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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Cover detail of The National's Boxer album cover. (Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio)

Everything counts a little more than we think: An oral history of The National’s Boxer

Cover detail of The National's Boxer album cover. (Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio)

In Lizzy Goodman’s recent oral history Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011, The National’s Aaron Dessner reminisces about the band’s first practice space being right next door to Interpol’s, where they would overhear them rehearsing songs that would eventually land on Turn On The Bright Lights. National singer Matt Berninger recalls the day Spin magazine photographed Interpol in the hallway of that shared space: “They had their suits on, and we had our khaki pants and our work shirts. We were walking through what was probably Interpol’s first photo shoot. It felt humiliating but also motivating. ‘These fucking guys right next to us?! Yesterday they were right next to us, and now they’re in Spin magazine?’ That kind of shit happened a lot.”

Hailing from Brooklyn via Cincinnati, The National mostly remained in the shadows while the New York scene heralded by groups like Interpol, The Strokes, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs burst into the mainstream. As those bands exploded (and many quickly faded), The National took its time and learned how to become sustainable. It wasn’t until the 2005 release of Alligator, the group’s third album, that it began to come close to achieving that kind of widespread attention. The National knew it was on the cusp of something bigger, but had yet to grasp it.

Enter Boxer, The National’s critically acclaimed, commercially successful fourth album—the one that opened doors to late-night TV appearances, soundtracks, and, eventually, meetings with President Barack Obama. Since its release in 2007, Boxer has remained evergreen, a still-potent statement on the slow fade of youth into the mundane challenges of adulthood, as well as a snapshot of American malaise at the tail end of the Bush administration. On the album’s 10th anniversary—and on the eve of the release of The National’s new record Sleep Well Beast—The A.V. Club spoke to The National’s Matt Berninger (lead singer), Aaron Dessner (guitarist), Bryce Dessner (guitarist/pianist), Scott Devendorf (bassist), Bryan Devendorf (drummer), and producer Peter Katis to discuss Boxer’s difficult birth and the rewards of its lasting legacy.

In 2005, The National released its third album, Alligator, to widespread critical acclaim. After a near-nonstop tour around the globe, the band regrouped to figure out what to do next.

Aaron Dessner: I think Alligator was this moment where maybe the band finally started to get somewhere, you know? It wasn’t like it was crazy—just a steady growth that happened with that record, especially toward the end. After a year of it being out, it started to seep into people’s consciousness or something.

Bryce Dessner: Alligator was the closest we’ve gotten to a lightning moment. We’ve always respected a band like the Pixies who can record in a week and make something amazing and timeless. We always take way, way more time. But I think that some of Alligator—like “Mr. November” and “Abel”—were kind of like that. They were “live” feeling.

Matt Berninger: It was the first of our records that anybody cared about, and it was the one that was out on a label that had distribution around the world. We got some good reviews and that kind of stuff.

Bryce Dessner: Prior to [Alligator], we were really only playing tiny, tiny clubs. On [Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers], we might have started to be able to fill up Mercury Lounge or something. We had little audiences in London and Paris. But Alligator was the moment when we started to have a bit more success on the road. Although, we were still in the van and sleeping on floors and that kind of thing. Still really hard touring conditions.

Bryan Devendorf: There was a harsh, five-to-six-week van tour of Europe where we were driving ourselves around. It was cold. I think at the time we were exhausted.

Aaron Dessner: We had all quit our jobs in the year that Alligator came out. We had toured a lot before that, but I think Alligator started a whole other level of touring. There was some… not inter-band conflicts, but maybe some tour pitfalls and tour exhaustion. I just remember definitely hitting a wall. I don’t think we ended in a super healthy place.

Bryce Dessner: We had also been in a band for six years at that point. People were starting to either lose their jobs or have to leave their jobs, some relationships were starting to fray. It was a hard time in people’s lives, I would say. Aaron, my brother, and I were probably turning 30 right then.

