Gush: Matt Berninger talks life, money, things and jobs

This article is incredible. So incredible, I pasted it below. Now I have it forever!

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Matt Berninger, Lead Singer of The National, Tells Wealthsimple Why Losing $1 Million Led Him to Being a Rock Star

Quitting the dot-com world to start a band taught him about the power of good karma and creative freedom—even at the cost of a little cash.

In our original series “Money Diaries” we ask interesting people about the role money has played in their lives. Matt Berninger is the lead singer of the rock band The National. In 2014, he formed the side project El Vy with Brent Knopf.Growing up, anytime I had money, I couldn’t wait to spend it. I can’t really remember ever saving a penny. I just always figured out how to earn more cash if I ran out. For me, it was always more about buying things and having an experience than monitoring a savings account.

Except in a few cases, that hasn’t really stopped. After college, I moved to New York City in 1996 and was lucky enough to land a website-design job at a firm called Nicholson NY. I was a part of the first graduating class that learned how to use HTML and create interactive graphic designs. This was the early days of websites, when you could use only four colors in a logo. I went from junior designer to creative director in a matter of a few years.

“It was that sense that it’s OK to make it up as you go along that gave me the confidence to just start a band.”

My timing was great—I got in on the ground level of the dot-com boom and was making good money. I also had crazy stock options. On paper, I was worth a million dollars before I turned 30. It was insane. I was happy to have a nice paycheck and spend the money buying records, going to shows at the Mercury Lounge, eating out every day, and drinking at bars. I lived in a huge unconverted loft in Gowanus in Brooklyn and threw massive parties and hosted art-gallery shows.

I eventually moved into my own apartment and bought myself a designer couch from the extremely high-end SoHo design store Moss. I’m a huge impulse buyer, and I had to have that god-awful couch. It made me feel like some cool, artsy New Yorker. I instantly regretted buying it. It was a terrible color; it was way too big for my place and wildly uncomfortable. I don’t think I ever sat on it. I also bought a crazy-expensive—but exceptionally cool—Gaetano Pesce lamp that I regretted less. But I still had no business buying it. I was living a certain idea of life, and those items seemed to fit.

Then it all came crashing down. The Internet bubble popped, and I spent a year and a half at my job laying off all the junior designers I’d become friends with. It was awful. All my stock-option money disappeared. I’d convinced my parents to invest in the company, so I even managed to lose them money. All the things I enjoyed about my job were gone, so eventually I laid off myself in 2003. I was in my early 30s. Granted, I continued to freelance here and there for several years, but eventually the idea of working hard for a client that I didn’t really respect got to me, and I couldn’t do it anymore.

Looking back, though, there was something about the DIY quality of those early web-design days that made me realize there was no script to life. In a way, it was very punk rock and a completely new art form. I think it was that sense that it’s OK to make it up as you go along that gave me the confidence to just start a band. I hadn’t played music for years, but I didn’t worry about whether I was qualified or not. After all, the Sex Pistols weren’t necessarily great musicians, but they did reinvent the idea of a band.

My friends and I formed The National and started playing whatever gigs we could get. I decided that to be a real band, you needed to play shows and have an album. So I put my credit card down and charged the entire first album. I was happy to do it. I thought it was great that we’d be able to have something that I could listen to that we’d made ourselves. Had I valued money more at that point, I probably wouldn’t have done it.

If my timing in starting out in the dot-com world was perfect, my timing in starting a band was horrible. We released our first album, The National, in the early 2000s, the same year bands like The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, The Walkmen, and TV on the Radio were all creating albums and performing in New York City. They were cool as shit; we were just figuring out how to be a band. If you look at old photographs of us, you can tell we didn’t know how to look cool. It should have been depressing, listening to their albums and seeing them live and comparing it with our situation, but I was just happy to have an album. I thought it was great that we’d actually done something, and that was enough.

I think you have to be pretty fearless when it comes to creating anything. We toured Europe a lot from 2002 to 2004 and came back with far less money than we’d started with. It would actually get depressing. I never loved traveling, and I felt homesick. We stayed in disgusting hostels and trucker hotels where they literally hosed down the rooms. Meanwhile, my friends back in New York were starting to buy houses. But ultimately it didn’t matter. We all knew we could pull the plug if we wanted to—go back to our regular jobs, freelance, or liquidate a 401K. But we forged ahead. It helped that I was never completely broke and never really faced the prospect of not being able to pay rent.

Timing got a little bit better for us when we released our third album, Alligator, in 2005. Suddenly all these music blogs and sites that shared information about bands appeared. There were dangers in that world—certain sites seemed to take joy in putting a band on a pedestal and then killing them off so it could become a weird, power blood sport of indie rock. We were never on a pedestal, but through word of mouth, we started getting more festival gigs, which were not only lucrative but also increased our fan base. We nearly missed our first, most important festival show in the summer of 2007 and had to ask Cold War Kids to leave their gear on stage since we didn’t have time to set up our instruments. They were kind enough to help us, and we performed. We would have been in debt for a while if we’d missed that show.

