Does it feel a bit like you've reached a new level, in terms of your clout?
"Personally, I find it too funny whenever people in the business talking of that mythical 'next level' to really contemplate it. No matter what level you're at, there's always a next level to go to. But, yeah, the venues are obviously larger, and we're aware there's definitely more exposure, more written than ever before about us."
Was that something that was in your mind when making High Violet?
"It certainly entered our minds, but we definitely didn't make a radio record. We had conversations about the fact that more was going to be written about this, more expected of this, than any of our other records. But it didn't really effect or change the process of recording at all. But, as we were mixing, our friend [and producer/engineer] Peter Katis was definitely needling us about it, saying: 'you know this record is going to be way bigger than Boxer.' We could only shrug: 'well, yeah, we know.' It just is what it is. And I guess it's a good thing."
Aaron [Dessner] from your rockband described the process to me as really slow and kind of painful. Is that how it is for you?
"I guess each of us has our own perceptions of it, but admittedly there is a certain amount of pain to it. Just by way of being a collective endeavour there are conflicts; there are things that you champion, that you grow attached to, that end up coming out the other side of the democratic process in the trash. Which only leads me to another Peter Katis observation: making art is supposed to be painful, it's supposed to be hard. Well, it's moreso a mixture of pain and pleasure; you work so hard on something for so long that you really live through so many feelings. Then you go spend a year on the road."
Was this an even more drawn-out process than before? Or just business-as-usual?
"That's always been the way we work. It's the result of being in a band that has no principle songwriter. And, even then, neither the twins nor Matt, the people responsible for creating the basis of the music, none of them can simply toss off a song when they're on their own, either. We're the opposite of The Kinks writing and recording 'Waterloo Sunset' in two-and-a-half hours. For us it takes days, weeks, months."
But, why does it do so? Why is that how you are, and who you are?
"I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with Matt's approach to lyric writing. It's quite literary. Here's quite literally always revising. He'll come up with the germ of an idea, then he'll revise it, and revise it, and revise it."
So do you start out with a total blank slate? And that adds to the length of the process?
"Oh, no. We actually have these very specific ideas in mind about production, these ways we were going to work, and this notion that we were going to do things quickly. But, then you just end up falling back into old patterns. Matt loaded us up with lots of abstract directions: he wanted the sonic qualities to be dark, tar-like, devoid of light. Lots of hard-to-follow art direction. He was also adamant that there be no fingerpicking, which is kind of a defining sound on Alligator and Boxer. For me, he wanted to get drum sounds that were more 'modern' or 'refined.'"
What does that actually mean?
"Sounds that were very elegantly-composed and clean, I think. Actually, I have no idea. I don’t know what he meant."
Are you still disproportionately larger in France than elsewhere?
"I don't know. I don't think so. That was definitely the case seven or eight years ago; that was where our first good press and audiences were."
Have those years in which you were rankly unpopular in your homeland made your success more surreal?
"Strangely, for us it's made sense. Not that we think we deserve to be some big success, but just that those years of unpopularity, as you put it, were, for us, a good thing. We weren't a good live-band, and, before Alligator, our records were really uneven. I think [2004's] Cherry Tree EP was the first thing we did that really seemed like it worked. We've always just tried to do what we do; to just put our heads down and be a 'working' band."
Do bands like The National —who slog away, touring hard, minus any hype, and slowly attract an audience— no longer exist in this blogospheric era?
"Obviously, it's now so much easier for bands to break. But, the flipside is that there's so many more bands now, and every single one of them is all over the internet, and it's so hard to be heard above that din. I guess things're... what's the wheat/chaff metaphor? I think these days these way more wheat and way more chaff. I guess it's a great equaliser. Even if a band has been not that good before, if they put out something good, someone somewhere is definitely going to notice. At the same time, the internet will also take you down. No matter how good anything you may've done before was, if you put out something that people don't like, it'll get taken down. You'll get a 4.0 on Pitchfork, and that'll be all she wrote."