can even bring the kids - one child comes free with each adult ticket. They're not your usual nostalgic or granny-pleasing winery show band, with their often sombre tone and that growly baritone of Berningers, but they have a loyal and fervent audience here in Aotearoa.
The quintet have come here every few years since 2008, when they played now legendary shows at Auckland’s Kings Arms, on the back of their breakout album ‘Boxer’.
Their seventh studio album ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is due out on September 8th. Berninger has said that the album is “very dark” and deals with themes of marriage, and marriage break up.
But it’s hard not to read political themes into a song titled ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness.’ This is the band that lent their song ‘Fake Empire’ to soundtrack Obama’s campaign video in 2008, and became his warm-up act for big occasions like his inauguration. They joined the campaign trail, signing up students to enrol at university campuses in their home state, Ohio. They printed t-shirts with the name of one of their songs ‘Mr November’ (written about the previous Democratic candidate John Kerry) below a picture of Obama. Last year they played a concert for Hillary Clinton a week before the election, and Berninger’s side-band El Vy wrote a song called ‘Are These My Jets?’ as part of the anti-Donald Trump campaign 30 Days, 30 Songs.
Despite the political alignment, The National don’t consider themselves to be a ‘political’ band or one that writes protest songs.
“Yeah, we make a record every 3 or 4 years, and that lines up exactly with the U.S. election cycle,” says bass player Scott Devendorf. “So again, here we were, writing, recording and mixing the record while the campaign was happening, and the election happened and then the aftermath… it definitely affected Matt.”
Although most of the music for ‘Sleep Well Beast’ was written before the 2016 election, they had the final recording sessions in the weeks afterwards, which was when the words to ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’ were completely changed.
“There was an element of despair within the group after the election - you know, we all have kids, and there’s a lot of hope there.
“Yes, it has dark elements to it, but even the title, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is intended to be a hopeful statement.”
The National have always proactively donated their music and time to humanitarian causes and charities. Their work has been a part of the recent Planned Parenthood 7-inch series, they’ve worked on mammoth compilations for The Red Hot Organisation, which raises money and awareness for AIDS/ HIV, they’ve played benefit concerts for a range of causes, including giving girls in Guatemala educational opportunities, preserving Tibetan Culture, helping Syrian Refugees and researching cures for rare diseases. They’re clearly a band who care about living in a free and fair society, and want to help where they can.
The National play one night only at Villa Maria Winery on Sunday 25 February 2018. Tickets go on-sale from midday Friday 1 September.