meta-script2020 Pitchfork Festival: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Run The Jewels, The National To Headline |

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Photo by Mark Horton/Getty Images


2020 Pitchfork Festival: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Run The Jewels, The National To Headline

Taking place at Chicago’s Union Park this summer, the 15th edition of Pitchfork Music Fest will go down the weekend of Friday, July 17 through Sunday, July 19

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2020 - 01:25 am

For its milestone 15th year, Pitchfork Music Festival has announced its 2020 lineup.

Taking place in Chicago's Union Park this summer, GRAMMY-winning group The National, GRAMMY nominees Run The Jewels and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are set to headline the festival's main stage on the weekend of Friday, July 17 through Sunday, July 19.

The festival will also host performances from additional GRAMMY winners and nominees, including Big Thief, Thundercat, Tierra Whack and Caroline Polachek across three days and multiple stages.

Other artists featured on the festival’s lineup include Angel Olsen, Yaeji, Waxahatchee, Maxo Kream, Kim Gordon, Twin Peaks and Danny Brown, among others. Pitchfork Fest will also serve as the home of the first Fiery Furnaces performance in 10 years.

Both general admission and Pitchfork PLUS passes are available for purchase starting today. Three-day general admission passes are available for $185, while PLUS passes, which include access to private bars, curated food experiences, shaded seating and an elevated viewing platform of the festival’s Blue Stage are available at $385.

Read More: Pitchfork Fest's Adam Krefman On Lineup Diversity, Reasonable Prices & More

Single-day passes are also available, with single-day general admission running at $75 and single day PLUS passes costing $160. Tickets can be purchased here.

Although the festival does not take place until mid-summer, in celebration of the festival's rollout Pitchfork is hosting a series of free parties at the Chicago Athletic Association tonight (Feb. 19) and tomorrow (Feb. 20). More information on the Pitchfork kickoff parties is available here. According to a statement, Pitchfork will host additional 15th-year experiences which will be announced soon.

Mannequin Pussy’s Marisa Dabice Talks New Album
(L to R:) Mannequin Pussy band members Maxine Steen, Kaleen Reading, Colins "Bear" Regisford, and Marisa Dabice.

Photo: CJ Harvey


Mannequin Pussy’s Marisa Dabice On How LSD, Pigs & Non-Indulgent Hedonism Led To 'I Got Heaven'

On their new album, 'I Got Heaven,' Philly quartet Mannequin Pussy harnessed the power of self-reflection and solitude. The result is a cacophonous record of punk and indie rock that's "overly amorous, horny, and lustful."

GRAMMYs/Feb 28, 2024 - 08:01 pm

Mannequin Pussy’s musical and lyrical charge is raucous, raw, angry and jangly, yet leavened with angelic choruses and delightfully impious asides — and that’s just I Got Heaven’s first song. 

From its opening track, the Philadelphia quartet's new album is redolent of riot grrrl fervor. The 10 tracks of I Got Heaven, out March 1, are laced with industrial intensity ("Of Her"), pretty and propulsive punky power pop ("Nothing Like'') and moshable speed metal duets ("OK? OK! OK? OK!").  

Founded by singer/guitarist Marisa Dabice in 2010, the quartet of Colins "Bear" Regisford (bass, vocals), Kaleen Reading (drums) and Maxine Steen (guitar, synths), Mannequin Pussy are proof that rock’s not dead. In fact, it’s being created by smart, conscious women (and one man) whose creativity is unfettered, living proof of goals that include inclusion, change and connection. And a hefty dose of raw power. 

I Got Heaven is the group's fourth album, and their second LP for Epitaph Records; it follows 2019’s Patience, and the 2021 EP Perfect. Years of DIY dues-paying have culminated in what may be a breakthrough that uplifts the quartet from scrappy indie darlings to a serious, multi-faceted rock band to be reckoned with. 

Dabice, who spoke to from her Philly home, might agree. "It's been beautiful to see the progression of this band and how much it means to people; how much it means for them to feel like they have a cathartic place to put their emotions and to feel things deeply and think critically about things and to challenge things," she says.

Post-meditation and drinking tea on a recent Thursday morning, Dabice is in the calm before the storm. A few years of sobriety, self-reflection and the catharsis of playing and songwriting finds her both self-possessed and excited as Mannequin Pussy launch their third tour April 4, with more than 20 sold out shows through May. 

As the conversation ranges from her fondness for Park Chan-wook movies to feeling part of an "iconic collective, an awakening" to working on lyrics in a 24 hour Korean spa, Dabice shares that she feels "like this is the best work we've ever done." 

