It’s nearly impossible to find a Scott Devendorf interview where his glasses aren’t mentioned. The National’s bassist—also a member of LNZNDRF and collaborator on Grateful Dead charity tribute album Day of the Dead—always wears orange aviators. But why? He laughs when asked.
“I’ve been wearing them for years,” Devendorf says. “They’re sunglasses that faded.” Though the glasses aren’t “a good way to judge [the] color of anything,” they’re nearly inextricable from his look—try to find more than a handful of photos where he’s not wearing them. This cheery look is appropriate for Devendorf, a sweet, upbeat guy who let me know, during our interview, that in London, he was standing between the sidewalk and a busker playing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
Following the release of Sleep Well Beast, The National’s seventh full-length album, their tour will take them to Queens’ Forest Hills Stadium this Friday. Not long ago, The National also played a set at Bowery Ballroom and previewed the album at the Apple Store in Williamsburg.
“I feel like New York is our de facto hometown show,” Devendorf says. And indeed, some of The National’s most formative years were spent making music in Brooklyn—in fact, much of their breakout album Boxer was recorded here. This corresponds with how he describes the “tension and release” of The National’s sound: “urban claustrophobia.” Now the band’s members are spread across countries. Instead of recording on a whim like they might have before, they had to actively plan their recording. “[Technically] we’re playing hometown shows now in everyone’s hometown,” Devendorf says.
He uses the phrase “uptight” twice when describing the band, then defines it more kindly as “detail-oriented,” which he says often led to an impasse in earlier years. “This time [on Sleep Well Beast] we were less concerned with being super precious about everything,” he says. “Over time, you figure out what your strengths are.” He adds that they’re always trying to break free from their own concept of what the band is.
After 18 years, The National’s repertoire is expansive, and they’re not afraid to bring back old songs, pull them apart, having fun in the process. “If it’s possible for bands to have time to reflect. . . it yields some new ideas about what we were doing. We had these songs and we wanted to break them and have them remain broken so we could put them back any way we want to,” Devendorf explains. “Having played all these years together. . . what do we regain from it all? We never want to feel like we’re just going out there playing shows for no reason.”
The National plays Forest Hills Stadium on Friday, October 6.