We started making a little bit of money, but when there was a choice, we always opted for creative control over higher paychecks. We signed with a label that didn’t insist on money-making hits to recoup big advances. That let us do what we wanted to do and let us define our sound. That was particularly true of our fourth album, Boxer, in 2007. We also noticed that the bands that lasted the longest were often the most respectful, helpful, and professional, so we followed suit. That stuff matters when you’re trying to chase a dream and everything is pretty dismal and exhausting.

In some ways, I haven’t changed my attitudes about money from when I was a teenager. A few years ago, I poured tons of my own money into a documentary that was mostly about my brother because I thought it would make a great film and be an awesome thing to have. It was never about making money. I think my parents instilled that in me a bit—money was never a symbolic image of success, so I never had any anxiety about it growing up. I was happy to spend the money. I still am. In fact, I often insist on spending the extra 20% on something if I know it’s going to last longer and make me happy. Granted, at this point I’m mostly just talking about nice socks and underwear. Which I recommend to anyone, regardless of your financial situation.

– As told to Craig Charland exclusively for Wealthsimple

Gush: “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)” by EL VY

I’m a mega fan of the National, so hearing this little ditty is throwing my game off a bit. With its cheeseball ’80s guitars and drum machine-sounding percussion, I feel a bit silly actually digging this. Matt Berninger, the band’s voice and lead singer of the National, gives an almost humourous, but still serious, baritone voice, making this cheesy pop song sound like the golden nineties Brit pop era.

But this song goes out to all of the people that tell me The National is depressing to listen to:

Oh yes, and let’s never forget EL VY’s other member, Brent Knopf, who blew my mind with Menomena many moons ago:

GUSH: Meet February

February: Festival season. Sigh.

I was underwhelmed by Coachella and Sasquatch!’s offering’s this year, but with just two bands announced in the lineup Eaux Claires, crafted by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner, got me. TWO DAYS featuring the likes of BON IVER and THE NATIONAL.

eaux claires

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local festival WayHome has a bunch of names I’d like to hang out with too:

Alvvays, Modest Mouse, St Vincent, Timber Timbre.

 

Gush: “Mistaken for Strangers: The Play”

I’m so happy my two favourite goofballs have reunited to put together this short, silly segment spoofing the National and Tom Berninger’s wonderful film, Mistaken for Strangers.
They’ve had me since this gem of a scene from the first season of Bored to Death:

And while I’ve got you, you should probably get your chuckle on with these two videos:

Sasquatch! 2014 aftermath one: The National

I owe this blog a bit more than what I have given here. I had the great privilege (and discipline) to see my favourite band, the National four times in two months – a new record for me! Someone asked me the other day if the band knows who I am at this point – I responded, “No, I’m not the kind of fan to approach band members.” Besides, I think the Reddit AMA meets most of the questions that I’d want answered.

Seeing the National for the tenth time in four years* – that’s six cities, four American states, and one Canadian province that I’ve hung out with the National in. Am I tired of it all? – Not yet.

As soon as I heard that the National were making a stop in Washington State for Sasquatch! and that my pals were keen to go, I knew I had to be there. I did Sasquatch! two years ago in 2012 and it was majestic, easily becoming the most beautiful festival I’ve been to, geographically speaking. Located in a gorge, the entire festival grounds is surrounded by rolling mountains. The main stage of the festival is the Gorge Amphitheater, where gigs are often held at the rest of the year beyond Sasquatch! Bearing many honourary titles for the spectacular sights that accompany, I can certainly agree that I have never been to a more gorgeous spot to see live music. The irony of all of this is that I jammed in so close to the band that I wasn’t actually able to take in the show and the sights. Furthermore, the gig was at 11pm, no rolling hills in sight. So, I guess I was there to see the National, but to take in the gorge in the day time.

It was their usual set of songs, mixed in with old and new songs – but only the crowd pleasing tunes, leaving old bangers like “All the Wine” and “Lucky Me” for a full-length gig. I’ve sort of got to the point where I know what to expect at one of their gigs and I can predict what may happen, they sadly make little changes.

A few differences I observed at this gig:

  • They opened up with “Sea of Love,” which I knew by the harmonica fixed to Aaron’s neck.
  • Matt using the Sasquatch! signage on stage to smash his head into during the very angsty tune “Abel”
  • Multiple audience walk outs by Matt Berninger
  • Due to the time restrictions, the band rushed Matt’s floppy, unpredictable stage presence to plug through the set
  • Like the Massey Hall gigs, Matt smashed the vessel that was carrying his evening’s beverage. This time it was a beer bottle, which likely belonged to one of this band mates.
  • They still ended with “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” !!!

matt matt2 matt3

 

Dwight K Schrute introducing the National at Sasquatch! back in 2008 introducing the National as “the greatest band in rock ‘n’ roll history.”