The title track, "I Got Heaven," kicks off the record with such a massive punch of energy and power, it made me want to instantly join your band. Growing up, what artist or record did that for you?  

I think I've been fortunate to experience that quite a few times. As soon as you asked that question, I got the vision of watching the music video for "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on MTV, I must have been 13 or 14. It's such a beautiful piece of cinematic history, it bridges the gap between Yes, it's a music video, but it also makes you feel so intensely emotional because of the song and because of her performance.

Everything about that song is just like what is so phenomenal about being in a band. When you listen to a song, and you can hear it for the collaborations that went into it. There's that drumbeat you can isolate in your mind, that guitar arpeggiation that you can hear in your head, and then Karen O’s vocals on top. You can isolate, individually, how exciting each moment of that song is. That to me is what's so exciting about being in a band.

So you always knew you could sing and wanted to be a front person?

No, no, I definitely never thought I could sing. Never wanted to sing. I think even when Mannequin Pussy started, I was just screaming, but I was more like singing as a placeholder. I was [thinking], someone else will come along

Then, I could just play guitar and write songs, and then they can sing them. I wanted to write music; that was the thing that really propelled me and motivated me.

Did you audition any potential singers?

That never really happened. But our bass player, he also contributes vocals. So I do have someone whose voice I love for when a song doesn't feel right for my voice. We like to call it "hardcore duets," where we're both singing on a track.

**That works so well on "OK? OK! OK? OK!" which is one of my favorites on I Got Heaven. Was it initially written to be a duet?**  

It was a bit of happenstance, but I've always just loved the way that two voices on a song can really kind of elevate the emotionality, where it can feel as though you are just dropping in on a conversation that maybe you shouldn't be eavesdropping on. Or you have this kind of bystander effect of listening to the way these two voices interact with each other. 

How did that song begin?  

We started writing in Philadelphia, all at our practice space together. I was on the microphone, and I had had that, "okay, okay" in my brain for a few months, actually.  I'm very East Coast, but I liked this Valley Girl tough affectation. I had a voice memo for it. 

I did that "okay okay" and then [our drummer Kaylene] immediately started playing this epic drumbeat. Maxine and Bear were in the other corner watching her play drums and me do this vocal affectation as a top line thing and they filled in the spaces with guitar and bass. 

You don't usually start a song that way, right? We all had this thing that we were pouring into it. The more I looked at Bear, it was like what I'm doing is akin to an ad lib or hype man, or like this  character that should just kind of like step back and allow you to take the full breadth of the song.

It's called playing music for a reason. You're having fun, and you're playing around with different ideas and shapes and sonic textures. It was a very fun day for us doing something that felt silly, but we were all very excited by it.

That said, I’m sure there were times when creating this record wasn’t as fun?  

I mean, I cried for sure while we were making this record, during every record. Producers are really an incredible combination of roles. They're not only a tastemaker, and an engineer and someone who's there to capture and elevate, they also really take on a dynamic of kind of being a therapist and a friend to you in those dark days where you don't really know, when you get a little lost in the weeds.

Any creative person understands what it feels like to be that moment where you're too deeply in something; you need to step out into the macro in order to be able to hear the record fully and know where you're going.

I definitely had a day where I cried to [producer] John Congleton. It was like, "I don't know if this is like any f—king good. I feel insecure about it." It's also that I feel like everyone around me is so talented. And, sometimes you're like, Am I bringing enough to this? John was really wonderful. We were all in a moment of intense financial struggle. We hadn't been on tour in a long time, so money was tough. It was a combination of a lot of stresses, kind of overwhelming. So yes, sometimes it's so much fun. Other times you're crying, wondering if it's all shit.  

This is your first time working with John as a producer. Why him?

John approached us, which I love. I’m a big believer in being courted. I don't want to be out there sending flowers! John called Brett Guerwitz, the founder of Epitaph Records, I guess they were friends. Brett called me, probably mid-2021. I looked [John] up. I was like, "Oh, I definitely know this guy. He's worked on some records I f—ing love." 

Brett's never the type of person to tell us what we should be doing with our art, but he said, "I really want you to meet him and see if there's a creative vibe between you. I think this is the record that you guys should leave Philly for and do a destination record in L.A. and just really be in it."

We were fortunate enough at that point to have the support of Epitaph.