Bryan Devendorf: It was such a haze. I know that we were all at various points in our lives personally. Some guys were married. Some guys weren’t. I don’t think there were any children in the picture yet. We were in that phase of, “Okay, what comes next?”

Matt Berninger: I met my wife, Carin, as we finished Alligator. Going into Boxer was the first time that I was sort of “with my wife,” and she started to become a part of my creative world, creative process, on everything I did around then. I was in a really good place. I was also probably in a place where we were breaking up a lot, too. Those first few parts of a relationship that might be the real one, that might be the one that lasts forever, are the scariest ones.

Scott Devendorf: In the past, we had made records just for fun, on the side, with no expectations—with no money, really. We were trying to learn how to be a band and make records. [With] Boxer, there was some expectation to it, but we sort of applied the same technique with songwriting and song craft as we had before. But there was definitely, like, “We need to make a good record.”

Bryan Devendorf: [The internal pressure] was completely self-generated. There was no one in management or the label saying, “Hey, guys. We need a single here.” That was a big piece of why we were able to continue and make the record we wanted to make, rather than [the one] someone else wanted to make or someone wanted us to make.

Bryce Dessner: Going into Boxer, we might have felt some pressure to build on Alligator. There might have been a little bit of a feeling as well that Alligator was really well-received, but the band remained outside of the bigger movements in music. That was the time of Interpol and The Strokes and much, much bigger bands. We were never part of that explosion in New York music.

Matt Berninger: First, we were in the shadows of the Lower East Side, and now we’re in the shadows of the Brooklyn scene. I think that’s when we realized, it’s time to establish something. The choice on Boxer was to paint ourselves out of any corners. We just saw a lot of bands getting into corners. Lucrative corners, but you can tell they were corners nonetheless. We knew not to worry about trying to chase the light. Just make your thing, and it’s gonna find you.

In the summer of 2006, The National decamped to Tarquin Studios in Connecticut, where they began working with producer Peter Katis on the first stages of Boxer.

Scott Devendorf: It’s this big old Victorian house that’s kind of scary, like a haunted house. Not really haunted, but, you know, this large Victorian house with multiple floors. We lived there. We didn’t really leave there ever. We walked around and went to the Stop & Shop to pick up groceries. It was a beautiful house, as you’d expect it to be, but then you get cabin fever.

Peter Katis: Boxer was definitely the most focused effort to that point in terms of my involvement with [the band]. That was the record we did sort of beginning to end [at Tarquin Studios], more or less. We had already worked together a whole bunch. We were friends and stuff. They were like, “Oh, man, we’re just so nervous about money and having enough time to do what we want.” If I go around cutting deals, I’d just go out of business, but I was like, “Okay, I’ll cut you a deal. Pay me for two months, but I’ll give you three months. Three months straight to make a record.” For most bands, that’s pretty good.

Aaron Dessner: We hit a wall after we spent all of our recording budget. We got halfway there, and then realized we just didn’t have it. Alligator had been this breakthrough, and it was difficult for us. We knew we couldn’t do the same thing again, but we weren’t quite sure how. We went to Tarquin Studios for a few months and spent the money we had and ended up with some things that were strong, but just a general feeling that we weren’t there yet. Maybe there had been an inter-band meltdown. Not personal, it was more just creative.

Peter Katis: You know how when you approach something and it just seems to not get any closer? The guys had abandoned songs, then come back to them, then sort of re-recorded them, and then backtracked again. By that point, I think we had 20, 22 songs we were working on. I had to make an executive decision to say, “Listen! You gotta go. I don’t care what you do or where you finish it. You have to go to your practice space or wherever and just finish recording what you think is a completed record. When you feel you’ve finished, come back, and we’ll put it all together and mix it.” And Aaron was like, “Got it! Be back next week!” And I was like, “No, no, no! You have to come back prepared!”

