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The National finds inspiration in nature

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Members of The National created their new album “Sleep Well Beast” near a pond in upstate New York. (Courtesy Graham MacIndoe)
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Bryce Dessner, guitarist for melancholy Cincinnati, Ohio outfit The National, knew it would become a logistical problem as the band’s members have scattered over the past few years.

“I’m married to a French woman, so I actually live in Paris now,” he says. “And then Matt (Berninger), our singer, is equally far away, in Los Angeles, while our bassist Scott (Devendorf) lives in Long Island and Bryan (Devendorf), our drummer, moved back home to Cincinnati. We’re all a little spread out.”

He and his brother — guitarist, keyboardist, producer Aaron Dessner — decided they needed a hideaway where they could reconnoiter, so in 2016, they built one on Aaron’s rural property in upstate New York.

Christened Long Pond Studio, the cedar-paneled site in Hudson Valley — where The National tracked and mixed its ethereal new effort “Sleep Well Beast,” which it backs in Berkeley this weekend — has three bedrooms, no separate control booth, and one large recording room instead where members can jam.

“It’s this beautiful space that’s somewhere between a church and a barn, and it’s actually situated on a long pond, just short of being a small lake, that’s next to my brother’s house. And it’s where we spent the entire last year working on the new record,” says Dessner.

The rustic Long Pond, featured in the “Beast” cover photo, is surrounded by wildlife, including skunks, raccoons, opossums, and even a few bobcats and coyotes.

The pond is rife with huge croaking bullfrogs, which Berninger has found endearing. Dessner says, “For Matt, who typically has avoided us over the years, because more and more he needs his space, this is his idea of paradise, so he hangs out there and loves to get in the lake and chase the bullfrogs, even though there’s a snapping turtle in there, too. So it’s a nice backdrop for working, and better animals than people.”

Some National songwriting methods remained the same, however.

On spooky “Sleep Well Beast” songs (“Born to Beg,” “Day I Die” and the recent chart-topping single, a relatively upbeat “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”), the Dessners created most of the music: Bryce handled the orchestration and Aaron delved into the nuts and bolts of editing and producing.

“We may occasionally have a battle about stuff, but we’ll resolve it before the others get there,” says Bryce, who doesn’t feud like other rock siblings.

Berninger — who penned “Sleep Well Beast” lyrics with his wife Carin — sang them over the brothers’ compositions, almost as a finishing touch.

“But Long Pond really added to our collaborative energy,” Dessner says. “It really feels like a clubhouse for the band now.”

IF YOU GO
The National
Where: Greek Theatre, 2001 Gayley Road, Berkeley
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 (sold out); 3:30 p.m. Oct. 15
Tickets: $50 to $55
Contact: (800) 745-300, www.ticketmaster.com

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