I loved the way that John spoke about music, I love his philosophy toward music. I felt like we would be in good hands, and that we would be finding the right collaborator for this. Because what a good producer does is kind of become a temporary member of the band. A band is a combination of collaborative creative energies, and as a producer, you're being invited into that world we built between us. It was really important to find someone who would mesh with our sensibilities, and our humor and our outlook and also be in a place to teach us new things and show us new things.

I read an article where you talked about I Got Heaven as having a "pervasive feeling of longing and horniness to it." Can you comment on that vibe?

As much as we joke around we are quite serious. But I think that [with] a band name like ours, for some people, that's never going to be something they can take seriously. I think that's also a reflection of the way that we see things as being inherently feminine, perhaps, or attached to the feminine or things that are not worth real time attention or recognition. But that's a totally separate conversation!

We’re very serious, yet we wanted to make a record that really felt a bit overly amorous, horny, and lustful, because that's kind of where a lot of us in the band were. We had all these jokes about lust and desire and everything because we were traveling so much on tour. Three of us in the band all experienced breakups around the same time. It led us all into a really deep solitude period of healing, where we all kind of took two years off from dating. Really separating ourselves completely and really putting ourselves into the work.

I think creative work requires the practice of solitude. That was something we also strongly felt in the making of this record; that our own solitude was also feeding our creativity. But even in moments of solitude, that doesn't mean that you can escape the fantasy of what it would feel like to be with someone again, or what it would feel like to have love and human connection in that more carnal way. This record is full of human connection but some of it is just fantasy.

The videos for "I Got Heaven" and "I Don’t Know You" were shot on a farm, as were some of your press photos, and there’s a pig on your album cover. Are you vegetarians?

We are not vegetarians. We believe in the pursuit of moderated pleasure. But more so in like, I believe very strongly in conscious carnivorism. I think that the way in which we interact with all living beings on the planet needs to be from a place of gratitude, curiosity, and respect. Respect for the animal that has not chosen to sacrifice its life to nourish you, right? I'm not someone who overindulges. I'm like a hedonist who doesn't indulge in anything.

Interesting. Seems like a long life plan!  

I quit smoking. I quit drinking over the last two years, not because I had a problem. I just felt like it was boring. It was not making me feel good anymore. Like, it's time to move on.

I don't believe in being too strict with ourselves. I think everything should allow for the moment to infer what you should do in it. I was a vegan for three years. I feel so much healthier now that I haven't put restrictions onto myself. At the end of the day, the most important thing is you getting the energy you need to perform.  

I read that your song "Spilt Me Open" was written a day after taking acid. Is that a group activity or did you try to utilize it as a creative tool?

The story behind it is actually quite wholesome. Maybe the most wholesome LSD story! Our band vacations together. Maxine's family has a small off the grid cabin that’s been in her family for generations. No electricity, no internet, in New Hampshire.  

I'm a believer in a yearly psychedelic trip. I think it kind of realigns the system and gets your brain functioning in a healthy and creative way. And maybe helps you purge some things that you need to purge. Again, hedonist but not excess. Experimental, but not dangerous. Maxine and I took acid and usually it’s a day of being naked in nature. I forced everyone to listen to Paul Simon for 24 hours. 

The next day, we were laying around next to the lake, just me and Maxine, coming down from our trip. She started playing the beginning chords of "Split Me Open" on acoustic guitar. I was laying down next to her, and kind of had a similar experience when she started playing it. I immediately started singing along; a lot of those lines would end up in the final version. The song just kind of spilled out of us.   

What is success to you?

On one hand, I feel like success on a more spiritual level feels as though you are being seen, understood and accepted for exactly who you are, and your creative output. People connecting with our music in a way that is immensely thoughtful. 

I think success on a material level, especially for artists, means that you're paying all of your bills through your own creativity; your own creative talents are actually what is sustaining your life. That, to me, feels like a really beautiful combination. Where if it was just the one — just the material without being seen and understood? I'm not sure it would feel as rewarding.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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killer mike road to 'michael'
Killer Mike

Photo: Jonathan Mannion


Killer Mike Says His New Album, 'Michael,' Is "Like A Prodigal Son Coming Home"

'Michael,' Killer Mike's first solo album in more than a decade drops June 16. He spoke to about creating a portrait of the Southern rap cyphers, Sunday church services, and barbershop discourse that shaped who he is today.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2023 - 06:39 pm

After more than 20 years in hip-hop — as one-half of the supergroup Run The Jewels and also as a solo artist — the Atlanta rapper Killer Mike is ready to make what he calls "a generational statement."