Aaron Dessner: By the fall, we disbanded and left the studio without a record, which was a blow. “Wow, we’ve blown it. We had one good record, and now we’re just gonna fall on our faces.” We went back to Brooklyn.

Bryce Dessner: I remember recording a lot of overdubs with my brother in the attic. Alligator was largely recorded in the attic of my house on Stratford Road in Brooklyn, and Boxer was recorded largely in the attic of my brother’s house two houses down. I remember recording the trumpets for “Fake Empire” up there.

Aaron Dessner: We basically set up a little Pro Tools rig, and Bryce and I spent quite a bit of time redoing most everything we had done up in the nicer recording studio. We redid it in the attic. We kind of rediscovered some aesthetic charms, things we were seeking.

Peter Katis: People were pretty fried. Three months straight with no breaks. I remember in those three months, I had one week off, and Spoon asked if they could come and do a song with me, and I said, “Okay.” So my week off was recording Spoon, and I was like, “That’s not a week off.” They came back several months later, and then we spent six more weeks mixing the record. So, it was an odyssey for sure.

Every song on Boxer has a story of how it “almost didn’t work or was almost a totally different song.” Here, the band members break down how they figured them out.

“Squalor Victoria”

Peter Katis: We’d been working on “Squalor Victoria” for months, and it basically sounded like a finished song and it was really beautiful. Suddenly, Matt goes, “Oh, I got vocals for that.” I was like, “You do? I didn’t even know that.”

Aaron Dessner: With “Squalor Victoria,” the music existed for a long time. Matt wanted to write to it, but we just loved the music. We were gonna maybe put it on as an instrumental. But he kept thinking about it, and literally the day before mastering, Matt finally sang to it.

Peter Katis: The first thing he did, though, was he didn’t sing it. He imported his vocals from his demo. So they were not good. They didn’t line up right. They were kind of random. There was all this crazy stuff. And I guess I got upset, and I said something like, “Oh, you’re taking a beautiful song and just ruining it!”

Aaron Dessner: I remember Peter said, “You ruined the song.” I kind of felt like, “Nah, it just got way better.”

Peter Katis: I wasn’t presented with the vocals you hear now on the song. [Laughs.] That was one of the more heated exchanges because I was like, “Oh, we worked so hard on this!”

“Mistaken For Strangers”

Peter Katis: I remember working extremely hard on “Mistaken For Strangers.” This was the fight I would have with them all the time: There wasn’t much dynamics, and I said, “Let’s really try to make this more up and down, more dynamic.” And we did try. There was a lot of editing, lot of cutting things out, and I created these weird loops from what they played for the end of the song. There was a lot of work put in to make it less static, less same-y.

Bryan Devendorf: I’ve always been a thief of beats. I was stealing stuff from, like, Sam [Fogarino] of Interpol, and also Stephen Morris of New Order and Joy Division. The beat on “Mistaken For Strangers” was a reinterpretation of “Take You On A Cruise” off of Antics. I think our version is a little faster, the tempo is a little quicker. But it’s basically the same thing. [Laughs.]

Peter Katis: The second chorus is a double chorus, and the second half of that chorus we added a little arpeggio line, and if that weren’t there, I would find that song unlistenable. They do so much good stuff, there’s so many good layers, but there’s so much stuff there’s no way you can hear it. At the end of that song, I remember saying, “Let’s push the guitars in this part, and in the end, they all go away.” That was certainly never the plan. So at the end of the song, the rocking guitars go away, and you actually get to hear the orchestral arrangements, which is something I’d do repeatedly with their stuff. Otherwise, you’d never hear it.

Aaron Dessner: It was this big song then, but then the documentary that Matt and his brother made, and them using that name, and it took on this extra significance with the family and the dynamic of the brothers. So that’s also meaningful.


Bryce Dessner: The guitar part on “Ada” was too hard for my brother to play, so we both played it. He played the right hand and I played the left hand. There’s a picture of it, I think. Both of us on the guitar at the same time. That was pretty special. It’s just really hard on both hands, so Aaron was like, “Let’s just play it on an old classical guitar.”

