The National leads pack at Boston Calling festival
Aaron Dessner is looking forward to attending Boston Calling not only as a performer with his band the National, but also as a patron.
The guitarist and songwriter with the Brooklyn-based rock band helped curate the two-day festival — which is now sold out, save VIP packages — that descends on City Hall Plaza next Saturday and Sunday. Expect to see Dessner at the side of the stage during many sets.
“Andrew Bird is there and I think he’s incredibly innovative, a great songwriter and performer. The Shins are obviously a big band but [their frontman] James Mercer is one of the great melodic songwriters of our generation. As far as smaller bands, there’s a band called Youth Lagoon who I think are just really special and there’s something so simple about them but so infectious.”
Dessner also holds a special place in his heart for the Walkmen. “They were definitely a band 12 years ago that really had a huge impact on us, and they’re also friends of ours so I’m really excited that they’re playing. And then obviously we’re super excited that the band that just won a massive Grammy is gonna play,” he says, referencing Fun., who won the best new artist trophy earlier this year.
Also playing Boston Calling’s two stages over the weekend are Of Monsters and Men, Ra Ra Riot, the Dirty Projectors, Matt & Kim, Cults, local acts Caspian and Bad Rabbits, and others.
“If there’s a thread, it’s songcraft,” says Dessner. “Everyone on the bill is someone we respect, who is a strong artist that has a lot of quality in the work that they’re making. I’m kind of curious how something like this evolves. It’s the first edition, so I think with each edition we hope to make it better and better, but I’m kind of shocked we were able to pull this group together for a festival that’s just starting.”
(In that vein, expect another announcement from event organizers Crash Line Productions soon.)
And for the bands, coming together is part of the appeal of something like Boston Calling, says Jack Antonoff of Fun.
“You can be very isolated being in a band,” he says. “We’re these entities out there on our own touring and we never get to see each other, and then when you have these festivals where you get to play alongside all the modern artists that have inspired you to make your albums in the first place, it’s like a real connection to the ecosystem of what this whole thing is, and we rarely get to feel that.”
Another plus for Dessner and the National is that the show coincides with the release of the quintet’s strong new album, “Trouble Will Find Me,” out Tuesday.
“We’re super excited. It will be the first time that we do the new show that we’ve created for this cycle. We have a video and lighting team that has created a whole new visual experience for this record.”
The group — which includes Dessner’s twin brother, multi-instrumentalist Bryce; frontman Matt Berninger; and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums, respectively — hadn’t intended on making a record so quickly after 2010’s “High Violet.” But, Dessner says, the combination of creative restlessness, sleep deprivation brought on by his newborn daughter, and a studio right in his own backyard got him to tinkering.
“I started laying down a few fragments and I wasn’t going to share those with Matt because I didn’t actually want to make a record, and I don’t think he did either,” he says. “I think we wanted to walk away from it for a while to take a break.”
He knew he was in trouble when he gave Berninger a playlist of a few random ideas to check out during a plane ride to Asia.
“I remember seeing him, all of sudden he was bobbing his head and he got out his notebook and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’” says Dessner with a laugh. “He wrote ‘I Should Live in Salt’ almost completely, very quickly. And I think that song is one that has a new feeling for us. It’s in this odd time signature and we liked the arc of it, and I think when he wrote that song to the music I’d written we felt like, ‘OK, we are making a record.’ ”