To call The National’s latest album an epic production might not be an overstatement.
The Grammy-winning alternative rock quintet used more than 70 musicians and singers in creating “I Am Easy to Find,” which came out in May. Instead of the typical three or four-minute video, they made a 26-minute film starring Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) to go along with the album. The film showcases the band’s moody, powerful music as it touchingly follows Vikander acting out the life struggles of a woman from birth to death.
“We’re all film fans, and my brother and I worked as graphic artists, so we’ve really always wanted to do a film,” said bass player Scott Devendorf, one of the 20-year-old band’s founders, along with his brother, Bryan. “(Filmmaker) Mike Mills called us about doing a video, and we said, ‘That would be great,’ but we wanted to do more.”
Watch: “I Am Easy To Find”
The National will bring its current tour to Thompson’s Point in Portland on Thursday. Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett will open.
The band doesn’t bring 70 people on tour, but recreates the album’s songs with five extra musicians, for a total of 10 people on stage, Devendorf said. The show in Portland will likely be about two hours, with about 25 songs, and will include a mix of new and older tunes, Devendorf said.
“We’ll probably be heavy on the new record, but it’s not the same every night, and we like to mix it up,” said Devendorf, 46.
Among the many musicians and singers on the album is Gail Ann Dorsey, known for singing and playing bass with David Bowie. She sings on six of the songs. Devendorf said band members met Dorsey a couple years ago at a benefit concert in the Hudson Valley region of New York and were thrilled when she agreed to sing on their new album.
Before recording “I Am Easy to Find,” the band won a best alternative music album Grammy for its 2017 release “Sleep Well Beast.” But Devendorf said the Grammy, the band’s first after some 18 years in the music business, didn’t create pressure for them to match that feat or raise their own expectations of success.
“We had been nominated before, so this was really a bonus, a surprise,” said Devendorf.
The band members were pretty laid back about the Grammy, with most of them not attending the ceremony because of other commitments. Devendorf attended alone and was forced to make a speech. He said he was terrified.
The band’s five members include two sets of brothers, the Devendorfs plus twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner. The members of The National met in their hometown of Cincinnati but didn’t join together as a band until years later when they were living in New York City. The fifth member is singer Matt Berninger.
Devendorf said his and his brother’s interest in music began with violin lessons. Their mother played guitar and sang folk songs, and they soon took up guitar and drums. Devendorf says a pivotal moment in his musical development as a teenager was mowing the lawn of a big R.E.M. fan who would give him cassette tapes of that band. The song “Not in Kansas” from “I Am Easy to Find” mentions listening to an R.E.M. song.
Devendorf went to the University of Cincinnati to study graphic design and worked in that field after college, as did his brother. After four or five years in graphic design, they both decided they wanted to pursue music. The other future band members were already pursuing music, in and around New York, so they all got together and formed The National, around 1999.
Devendorf says there are a lot of upsides to playing in a band with people you’ve known most of your life, including his brother.
“It’s hard to do the same thing for a long time with the same people. But if they’re like your family, or literally a family member, it’s like, what else are you going to do?” said Devendorf. “I think that’s what’s kept us together.”
THE NATIONAL, WITH COURTNEY BARNETT
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Thompson’s Point, 1 Thompson’s Point, Portland
HOW MUCH: $49 in advance, $55 day of show