“Slow Show”

Aaron Dessner: The end of “Slow Show” didn’t exist. It was something else entirely, and at some point, I just cut off the end and recorded the piano part. I didn’t know how it came to me, the idea of trying to use those lyrics from [“29 Years” off the self-titled debut], but we did that. It’s just worth it.

Bryce Dessner: I remember I was alone. My brother was in London, I think. We had Thomas Bartlett up and he did the accordion hook, and I remember Aaron coming home and he was like, “It’s horrible. It sounds like an Italian village music.” We ended up convincing him.

“Guest Room”

Aaron Dessner: We felt we really liked the music, but Matt wasn’t totally sold on it in terms of what he was doing. I wouldn’t say we forced it through, but it was one that was hotly debated.

Bryce Dessner: Matt didn’t want to finish it, so Bryan and Aaron finished the lyrics and actually sang them themselves, then later we forced Matt to do it. We recently actually picked up “Guest Room” on tour. It’s a real underdog on Boxer. A couple band members don’t like it. It’s got the closest to doing a certain kind of guitar playing. We were always trying to do a Johnny Marr kind of thing.

Scott Devendorf: We’ve revived “Guest Room” a couple times on tour. That song is sort of like a lost classic.

The lengthy production process was heavy on experimentation, bringing in orchestral arrangements and contributions from the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Padma Newsome, while the group even set up a separate studio just to capture drum sounds. Meanwhile, Berninger adjusted his voice to suit those richer, more majestic surroundings.

Aaron Dessner: I remember Sufjan Stevens said to me at a barbecue at some point in the middle of all that—I was telling him how hard it was and how we just weren’t getting there. I remember he just said, “I think it’s probably gonna be really good, because you guys are really struggling. That’s what happens to me.” That was around the time when he came in… I mean, “Ada,” he just came in and he played it. Melody just kinda comes really easy for him.

Bryce Dessner: I had a band with a guy named Padma Newsome who also worked a lot on Boxer, Alligator, and High Violet. He was the guy who used to play violin with us. We had a band called Clogs, and Sufjan was a fan. We used to play these tiny little concerts, and he would come see us. He asked me to play in his band around that time, like in 2005. Annie Clark [St. Vincent] and I were in his touring band. He was like 19 or 20. We all lived in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, and we became quick friends. He’s still my closest friend. We’re like neighbors upstate. Since then, he’s played on pretty much every album, and also on tour.

Aaron Dessner: At that time, Padma Newsome, string composer and close collaborator of Bryce, was thinking a lot about certain kinds of classical instruments that really suited the tone of the song. So there was a lot of dark winds, like bassoon and bass clarinet, and trombones and stuff. At times, the songs would shift completely away, like at the end of “Mistaken For Strangers” where it shifts from this wall of feedback and guitar to this dark, chordal stuff. There’s a baroque thing about it. It’s more arranged than Alligator had been.

Bryce Dessner: To be honest, we never really were able to afford having an orchestra until Trouble Will Find Me. Trouble Will Find Me and Sleep Well Beast we did record with large string ensembles. Everything prior to that was usually done piecemeal. We would have a violin in and layer it, and then a viola, and then a cello, and we would do it like that, like sessions with one person. I think actually the trumpet and trombone on “Fake Empire” were done together. There are moments like “Squalor Victoria,” which are very layered, I would say. The woodwind stuff at the end of “Mistaken For Strangers,” where it’s, like, bass clarinet and bassoon, basically. That was all recorded separately.

Peter Katis: I always wanted to push them more in the direction of doing sort of the orchestral stuff, but not in a fancy classical way. I loved that they used alternative instruments. As I hoped I would gain even greater control and influence over what they did, in fact, I gained much less once Aaron built his own studio. I wanted them to make a record that really got rid of guitars but made it possibly very aggressive, heavy music, but with orchestral instruments. They went the opposite way.

