Following the release in 2013 of their Grammy-nominated sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, which reached number three in the U.S. and the U.K., indie-rock titans the National went on an 18-month world tour.
But instead of then taking a break, frontman Matt Berninger went into the studio with fellow musician Brent Knopf (above left) to work on a side project, EL VY. In contrast to the National’s melancholy songs, his new group serves up snappy new-wave riffs and upbeat disco rhythms on their debut album, Return to the Moon. Here, the 44-year-old reveals the songs that have inspired him.
Minutemen: This Ain’t No Picnic [from Double Nickels on the Dime]
“When I started writing [‘Return to the Moon’], I’d been watching We Jam Econo, a documentary about punk band the Minutemen and the friendship between its members D Boon and Mike Watt. It’s about love and pain and all the shit people go through during adolescence. The film moved me and was a big inspiration for the characters in my songs. As for Minutemen’s music, this is one of their finest moments.”
Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted to You
“As a young boy, I was totally in love with Olivia Newton-John. When I think back to the first time I felt true love, it was either her or Annette Funicello from The Mickey Mouse Club. Olivia Newton-John’s music was amazing, too. There’s so much romance in a song like ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You,’ and when you’re a 12-year-old, that’s powerful stuff. It’s impossible not to fall in love with her.”
The Smiths: Bigmouth Strikes Again
“Like most of my peers in grade school, I listened to Van Halen, Rush and AC/DC. But all that changed when my sister brought home this single. Listening to this was the beginning of me forming an identity. It was the first time I realized that music is more than entertainment, that there were musicians digging into the ugly and insecure parts of their hearts and turning these thoughts into great pop songs.”
Leonard Cohen: Famous Blue Raincoat [from Songs of Love and Hate]
“I’ve been trying for years to write lyrics that compete with the great Leonard Cohen’s, but it’s almost impossible. My Leonard Cohen moment on the EL VY album is the song ‘Sleeping Light,’ in which I try to bring out the ladies’ man in me, although I’ve got no idea how convincing I am. This wonderful Cohen classic was my reference, but I’m afraid Matt Berninger is not particularly sexy.”
Duran Duran: Rio
“I love this song. I adore the video, too, with Simon Le Bon and his band on a big-ass yacht, hanging out with supermodels. That’s my vision of the good life, too; it’s what I’ve always dreamt of. But look what I’ve achieved in my so-called rock-star career: I’m married with children and I’m the lead singer for the National, a band who would never ever get on a boat. I guess I’m a goddamn loser.”