The National have been on a steady upward trajectory since releasing their breakthrough album Boxer in 2007. But their humble beginnings go back to the late ‘90s, when they were living in New York City working day jobs in the dot-com industry. On Sunday nights they played for free in the Lower East Side’s Luna Lounge.
Way back in 1991, singer Matt Berninger met current National bassist Scott Devendorf at the University of Cincinnati where they were both studying graphic design. They formed a band called Nancy that played together for five years before breaking up when Matt and Scott packed up and moved to Brooklyn.
Meanwhile Scott’s brother Bryan was in a band called Project Nim with his childhood friends, brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner. When Project Nim disbanded in 1998, Bryan and the Dessners headed to Brooklyn to join Matt and Scott. Within the next year, The National was officially formed. They released their first album in 2001 on their own label, Brassland Records. The record featured a more alt-country influenced sound, and only began to hint at the remarkable songwriting for which the band would later become renowned.
It would be many years until The National hit the mainstream. Over the next several years they released fan favourite records like Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, Cherry Tree, and Alligator, slowly building critical acclaim for their unique, brooding style of rock. But the band reached new heights in 2007 with Boxer, and they soon found themselves featured in countless television shows, toured with REM, and even played for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Since Boxer they’ve released three more acclaimed records, High Violet, Trouble Will Find Me, and 2017’s Sleep Well Beast. Despite their growing popularity, the band hadn’t had a #1 song on the Billboard chart until this year with “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.”