Bryan Devendorf: We had recorded the Alligator drums at another studio in Brooklyn. And Peter… was not pleased with the basic tracks. For good reason; they weren’t good. He massaged them into being.

Aaron Dessner: We recorded Alligator on a board in Red Hook with another friend, and that board was a crappy board that had been flooded. When we brought in Alligator to Peter to mix, he said, “Guys, I’m sorry. This sounds like bad demos. You guys got signed to Beggars Banquet, and you’re gonna release a bad demo record.” I remember he brought me into the basement to tell me that because he didn’t want the rest of the band to hear it.

Peter Katis: On Alligator, we put together a record that I think, uh, that sounds a little, uh… I’m not sure. But people appreciated it, even with all of its flaws. And I agree! You don’t need a sonically perfect record to enjoy. In fact, some of its weakness may be kind of cool.

Bryan Devendorf: The big reason why I went in to record Boxer at Tarquin was because Peter said, “Look, I want to get the drum sounds right.”

Aaron Dessner: I know that Peter wanted to capture Bryan’s drumming at the highest fidelity possible. So “Mistaken For Strangers” and “Apartment Story” and “Brainy,” some of these songs that have great drum parts, we recorded those at Tarquin. Peter did amazing work on Boxer for sure.

Scott Devendorf: We set up a whole B-station kind of world. It was called Bongo Island. We would basically record percussion there.

Aaron Dessner: It was actually just studio B down in the basement of Peter’s house where Bryan would get really stoned and bang on pipes and just record all kinds of things.

Peter Katis: Bongo Island: “Where Overdubs Go To Die.” Whoever wasn’t recording in the main studio was recording downstairs all day, three months in a row. We probably used two or three takes from that, but some good stuff! Scott’s secret weapon: his clangy little guitars in the pre-chorus of “Mistaken For Strangers.” Those are a key element.

Scott Devendorf: I think I recorded some guitar—maybe the guitar from “Brainy” that I played was recorded down there on the island. Just the idea we can work and record almost anywhere. Not to say we predicted any of that with Bongo Island, but I think it was the early stages of the home recording studio.

Aaron Dessner: There was a lot of trepidation about the fact that Matt wasn’t screaming. The big songs on Alligator were “Abel” and“Mr. November,” as far as live, and even going before that, “Murder Me Rachael” and “Available,” or “Slipping Husband.” He had been doing that and found that place in his voice. There was a lot of potential or just, like, a visceral catharsis about it. Then I didn’t think he wanted to be pigeonholed by that, and rightfully so.

Bryce Dessner: That was a big change on Boxer. Matt kind of became known… like, Alligator was literally him screaming to be heard. We were playing these clubs where nobody was there to see us. And he was just, like, literally screaming his head off. And he basically told us ahead of time with Boxer he wasn’t gonna do that. I think we spent the entire two years it took to make trying to convince him to do it. [Laughs.]

The result was an album full of rich, richly diverse songs, from the stately “Fake Empire” to the slashing “Mistaken For Strangers” to the slow-burning “Ada.” Naturally, everyone has their personal favorites.

Scott Devendorf: I like“Brainy” a lot. I think that’s because it’s such an arpeggiating guitar thing, and the interaction between the instruments on that. But we don’t play it that often.

Aaron Dessner: That’s tricky. That album feels really complete to me. I think all of them have had their moment. I love the architecture of “Brainy,” and I love Bryan’s drums. No one can play it like him. But “Green Gloves” might be the one. If I had to only have one of those songs on a desert island, it would probably be “Green Gloves.”

Peter Katis: I remember “Green Gloves” was a track I definitely appreciated. There’s little re-voicing of things and touches throughout that song. I just don’t think that song would have the same emotional content without those little details.