Born Michael Render, the activist rapper's statement comes in the form of his personal "origin story": a 14-song solo album called Michael. The album, Killer Mike’s sixth solo effort, drops June 16 and follows 2012’s R.A.P. Music In support of the new record, he's touring 19 U.S. cities through Aug. 5.

"I’m one of the best rappers on the face of the earth, and that is authentic. Go to the records. My verses have proved it," Render, 48, told "I’m tired of sitting and waiting for people to say it for me. I’m not waiting, I’m doing it now. My run matters. I’m not gonna die with a woulda been coulda been eulogy."

Michael stands in contrast to the big, bombastic (and less personal) vibe of Run The Jewels, who have released four albums since forming in 2013. While Render's solo outings have always been a mix of bravado and personal, his latest is particularly deep and insightful, dealing  with the death of his mother, and his life growing up in the predominantly Black neighborhood Collier Heights, Atlanta. 

"There is a character behind Killer Mike that is a whole human being that I’ve always wanted people to meet and introduce so they can understand the nuance of why I am," Render said during an event at SXSW 2023. "It is about helping other human beings understand that I share an experience with you, that you can meet me at, that transcends color, that transcends class, that transcends geographic location, and I meet you right at your humanity."

On Michael, Render puts his guard down. He allows himself to grieve the death of his mother and apologize for selling drugs as a teenager. Throughout the autobiographical album, Render paints a portrait of the southern rap cyphers, Sunday church services, and barbershop discourse that shaped who he is today. 

"That Killer Mike character was invented when I was 9. I just wanted to be an MC, and Killer Mike was like me being a superhero," Render tells "But when you hear me talking about my mother, I’m empty now. It’s not sad, but it’s about missing and wanting."

Render’s parents were teenagers when he was born, so he was raised in part by his grandparents in Collier Heights, Atlanta. Render credits the culture of his community with shaping who is today. 

"I didn’t grow up with insecurities about race, I grew up in a Black majority," he tells "The closest I got to white people growing up was watching Bob Ross or 'The Wonder Years' on TV. But all my real heroes looked like me."

Render says he never felt inhibited by his Blackness, because Blackness was celebrated in Collier Heights. His community introduced him to Black intellectuals like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, who also celebrated Blackness. It never occurred to Render to not pursue hip-hop or politics or activism — and he never doubted that he could be an artist or MC.

He first rapped on Atlanta-based hip-hop group Outkast’s 2000 album Stankonia, and launched a solo career soon after. In the 2000s, his songs landed on Billboard charts and the EA Sports "Madden NFL 2004" football video game. Render also did voice over work during the 2000s for Adult Swim and appeared in films like Idlewild and ATL. He guest-rapped on Outkast’s 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which was nominated for six golden gramophones at the 2004 GRAMMYs and won three, including Album Of The Year.

Two very important relationships forged in the 2010s have done much to shape Render’s trajectory since: one with producer and rapper El-P (the other half of Run The Jewels), the other with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

El-P is essentially the yin to Killer Mike’s yang. El-P produced Render's previous solo records, and the two have been collaborating ever since; Killer Mike has called their relationship a "marriage made in heaven." Run The Jewels has toured with Rage Against The Machine and Lorde, opened for Jack White at Madison Square Garden, been nominated for a GRAMMY Award, and won NME’s Best International Band award in 2018. Rolling Stone called Run The Jewels "brash" and added, "If there were a GRAMMY for Most Creative Ways to Say 'We’re the Best,' these guys would win it, or take it by gunpoint."

Render’s political activism kicked into high gear in 2015, first with lectures at NYU and MIT on police brutality, for-profit jails, and racism in America. He made a last-minute — and ultimately unsuccessful — run for a Georgia state representative seat, and he forged an unlikely public friendship with then-presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. Render told reporters that he and Sanders were "two angry radical guys, one 74 and white, one 40 and Black, finding common ground."  

Render took his politics and activism much further. He co-founded an online banking system for Black and Latinx communities alongside former Atlanta mayor and civil rights leader Andrew Young, and has written op-eds in response to the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the Baltimore uprisings in response to Freddie Gray’s death. On the 2019 Netflix show, "Trigger Warning," Render explored notions of land ownership, gangs, education, and consumerism. 

All of his experiences — as a child of the South, as a rapper, and as a political thinker — inform the new album.

"Remember when Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote 'Letter to My Son'? People got a glimpse into Blackhood that wasn’t about absentee fatherhood and other cliches," Render tells "Similarly, my album, even if you haven’t lived my life, it gives you a chance to be a voyeur, and that’s important."

