13 of The National’s Matt Berninger’s best collaborations
Matt Berninger's distinctive tenor has helped set The National apart for just over two decades. During that time, he's also worked on a couple of side projects: his Booker T. Jones-produced solo debut Serpentine Prison, from this year, and earlier, EL VY, with Brent Knopf of Menomena. The National, Matt included, make one of their highest profile appearances yet, on Taylor Swift's second new album of 2020, evermore, and we took a look back at Matt's many other collaborations over the years, including songs with Phoebe Bridgers, Andrew Bird, Julien Baker, CHVRCHES, Grinderman, Jon Brion, Spiral Stairs and more. Read on for the list...
Matt Berninger and Andrew Bird - "A Lyke Wake Dirge"
Before Andrew Bird appeared on Serpentine Prison, and before he and Matt did an early pandemic performance in Andrew's home, Lou Reed cover included, Matt joined Andrew for a rendition of this traditional English folk song for AMC's Revolutionary War-era spy drama, Turn: Washington's Spies, in 2014. Matt's voice lends a sense of gravity to the track, while Andrew's harmonies and violin make for a gorgeous accompaniment.
Matt Berninger - "Walking on a String" ft. Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers had already played shows, and sang onstage with The National before she and Matt appeared together as the bar band in Zach Galifianakis' 2019 Netflix film Between Two Ferns: The Movie. In it, they play part of a new duet, "Walking On A String.". Thankfully, the song (which Matt wrote with his wife, and frequent collaborator Carin Besser, and Mike Brewer) was released in full not long after, and the all-too-brief portion in the film is revealed to build to a glorious ending.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - "Coming Down" ft. Matt Berninger
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The National go way back (at one time it seemed weird that CYHSY were the opener and not the headliner on a tour they did together). CYHSY's fourth album, 2014's Only Run features guest vocals from Matt on "Coming Down," the album's lead single. "Matt is an old friend," Alec Ounsworth told Music Feeds, "and we have stayed in touch here and there. I had recorded the song myself but had later imagined his appearance might make it more interesting. I asked him and he said yes."
Matt Berninger, Stephen Altman & Julien Baker - "All I Want"
James D. Stern's 2018 documentary American Chaos chronicles the months leading up to Donald Trump's 2016 election, and included in its soundtrack is "All I Want," a song Matt wrote with composer Stephen Altman. They also recorded a second version, where Julien Baker joins Matt on vocals, for volume two of the 7-Inches for Planned Parenthood series. The three performed it live together at Julian's 11/30/2018 set at The Wiltern in LA, which was also the last stop of her boygenius tour with fellow Matt collaborator Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus.
Matt Berninger & Jon Brion - "Learning" (Perfume Genius cover)
"All I Want" wasn't Matt's first contribution to the 7-Inches for Planned Parenthood series. For its first compilation, he covered "Learning," the title track of Perfume Genius' debut, 2010 album, with producer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion on piano. "Pete Holmes invited me a long time ago to play at Largo," Matt told Pitchfork. "I was here by myself and nobody was around, so he got Jon Brion to play with me. We did a Dinosaur Jr. song, a Perfume Genius song, and then one National song. So we used the cover of the Perfume Genius song."
CHVRCHES - "My Enemy" ft. Matt Berninger
"We've all been huge fans of The National for a long time," CHVRCHES vocalist Lauren Mayberry says. "We had played a few festivals together but really got to know Matt when we were involved in 7-Inches For Planned Parenthood, a fundraising and awareness campaign that he spearheaded. It's really inspiring and reassuring to meet other artists you admire and realize that they are trying to do some good in the world. We kept in touch after that and, when it came time to record 'My Enemy' Iain and Martin suggested I email Matt to see if he'd like to sing on it. We never realistically thought he'd have time to do it but he replied right away and recorded the track at his house the next day." The synthy duet is from CHVRCHES' third album, 2018's Love Is Dead.
Grinderman - "Evil" (Silver Alert Remix ft. Matt Berninger)
For Record Store Day 2011, Nick Cave's band Grinderman released a 12" single on red glitter vinyl of Grinderman 2 track "Evil," accompanied by a demo version and a couple of remixes. One of those remixes, done by Silver Alert (aka Peter Mavrogeorgis and Grinderman drummer Jim Sclavunos) adds Matt's voice to the mix, making the song sound sublimely creepy in the process.
Clogs - "Last Song" ft. Matt Berninger
Modern classical collective Clogs, who sometimes feature Bryce Dessner as a member, released their last LP, The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton, ten years ago in 2010 on the Dessner's own label Brassland. It's Clogs' first album that isn't entirely instrumental, and includes a few notable guest vocalists, like Sufjan Stevens, Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond, and Matt, on "Last Song."
Doveman - "The Best Thing" & "Angel's Share" ft. Matt Berninger
Another Brassland release a year earlier, The Conformist, from musician,producer & frequent National collaborator Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman, also features a stacked list of contributors, including Norah Jones, Sam Amidon, Martha Wainwright, Nico Muhly, Beth Orton, Glen Hansard, and Matt, Bryan Devendorf, and Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. Matt duets with Thomas on "The Best Thing," and later in the album, he, Aaron, and Martha lend a backing choir to "Angel's Share."
Walter Martin - "Hey Matt" & "We Like the Zoo" ft. Matt Berninger
Not only is The Walkmen bassist Walter Martin's song "Hey Matt" a duet with Matt, it's also a light-hearted call and response conversation. It's from Walter's 2017 album My Kinda Music, and it's not the first time they paired up for a song; Matt also joined Walter (along with a whole menagerie of animal sounds) on "We Like the Zoo (Cause We're Animals Too)" from Walter's 2014 kid album We're All Young Together. They've since reunited for the very funny pandemic-era "Quarantine Boogie (Loco)," too.
Booker T. Jones - "Representing Memphis" ft. Matt Berninger and Sharon Jones, and "Stardust" ft. Matt Berninger
Matt first met the legendary Booker T. Jones, who he's called a "kind, patient, visionary genius," during their 2011 collaboration with Sharon Jones, "Representing Memphis," from Booker's album The Road From Memphis, and when it came to producing his first solo album, Matt knew who he wanted to hire. "When I was growing up, my dad only had about five records,” he told The New York Times. “I remember Judy Collins, Roberta Flack, Waylon Jennings, and I remember 'Stardust.'" In 2019, Matt would guest on a new version of "Stardust" with booker, for Note By Note, the companion album to his memoir, Time Is Tight.
Spiral Stairs - "Exiled Tonight" ft. Matt Berninger
Spiral Stairs, the project of Pavement founding member Scott Kannberg, released Doris and the Daggers in 2017, which features "Exiled Tonight," where Scott and Matt share vocal duties. "Matt I've been friends with since The National and Pavement toured together in 2010," Scott told us. "He lives in L.A. so we've met each other a few times. Actually, 'Exiled Tonight' was a song that I'd envisioned him singing, I wrote it in this vocal style that he kinda takes. So I asked him if he wanted to come sing it, he came to the studio and insisted I had to be the one to sing it. He provided backups though and it was cool."
The Forms - "Fire to the Ground" ft. Matt Berninger
Veteran NYC indie band The Forms’ 2011 EP Derealization included a reworked version of “Red Gun” from their 2007 self-titled album (retitled “Fire To The Ground”), and the new version added in string arrangements and had Matt Berninger take over lead vocals. His unmistakable voice gave the already-great song a whole new twist.