Bryce Dessner: I mean, I love a song like “Green Gloves.” I think it’s one of our most classic songs. Just musically, I really love it.

The cover art for Boxer depicts The National in an intimate, sparsely lit setting playing to a small, loving audience. Using it was a joke that became a reality.

Bryce Dessner: The cover of Boxer was taken at Peter Katis’ wedding. It felt like it was out of some sort of 1950s novel—Revolutionary Road, something like that. I remember it was in Westport, Connecticut, at some kind of beautiful—but maybe a little stuffy—church. The woman who took that photo was Abbey Drucker, [Interpol lead vocalist] Paul Banks’ girlfriend at the time, back when he had that ferocity of, like, a real rock star.

Peter Katis: Towards the end of mixing, Scott said, “Oh, look at this picture.” It was a picture of them playing at my wedding, and then someone just said as a joke, “What if that was the cover?” And Scott mocked it up and was like, “Oh, this is so ridiculous. It could work.” Because it looks like a staged shot, and it’s a completely random shot.

Bryce Dessner: We were actually on stage. We were playing “Daughters Of The Soho Riots” at his wedding, which is one of the only positive long songs we have.

Peter Katis: [Abbey] was just going to get a drink, and she snapped one picture and that was it. She was in fact a photographer, but there was no intention there at all.

Filmmaker and photographer Vincent Moon shot a documentary entitled A Skin, A Night that chronicled the production of Boxer. It was released in 2008 alongside the compilation The Virginia EP. 

Matt Berninger: Vincent Moon, man. He’s one of the most beautiful human beings. He’s a great-looking man. We met him. He pulls up on a scooter in Paris and literally the scarf is flying behind him. He’s got a beautiful woman with him. He’s got this camera, and he’s like, “Okay, guys!” He filmed us skinny-dipping in ponds. He got us to do stuff that we never would have done if he weren’t so cool. I think he also redefined a lot of music videos. I really do think Vincent Moon changed the dial of the idea of what a music video is, and how to make a music video. He’s a pioneer for sure.

A Skin, A Night is as much of an abstract expression of his own work of art than it is anything a documentary about us, which is why it’s good. I wouldn’t have made Mistaken For Strangers with my brother and my wife if it had not been for working for him. That’s why my brother’s movie was more about him than it was about us. Same deal.

In 2008, the Barack Obama presidential campaign used an instrumental version of “Fake Empire” in a promotional video. The band later played at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and at Obama’s victory rally in Grant Park in Chicago, giving the song a surprisingly enduring legacy.

Bryce Dessner: It wasn’t even the first single. “Mistaken For Strangers” was the first single. I think “Fake Empire” was the first song we put up online, and even at that point, that was sort of a novel idea, you know?

Aaron Dessner: The song existed for a year and a half without the fanfare part, and I always thought it wasn’t done. But it didn’t make sense with more words or anything, and finally, we had that idea. Padma Newsome wrote the fanfare and we recorded it, and then it finally felt done.

Bryce Dessner: I remember recording the trumpets for “Fake Empire” up in [Aaron’s attic]. That song just felt unfinished and then we did that, and it was like this really amazing moment.

Scott Devendorf: It got its little, whatever, Obama bump in 2008, which we were overjoyed about. We were excited he won the election and that they were using it at that thing in Chicago. We were like, “Oh my god, this is like nirvana.”

Matt Berninger: My friend Hope Hall was working on his campaign. She was a filmmaker, and she knew a lot of the people on his campaign that were National fans. So she was the one who used that song in a little promotional film called “Dreams Of Hope And Change.” We’re grateful to her, because then we got to meet him three times since then, and it kinda became a part of his thing.

Aaron Dessner: It’s sort of evergreen, musically. It’s almost like a nursery rhyme. It’s a complex rhythm. I remember when Bryce first played it on the piano, it was backstage in Florida, and we were opening for The French Kicks or Kala, or something. There was this upright piano, and he was tapping out this 4/3 rhythm. It’s just somehow always nice to play. It doesn’t get old. I wouldn’t say it was a protest song or anything. It was just sort of like an “escape this reality” type song. Now it’s poignant again, which is super depressing.