Michael takes its time to unfold; personal subject matter unfolds verse after verse, over laid-back tempos executive produced by No I.D. Somber music provides a bed for Render and guests — among them, Andre 3000, Young Thug, Future, Ty Dolla $ign, Blxst, Curren$y, and Mozzy —  to stretch out on. Slightly more aggressive, urgent-sounding songs like opening track "Down By Law" and "Talkin Dat SHIT!," which appears later in the album, are buffered by tunes that could uplift a church congregation. 

"It’s imperative that I get that out and introduce people to this buck-toothed kid who grew up with hip-hop, out of wedlock fatherhood," Render says. "This record is like a prodigal son coming home. It’s my generational statement. If August Wilson was writing a rap album, this would be his 'Fences.'"

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Aaron Dessner
Aaron Dessner

Photo: Rob Kim for Getty Images © 2023


The National's Aaron Dessner Discusses New Album 'First Two Pages Of Frankenstein': "The Beginning Of A New Chapter"

With new album 'First Two Pages of Frankenstein' on the way, the National's guitarist and co-founder Aaron Dessner detailed his rise as a songwriter, producer and engineer at a Recording Academy "Up Close & Personal" taping in New York.

GRAMMYs/Apr 21, 2023 - 06:38 pm

One pivotal moment for Aaron Dessner transpired in his attic. Upstairs at his former home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, he recorded the heart-exploding horn outro to what might be the National's signature song, "Fake Empire."

"You hear the four-over-three rhythm and the piano, which is kind of confusing," Dessner explained at a recent live Q&A for Recording Academy members at the New York Chapter office. "But then there's a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and then nothing happens." 

The band sat around, unsure of how to wrap it up — and then it clicked to do a cathartic brass fanfare.

"Fake Empire" ended up being the opening track of 2007's Boxer, their critically acclaimed fourth album that put them on the map. Once Barack Obama used it as his 2008 campaign theme song. "Without the words, with just the music," clarified Dessner. Regardless, "it became a real life-changing moment for us."

Another pivotal moment for Aaron Dessner happened at his kitchen table. "John, you were there, right? When I got the text?" he asked the prodigious engineer Jonathan Low, who's worked with the National for years, seated to his right. It turned out to be Taylor Swift. That text led to Folklore and Evermore. The former won a GRAMMY for Album Of The Year.

This true story of Dessner's ascent to the upper echelon of recordmaking seems slightly unbelievable, if only because he's so bracingly normal. Speaking to the small crowd at the newly established four-story office in Murray Hill, Dessner projected zero egotism as he held forth on his rise from indie darling to unlikely pop impresario.

Speaking to music industry giant Nabil Ayers, the two-time GRAMMY winner began the chronology of the conversation in 2009. That was the year Ayers began his tenure at the label 4AD — he now works with their parent company, Beggars Group — and the National were making High Violet, their follow-up to Boxer.

At that juncture in his career, Dessner and his brother, Bryce, had co-produced and curated Dark Was The Night, a compilation spilling over with indie stars that benefited the Red Hot Organization, a not-for-profit that raises awareness of HIV/AIDS. "We came there with a big, phony million-dollar check for you to give to Red Hot," Ayers noted mirthfully.

In that garage studio behind Dessner's house, Ayers realized he was dealing with a different kind of cat. "Oh, this guy's not just the guitar player in this great rock band," he remembered thinking, "but actually, he's the person who's very closely involved with the recording and making of the records."

Dessner, a born tinkerer, had built that studio with the Boxer money; in some ways, he was at the very beginning of his journey as a recordist. "That's when we met, and that's when I felt like I was a producer in my own…" he said, hesitating on what was probably the word "right." "I didn't know what that meant at the time."

Eager to learn through experience, Dessner forged ahead in that 400-square-foot space, and began recording albums for artists outside of the National: Sharon Van Etten's 2012 album Tramp, released around the time his band was making Trouble Will Find Me, was the first.

At that point, Dessner brought up Low, whose resumé is astounding; it includes a little album called Midnights. (Well, two tracks on the 3am Edition.) The two men met around the turn of the decade, when Dessner entered a Philadelphia studio to record drums on Tramp; Low was working there.

Since then, Low's worked with the National extensively — on 2013's Trouble Will Find Me, on 2017's Sleep Well Beast, on 2019's I Am Easy to Find. "From that day forward, I basically made it my life goal to lure him wherever I went," Dessner said. "Now, I try to not let him go anywhere else."

