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The National - Something Of The Night

Author: Scott Henderson
Monday, 30 March 2009

Bryce Dessner of The National talks to 3D’s Scott Henderson about putting together the compilation album, Dark Was The Night.

Since 1989 Red Hot Organisation has raised some seven million dollars to fight AIDS, thanks in large part to a series of music compilations. The 20th and latest album Dark Was The Night was curated by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National along with Red Hot founder John Calin and features an all-star line up of indie talent from the Arcade Fire to Yo La Tengo, Sufjan Stevens to Kronos Quartet. It’s an amazing compilation, but bringing together musical talent is something that Bryce Dessner is pretty good at.

Having founded the MusicNOW Festival in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio in 2006 Bryce Dessner has found the doors wide open to his fellow artists. “When we invited people to contribute to this we asked them to do something they don’t normally do, be something they were excited about, that was our main guideline,” he says. For Bryce it was about a belief in their creative spirit and the empowerment as an artist to do something unique.

“Frankly what we had going for us was the sheer number of great artists on this thing that people always wanted to put their best foot forward, especially some of the smaller bands like Yeasayer. That song Tightrope was supposed to be their next single and for me it is one of the standouts.”

The decision was made early on to avoid the sort of tribute album many of the previous Red Hot compilations had gone for. Instead they were looking to tie a common thread through the album with great songwriters, encouraging the artists to write their own songs or unique covers. Clearing tracks from band’s labels was going to be the tricky part but even that ended up being much easier than anticipated apart from one notable exception.

“There were other songs that we were given to us that we couldn’t clear including one song from Queen covered by a young man called Beach House,” Bryce explains with more than a hint of bemusement. “It didn’t make the record because we couldn’t get the rights from Queen, which is ironic seen as Freddie Mercury died from AIDS.”

That may have been the one spanner in the works, but by and large Bryce says it as quite easy getting the clearance. A characteristic of this generation is that most of these artists are so self-empowered that they are defining and even redefining how the industry works every day. He continues: “A band like Arcade Fire, they make business decisions that have a ripple effect on everybody around them. Especially with a charity like this everybody in the industry wanted to come off looking supportive. I think the fact they these artists were getting behind the record the industry followed suit.”

Of course Bryce couldn’t resist getting in on the act himself and a standout memory putting together the album was recording the cover of Bob Dylan’s I Was Young When I Left Home with artist Antony, adding finally, “that might have been the first transcendental moment.”

WHO: The National
WHAT: Dark Was The Night through 4AD / Remote Control
WHEN: Out now
MORE: darkwasthenight.com

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