Matt Berninger: Yeah, it’s a political song. It’s funny, it was written about when George W. Bush won, and it’s also a weird song about trying to unplug and not think about politics. So to have the president play it right after he wins—the first black president play it in Grant Park after he wins—and being a part of that playlist that night… Are you kidding me? I can’t wait to tell my granddaughter about how that happened.

Bryce Dessner: The craziest memory I have of Boxer is election night 2008 and, like, a million people texting me from Grant Park saying that Obama was playing it before he walked out. That’s kind of like my Boxer memory. It was like, “Holy shit. Really?”

Matt Berninger: I can’t overstate how lucky and awesome that whole thing was and still is. Every time we play in Washington, a lot of the West Wingers from their whole administration show up. That’s how I know a lot of people that I work with at Planned Parenthood. We’ve been lucky to know a lot of different, really fascinating people because of that little thing. I wrote a song because I was terrified about George W. Bush, and the next thing you know, a few years later, we’re talking to Obama.

Although Boxer was a critical and commercial success upon release, The National still felt uneasy upon finishing the record, colored by the lingering stress of its creation.

Matt Berninger: That album… We fought a lot. It caused a lot of anxiety. But the second we mastered that thing, I loved it and I wore it out. I always do that when we finish a record.

Aaron Dessner: We remember the making of that record as very difficult, but I think it’s probably why it was good. We didn’t just toss the record off. Alligator had been much faster to make; it was, like, maybe six weeks or something. Boxer was the first record where it really took us almost a year to make it, and then ever since it’s sort of been like that.

Matt Berninger: Aaron had a crisis because he knew if this was a failure, this would be the end of the line. But he pulled it off. Aaron can sometimes internalize the anxiety of, “We might disappear overnight, and we can’t let that happen. This might ruin our career but we can’t let that happen.” Thank god he’s like that. I’m a lot less like that.

Aaron Dessner: There were moments where I don’t think we knew when we finished that record. We just ran out of time and ran out of money. I stayed up all night the day before mastering because we were still working on it. And we rode down in the middle of winter, in the freezing cold, driving down 95 to New York to master it. And I just remember feeling like, “I have no idea if this is any good.”

Scott Devendorf: We always loved Boxer, but when we finished it, we were just like… you never know. Sometimes you finish something, you’re too close to it. You’re just exasperated with it. It’s hard to get perspective on what it is at the time. But the best things come of that, you know? When people don’t really know what they’re doing when they’re doing it, and it’s just like, “Oh, look.”

Aaron Dessner: We never felt like, “Oh, we’ve got an amazing record” or anything, and that’s because you lose sight of it all when you’re so deep in the minutiae and the creative struggle. Everybody definitely gave everything they had, and thankfully it worked out.

Bryce Dessner: We definitely didn’t expect Boxer to catch on the way it did. I actually remember our label—they didn’t reject it, but they weren’t happy, which is part of why it’s called Boxer. Like, “Fuck you,” you know? We love our label, but at the time, they were kind of underwhelmed. I think on some level they thought we would be the next Interpol or something. But we didn’t have a big U.K. radio hit on there.

Peter Katis: With one or two days left of mixing, we thought it was the end of the world. Because someone had a conversation with somebody at the record label who told them someone very high up was not pleased with the record, and they weren’t even sure if it was releasable. And it was just like… after all that work, and all those months, it ended on the biggest down note. “The label doesn’t even like it. This is a disaster.” People were saying, “Fuck it! We’ll buy it back and put it out ourselves!” And then the next thing you know, it’s a huge hit. So I guess the point is, don’t throw in the towel too quickly.

Vikram Murthi is a freelance writer and critic currently based out of Brooklyn.