We asked Canadian indie icon Hayden to interview The National singer Matt Berninger. Here’s what they talked about.
When The National played the Phoenix back in 2007, they brought Hayden on stage for a song, and National frontman Matt Berninger mentioned that he’d been a longtime fan of the esteemed Toronto singer-songwriter. As it turns out, that fandom dates back to the time Berninger took a trip with a girlfriend to India, only to have the relationship dissolve along the way. He found solace in a copy of Hayden’s 1998 album, The Closer I Get. Naturally, when Berninger passed through the city during Hot Docs, we thought it would be neat to set him up for an interview with the typically private Hayden. Here’s what they talked about.
Hayden Desser: When did we first meet?
Matt Berninger: I don’t remember when we first met.
H: I do. It was in the dank basement of the Opera House in Toronto. Or it was just before that, at a Jamaican place called The Real Jerk, right beside the Opera House. And then after the show I came down and met all you guys.
M: I remember when [our tour manager] Brandon said he was bringing Hayden by, I was really nervous. I had a crazy connection with [The Closer I Get]. You know how some records just line up with your life and they kind of become a friend? Your record was definitely a friend when I needed it, so I was nervous to meet you.
H: Are you surprised by the emotional impact your music has on people?
M: Writing the songs moves me and has gotten me through hard times. I don’t take that for granted at all. Because that’s the way I have felt about so many [people’s work], including your records. The Smiths helped me figure out my high-school years and helped me feel like not so much of a weirdo. And honestly, The Closer I Get is one of a handful of records that was kind of a lifeline—not a lifeline, maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but a connection to somebody that makes you feel not completely alone or lost. Certain records are sometimes flashlights in your life. So when people say that about our records, I get it.
H: You’ve described Boxer as dark and stately, and High Violet as black fun. What would be your quick description of the new record?
M: Easygoing death. I don’t know. [Trouble Will Find Me] is much more relaxed than any of our records, but there are a lot of songs about mortality. We’re sort of a stressed-out band, but this one wasn’t very stressed-out for some reason. I think it might have been that Aaron has a kid now, my daughter’s four, and Bryan has two kids. I think things were put into perspective. Our band doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. It’s not that we don’t value it and hold it dear, but when we took that cerebral anxiety and self-consciousness out of the equation—and I think having kids did that—the process of making [music] was more fluid. We let our guard down, and you can hear that in the record.
H: I wanted to ask if your daughter, Isla, likes your music.
M: [Isla] likes any kind of music. She just likes loud noise if she can pretend to ballet dance or princess dance. She likes to get married to whoever is in the room when our music is on. She’s been to a couple of weddings and she thinks that’s the most amazing thing she’s ever seen. She’s forced my brother to marry my father-in-law in a ceremony to the sound of our music—that’s a complicated image. I think she likes it.
H: This is a weird one: Do you find yourself thinking about the end of the band, and what might cause that to happen?
M: The band has almost ended here and there. I think we got past a lot of the ways it could have ended and ended badly. I think we got though those dark times—just relationship issues, and frustration, and anxiety, and exhaustion, and tempers. [R.E.M.’s] Michael Stipe always used to say, Remember that you were friends first. We had to remind ourselves of that. I don’t know how long is healthy to be a rock band. We’ve been on for almost 14 years, so another five years might be too much. We’re actually at a better place with each other than we’ve ever been. I don’t think our band would end with an acrimonious situation any more. I think we’ve learned to love and respect each other now and we’re kind of past all that stuff. I don’t know if that means we’ll stay a band for a lot longer—but for a little while, at least.
The National’s new album, Trouble Will Find Me, comes out on May 21, and they play Yonge-Dundas Square for free on June 14 as part of North By Northeast (nxne.com). Hayden will be performing at Arts & Crafts’ Field Trip Festival at Fort York on June 8. 100 Garrison Rd., fieldtriplife.com.