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Quotes by Bryce Dessner

Quotes by Bryce Dessner

A lot of people ask how I ended up doing classical music given that I’m in a rock band. The truth is that it’s the other way around. I was trained as a classical musician and then started playing in a rock band later.
Art is a way of life.
As a band gets more successful, there’s a danger of falling in love with your own shadow.
As a pop musician, as someone who makes songs, the best ideas are the simplest. They come, and that’s the lightning bolt moment.
As little boys, my brother and I used to spend hours with my grandmother, asking her about the details of how she came to America. She could only give us a smattering of details, but they all found their way into our collective imagination, eventually becoming a part of our own cultural identity and connection to the past.
As long as I’m still growing as a musician, it keeps me inspired.
As much as you try to organize your life, life will surprise you.
Bands like Arcade Fire finding a larger audience has opened a lot of doors. They’ve empowered a whole community in Montreal.
Being a classical musician, you can go to school for it; you can go get a degree. Even as a composer, there is a certain career path you can follow, but becoming a rock musician is a much more elusive career. How do you learn that or do that?
David Harrington asked me to write a piece for Kronos Quartet for a performance in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I live just two blocks from the park and spend many mornings running around it. The park for me symbolizes much of what I love about New York, especially the stunning diversity of Brooklyn with its myriad cultures and communities.
David Harrington, who’s the violinist and founder of Kronos, is a super open-minded and adventurous guy.
Early on, I was a performer playing classical music. It’s in my DNA in a way that I can’t begin to extract it.
For a composer of concert music, 40 is actually very young. But for a rock musician, 40 is almost past due, where you think of rock music as really part of more youth-oriented culture.
For many people in the music conservatory world, the message was always, Focus! ‘You can’t do everything; you really need to specialize.’ And especially at an early age, I ignored this advice.
For me, the exhausting thing about touring is the sitting around, which is why working on my concert music is really great – and also seeing concerts and seeing friends and, whenever possible, getting out to see a museum.
I call The National my family, and I’ll be doing that as long as I want to.
I came from a classical background, and I was teaching and earning a living out of music at a certain level, so it’s funny to make it as a rock star when we’re 40 or whatever.
I can imagine myself as an old man writing music for choir or orchestra. I don’t know that I’ll be touring six months out of the year in a rock band when I’m 60.
I can’t just play in a rock band. The National is a great, exciting band to play in. We improvise a lot onstage, and it’s very intense, but after a while, I crave other kinds of experiences.
I don’t labour over my lead guitar solos; they’re better just caught in the moment.
I grew up going to see my sister dance, both at the ballet and later as a modern dancer, and have always been a big fan of the ballet. So I have had a long relationship with dance.
I like to think of myself as a musical scavenger.
I like to write on tour busses and airplanes. Something about moving.
I love the physicality of instruments, and instruments as objects, like dancers are bodies.
I studied classical guitar in school, and that type of stuff has led to writing for Kronos.
I think that becoming a successful rock band is a little like becoming a professional athlete. Nobody plans on it.
I think that place is a huge part of pretty much any musician’s work, in how one responds to an environment, whether it be your actual surroundings or the more figurative place we’re all living in.
I’m not trying to take over the world, but I find it really rewarding to write, and I thrive on learning.
I’ve always been in rock bands. I was in a rock band with my brother in high school. Then I was playing classical guitar recitals, and people said, ‘You know, you can’t really do both things.’ My intuition told me they were wrong. Somehow, what was interesting about me was that I had those two things in my life.
I’ve got this diverse education, growing up in classical music and existing between that and music that is more visceral, so for sure, I’ve always been interested in music from other cultures.
If you learn classical guitar, you play Bach, and then John Dowland. He’s the greatest. He’s interesting for many, many reasons.
If you make rock music with guitars in it, the Radiohead comparison is inevitable.
In terms of identity, I’m the same person no matter what I’m doing.
