The National's Bryan Devendorf Talks Meeting Barack Obama and Rocking Out

When I called Bryan Devendorf, the National's Lennon-lookalike drummer, for this week's print-edition story about his band coming to the Fox Pomona, he could have rejected me. I had misread the time we'd set up for the interview and ended up calling an hour too late because of time-zone confusion. Devendorf, though, was gracious. He said he was in the middle of pre-show preparation for a concert in St. Louis, but that he'd have time to talk the next day. 
The National play the Fox Pomona this Saturday with Owen Pallett. Here's an edited portion of our conversation that didn't make it into the article:


OC Weekly: When we spoke yesterday, you said you were about to do your pre-show ritual, which entails what?
Bryan Devendorf: There's many thing. There's a phone call home to my wife and we have a special exchange of words that's the same every time, which I can't reveal. There's nothing dirty, it's just kind of an OCD thing. Then I have to change into the clothes I wear on stage, which is like stretches basically, and then I work on stretches which are basically sticking exercises. 

But there's no band high-five?

No, no no no no. We just sort of assemble, and that's it really.

You just opened for Obama at a rally in Wisconsin. How was that?

It was amazing, I'd never been to such an event. It was kind of like being in a Roger Altman movie. There was a huge crowd, you got to see all the secret service guys and the sharp shooters. It was really a spectacle. And then the speech he gave was really good. I've never seen Obama in person–I've actually never ever seen the president in person. Well, I saw Clinton drive down Broadway in his motorcade maybe 12 years ago. 

So after all the stuff you guys did in 2008 campaign you never saw the guy?

No, not in person, no. It was cool. We got a photo opp and a handshake. 

Think he's a fan?

I think the fan is actually someone in his staff or in the local DNC in Wisconsin. I would assume not. I don't think he hates our band but I just don't think it's on his radar given his pretty full plate of international crazies and domestic problems. 

Your live songs differ quite a bit from the recorded versions, they're a lot less restrained and more anthemic. Do you think of the performance as requiring a different kind of song, or are the live songs more advanced versions of what ended up on tape?

It's a good question. We always wanted to record after we played the songs live, but we've never been able to actually pull that off. We basically make the songs up as we go on in the studio, and then figure out how to play them live when the tour starts. Definitely for me, I wish I could rerecord and play what we're playing now. 

How much input is the rest of the band giving Matt on his lyrics?

It happens a lot that the band or myself is skeptical of a lyric and then it becomes something that we like. Or occasionally there are lyrics that he'll change that we'll get him to change back. Or convince him not to change.

The only one I can think off the top of head from this record was Matt wasn't happy with some of the lines in “Runaway.” And he was struggling to find something that would replace one of the lines. “And the shine of the sun” was the phrase. I mean, he felt it was maybe too schmaltzy, or faux-poetic sounding, but we were like, oh we like it, it's great. I think it was the first one he did or something, like he didn't really labor everything and I think it sounded pretty natural and expressive and all that. And so eventually he was like, you know what, fine. But we pretty much, at this point, learned to let him do what he does. 

Your Pomona performance will be your second time through Southern California touring behind High Violet. Will anything be different this time around?

We'll play better. I know for sure. 


We've just been at it a long time. We've been touring more or less intermittently since April. We've had a chance to get more comfortable. Plus, we've had six straight shows up to tonight. By the time we get to California, we'll have probably played like 20 shows. It just takes me a while to get momentum and comfortable.

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