Dessner's story then took him to the birth of his three children, and the related move to Hudson, New York, where he bought an 18th-century farmhouse and began recording at various studios upstate. This led to his purchase of a barn in Hudson Valley that Dessner converted into Long Pond Studio.

"It's built on the scale of a church, so it's got very high ceilings," Dessner says, praising its cedar treatment and sauna-like smell. "We had to build it really fast, because we had to basically make a National record to pay for it." The result was 2017's Sleep Well Beast; the structure looms on its crepuscular cover.

From there, Dessner's work as a producer for outside artists exploded: he helmed records by Local Natives, the Lone Bellow, Frightened Rabbit and others.

After a decade of gestation, his duo with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Big Red Machine, released their self-titled debut album in 2018; the lion's share of it was recorded in the converted barn. (In 2021, they released a follow-up, How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? Featuring a litany of guest vocalists, from Swift to Anaïs Mitchell to Fleet Foxes.)

At the New York Chapter office, Swift's presence loomed heavy, and Dessner's gratitude and reverence toward her shone through his expressions. He met her in 2014, when the National played "SNL" and Swift was deep in her 1989 era.

"She was just so lovely and kind and interested and cool, and I could tell she was a fan," Dessner recalls. "That was such a perfect record. It was just this weird meeting of: we were in such different worlds, but it was cool."

Five years later, Swift saw the National perform in Prospect Park; when he and his brother got to talking with her, their collegial friendship deepened. 

"I think she already knew that we write music first," Dessner said, foreshadowing his work on Folklore and Evermore, as well as similarly conceptualized works like Ed Sheeran's upcoming Subtract. "It's what we call sketches, but they're basically fully realized musical ideas that don't have words and vocal melodies, but have a lot of internal melody."

In March 2020, he pressed send on a massive Dropbox folder of those "sketches." Deep into that night, "at 2:00 a.m., my phone buzzed, and it was a voice memo from her," he remembers. "With the song 'Cardigan.'"

After the pair completed Folklore, they simply couldn't stop making songs. "She's a real magic person in the sense that she has such an incisive, acute songwriting ability, and a crazy sense of melody," he said.

The most goosebump-inducing part of "Up Close & Personal with Aaron Dessner" was Dessner's description of how they made the Folklore and Evermore songs remotely — without even management knowing. "Sometimes, I would send Taylor an instrumental, go for a run down to the Hudson River, run back, and there'd be a song."

That uncanny sense of alchemy was unlike anything Dessner had encountered before: he even found himself growing superstitious on those runs. "Occasionally, I would see a snake down at the river, and I would research the snake," he said. "It was a copperhead, that was good luck — so I was looking for the copperhead." Clearly, he remains in awe at the creative arc he co-piloted. 

Dessner then made his way to recording Ed Sheeran's latest, as well as the National's new album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein — out April 28. The experience of making the former, as detailed in Sheeran's recent Rolling Stone cover story, was revelatory.

"He felt disarmed," Dessner said of Sheeran. "He wasn't trying to perfect something that would work commercially, or write the perfect pop statement. [He was] allowing himself to bring to page, and write to — and also be inspired by — someone else's music."

As per First Two Pages of Frankenstein, it wasn't even a given the National would make another record. "[The National singer] Matt Berninger, who lives in LA, had been going through a hard time personally," he admits. "There had been a lot of friction in the band." Still, Swift laid a fascinating prognostication on him.

"She predicted that what would happen after all this was that we would lean into each other and make our best record, because we would have all this perspective," he recalls. At first, the process was slightly awkward and hesitant — and then it rapidly gained steam.

Speaking to before the event, Dessner connected this creative flourish to his numberless hours as a studio rat. "When I came back into the band, it was like I had gained a lot of experience," he says. "Almost like I'd been in some sort of accelerated crash course in production and recording."

Dessner is thrilled about how First Two Pages of Frankenstein came out; he frames it as something of an ultimate National album. "You hear all the elements that make the National what it is. The simplicity on the surface, and the complexity and depth behind it… It reveals itself over a lot of listening."

It was enthralling to hear the arc of the guitarist Ayers met in that garage met more than a decade ago; the profundity of that moment made even more exciting by the intimate setting of Dessner's conversation.  First Two Pages of Frankenstein, which features production from Dessner and a Swift vocal turn on "The Alcott," also represents something of a culmination.

"It became very powerful," Dessner expressed that energy during the one-on-one interview. "It feels to me like the beginning of a new chapter." If his entire career up to this point turned out to be a ramp-up, hold on tight.

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