In terms of the music, it feels almost like trouble’s a good thing – you never know when a song is going to surprise you. We look for these subversive moments in songs.
Inviting artists to do something, you want it to be a place where they’re going to feel challenged and excited and that will maybe open up some new doorway in their own lives or their own creative practice.
It doesn’t necessarily take four years to write a good piece of music. It might take four hours. It just depends on when your inspiration comes.
It’s not a hard sell to be asked to do something in Ireland.
Me, who’s educated classically, I went toward rock music ’cause it was sort of a natural evolution from where I was playing with my brother. But I was always drawn back into classical music.
Musicians are hungry for new music.
My background in music is classical – I did graduate school in music. At that time, I was studying composition, but I was studying classical guitar very seriously.
My grandmother was born in Russia, and she came through Poland on her way to America in the early 20s. She moved to Brooklyn.
My main professional experience is touring in a rock band.
Nobody plans on playing their own songs in front of thousands of people.
Obviously, any living musician born after 1960 has been touched by rock and roll. It’s the music of our time, and it’s ‘in the air,’ as Steve Reich would say. My experience of it is just really direct because I’m actually playing in a collaborative band.
Part of what I enjoy about writing classical music is communicating through the score and collaborating with such amazing musicians.
Playing pentatonic scales over orchestral music is not something I want to do or listen to.
The danger of a rock band is repeating oneself. It’s our greatest fear – that it evolves into the myopia of a semi-successful band that’s in love with its own shadow.
The thing I realised about composition is, we remember most composers for four bars of music. Four singable bars of music. Pretty much any major composer from Debussy to Ravel to Mozart to whoever else – you can kind of hum it.
There are all kind of corners of the musical world that are deeply influenced by the Dead that one wouldn’t expect. Lee Ranaldo is a crazy Deadhead.
There is a kind of adventure- and risk-seeking audience in classical contemporary music that is really empowering and part of what draws me to it. The people that come to these concerts are open-minded and curious.
There is a reactionary conservative side of classical music, which is not the most exciting side of it. The side that draws me in, there’s a real encouragement of risk-taking, going back to masters of that tradition like Beethoven and Bartok and Stravinsky.
There is much more immediate access to creative music through online communities and blogs which have touched all corners of the music world including contemporary classical.
To me, a song like ‘Demons’ or the title ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ are acknowledgments that you can’t really plan for life, and you can’t plan for trouble.
Typically, people think, ‘Oh the hippies and the punks hated each other,’ or that those things don’t go together musically. Sometimes that is true, but we had equal parts of both in our musical DNA.
We all contribute to The National, and it’s like a familiar family. Matt is dad, Brian’s like the dark horse uncle, Scott’s the long-suffering mum, and Aaron and I are the bratty twins.
We always say that National songs have to have a heart, that we don’t make cold songs.
We’ve gotten better as a live band. The songs have been allowed to grow with our audience. I don’t think I would have done it any other way.
We’ve played in places where there were more of us onstage than in the audience.
When I’m scoring something like a string quartet, it’s all notated music, so it’s meticulously written in the score, which is very different than doing things by ear.
When I’m writing for certain instruments, you want to write within what you know about that instrument but also challenge the player. Something like ‘Aheym’ is very virtuosic – but because I have a history of performing music, I don’t like unplayable music.
When I’m writing instrumental music, I try to find musical and non-musical inspirations.
When we learned to play in bands, what we were covering was equal part the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead. That would defy the logic that somehow these things don’t fit in the same musical well.
When working with classical musicians, it is important to be clear as possible in the score about what my intentions are. Because there isn’t a lot of rehearsal time, especially at the ballet, it’s best if everything is written in the score.
With ‘Boxer,’ we made the kind of music we wanted to make and didn’t really worry about what the expectation was.
Working with Bob Weir directly, we learned how high the bar is for Dead music.
You don’t come to our shows if you want to look cool.

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