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Matt Berninger of The National Picks 5 Albums That Inspired Their Sound

The National’s frontman Matt Berninger discusses five albums that influenced him during his formative years in Cincinnati.

Indie Rock

Before they topped the alternative charts and won a Grammy, The National were just a group of regular guys who grew up in Cincinnati. In 2023, the band released their ninth album, First Two Pages Of Frankenstein, and celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the widely beloved album, Trouble Will Find Me.

Before making it big, these Cincinnati natives played in bands like Nancy and Project Nim before relocating to Brooklyn and forming The National in 1999. 

The band went from releasing their own records to receiving international acclaim, but singer Matt Berninger has never forgotten his Cincinnati roots. Many of the artists that he saw in Ohio continue to have a lasting impact on The National. 

Below, The National’s frontman Matt Berninger dives into his top five albums from his time in Cincinnati.

Ohio in the early ’90s had a very intense and intimidating rock scene. I was in my twenties and going to every rock show in Cincinnati and Dayton that I could. Around this time is when I met Scott [Devendorf] and we started the band Nancy with Casey Reas and Mike Brewer. Members of Brainiac came to see us play once in Casey’s basement and left after two songs. Meanwhile, Bryan and the Dessners had a different band called Project Nim that was this academic hippy thing.

These are some of the bands we would see around town, and then suddenly in magazines and on MTV. We realized that Seattle was dying and everything cool was coming out of our neighborhood now. But we weren’t really in the scene, just fans and students of it all. Bryan literally took lessons from the Afghan Whigs’ first drummer. Another completely different kind of scene happened around us later in New York.

Matt Berninger, The National

Congregation (1992)
by The Afghan Whigs

Congregation
The Afghan Whigs
2017
Alternative Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
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“It’s hard to separate listening to this record from seeing them live at Bogart’s on Short Vine. They were terrifying, and sexy, and fucked up, and they were from our town. The cover with the naked black woman holding the white baby was pretty intense in Cincinnati. These guys were complicated and serious. At one show, Greg Dulli spit his cigarette at the crowd as he launched into the opening riff of ‘I’m Her Slave’ and it hit this girl next to me in the face. To me, these guys made the grunge scene in Seattle seem kinda like a bunch of dumb stoners.”


Bonsai Superstar (1994)
by Brainiac

Bonsai Superstar
Brainiac
2018
Alternative Rock, Experimental
Vinyl, Album, Limited Edition, Reissue
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“Seeing this band perform was something that would rewire your idea of a rock band. They were doing things both musically and performance-wise that seemed entirely free and unburdened by self-consciousness and insecurity. And it was organic, and honest, and fearless, and unhinged. They were channeling something very healing and potent. They were way out on a strange limb all by themselves.”


Pod (1990)
by The Breeders

Pod
The Breeders
2018
Rock, Alternative Rock, Indie Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
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“There was a black-and-white photo of Kim Deal in a flannel shirt buttoned all the way up that I was in love with. The Pixies were the coolest band on the planet and she lived 45 minutes away. And here’s this other band she has with her twin sister, and the cover is a naked Vaughn Oliver wearing a huge eel as a dick. The Breeders are badass, and brilliant, and singular.”


Bee Thousand (1994)
by Guided By Voices

Bee Thousand
Guided By Voices
2015
Alternative Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
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“A school teacher with a shitty attitude and a drinking problem makes records for years in his garage with his pals, and they’re brilliant. This was the record when everyone noticed.”


Cure For Pain (1993)
by Morphine

Cure For Pain
Morphine
2016
Alternative Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
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“Although they’re not from Cincinnati, I saw them at a laundromat bar there called Sudsey Malone’s when this record came out. Not many people were there, and after the show, Mark Sandman was selling the record out of a box from the stage and he seemed pissed. A dude in front of me bought the record for $5, and when I got up there I gave him $20 and waited for my change. He looked right at me and said ‘What?! For you it’s $20.’ That actually made sense to me, and it was worth it.”

High Violet
The National
2010
Indie Rock
2 x Vinyl, Album
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Trouble Will Find Me
The National
2013
Indie Rock
Vinyl, Album
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First Two Pages of Frankenstein
The National
2023
Indie Rock
Vinyl, Album, Limited Edition, Red
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