*see past posts for past gushes:
The National at Coachella April 2011
The National at the Air Canada Centre December 2011
The National at the Beacon Theatre, NY December 2011
The National at Barclay’s Arena, Brooklyn June 2013
The National at NXNE June 2013
The National at Laneway Music Festival, Detroit September 2013
The National at Massey Hall X3 April 2014
The National at Sasquatch! May 2014

Gush: Reddit AMA featuring some of the National and Tom Berninger

I had the incredible luck to see Tom Berninger’s film of his brother’s band Mistaken For Strangers at the Hot Docs film festival last year.

The has finally hit movie theatres and iTunes around the world and Matt Berninger and co. are chit-chatting about things the National on Reddit. Here it is!!

Some gems I found interesting from the rapid fire talk:

1. This is what the boys are listening to: A few of my recents: St. Vincent “St. Vincent” / Cass McCombs “Big Wheel and Others” / Ólafur Arnalds / PIL “Album” / No Age “An Object” / London Grammar / Lorde / Megafaun / Elizabeth Cotton / Laurie Spiegel “The Expanding Universe” / King Krule “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” / Kim Deal – Singles / The Juan MacClean / Jónsi & Alex / Jerry Garcia & David Grisman / Tanlines / Small Black / Endless Boogie / Baaba Maal / Hamza El Din / Caetano Veloso “Personalidade” – Scott

2. Berninger on hitting his head during live shows: I’ve done that for a long time. I have to switch sides after a few days. Most of the stuff I do onstage is stress relief, including the wine-guzzling. Don’t worry I don’t hit myself in the head (on purpose) with anything off stage. -Matt

3. To all of you: What is your go to wine (matt) and/or cocktails (aaron&scott) while on stage? I like all flavors of wine. On stage I drink wine on the rocks, which I like to think of as a Cincinnati sangria. -Matt
Yager bombs -TOM
Jameson or Tequila on ice. Aaron
Whatever’s left 😉 – usually a little white wine, water, or tequila on ice, so nice. – Scott

4. Hey Matt!

How did you grow the balls to gloriously scream like that at the end of “Graceless” during the SNL performance? How did the castmembers react?

Speaking of SNL, any funny backstage moments from the recording?

That song has so many rhymes in it, it’s like a Dr. Seuss story. If I get them all right, I scream at the end to celebrate. -Matt

5. A few favorites – classics, in no particular order: New Order “Power Corruption & Lies” / REM “Document” / Neil Young “After the Gold Rush” & “Harvest Moon” / Bob Dylan “Time Out of Mind” / “Blonde on Blonde” / “Street Legal” / Grateful Dead “American Beauty” / Fleetwood Mac “Tusk” / Breeders “Last Splash” / U2 “War” / The Smiths “The Queen Is Dead” / Stone Roses “Stone Roses” / Erik Satie / Velvet Underground “The Velvet Underground” / Doors “LA Woman” / Tom Petty “Wildflowers” / Talking Heads “Remain In Light” – Scott

Sure yeah – sry, started w/ the classics – some newer records: Mirel Wagner / Heather Woods Broderick / Chromatics / War On Drugs “Lost In A Dream” / Angel Olsen / Warpaint / Mac Demarco / St. Vincent “St. Vincent” / Cass McCombs “Big Wheel and Others” / Ólafur Arnalds / No Age “An Object” / London Grammar / Lorde / Megafaun / King Krule “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” / Kim Deal – Singles / The Juan MacClean / Jónsi & Alex / Tanlines / Small Black / Endless Boogie – Scott

6. This is what a Pink Rabbit: Strawberry Nesquik, tequila, and kahlua actually. All from the devil’s mouth himself: http://blogs.kcrw.com/musicnews/2013/08/the-nationals-stripped-down-set-for-kcrw-pink-rabbits/

7. When I’m shooting the band sleeping. I pretended they were all dead. -TOM

8. The documentary features a few celebrity fans, including Will Arnett and Werner Herzog. Which surprised you most?

It was a bizarre thrill to have Werner Herzog show up at the show (and in the movie). We felt like we had a sort of weird guardian angel present while making this movie since he was “around.” Matt

Bryce Dessner on “Conversation 16” by the National

“Conversation 16” was my gateway tune to the band the National. I love learning new things about the band’s perspectives of  it:

“Matt’s a surprising lyricist . . . he surprises us,” says National guitarist Bryce Dessner. “We know when he’s written something good, but sometimes it takes us a little while to get used to. When I first heard [High Violet‘s] “Conversation 16,” where he says, ‘I was afraid I’d eat your brains,’ I was like, ‘Whoa.’ But now it’s my favorite moment of the record.”
The Village Voice 2010

The first time I saw the National as a true fan, I felt incredibly let down by the void in the background vocals. Rather the void of the Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. Parry arranged the vocal harmonies in the tune, which showcase his high, hard to reach “oohs” and “ahhhs.” Only in the last few times I’ve seen them have they filled up the harmonies in the tune.

Here’s how it was intended:


Here’s a flop (I WAS THERE!!!):