The National’s Matt Berninger Talks Grateful Dead, Phish and More on New Podcast

February 1, 2016

Rock critic and author Steven Hyden has started a new podcast dubbed Celebration Rock with a focus on the rock and roll genre. In the first episode, Hyden recruited The National and EL VY frontman Matt Berninger for a quick chat before the band’s final show on their North American tour. 

Coincidentally enough, Dead & Company were playing nearby, prompting a short discussion on the Grateful Dead as well as Phish and jambands in general. Berninger says that while he didn’t grow up a Dead fan, The National bandmates Scott and Bryan Devendorf have turned him onto the band’s music. “[The Dead] became worked into the soundtrack of National tours,” he said. The vocalist also notes that he sings both “Peggy-O” and “Morning Dew” on The National’s upcoming Grateful Dead tribute box set that features a slew of indie rock all-stars. Berninger also recounts performing with Bob Weir (the two have collaborated several times) and joked, “I don’t think I’m going to be texting Bob tonight, he sounds like he’s going to be busy.” 

As the conversation transitioned to Phish, Berninger humorously recounts a story of going to a Phish show with the Devendorfs where he ended up sitting in the car. “I just couldn’t stand all the strange hippie posturing from a bunch of smelly white rich kids,” he says. “I had a chip on my shoulder against all that pseudo-60s stuff, so I remember I went and waited in the car. It was like a six-hour show, and I sat in the car.” 

Berninger admits he came around on Phish much like he did with the Dead, particularly after working on Trey Anastasio’s Traveler record. Anastasio even joined The National during their show at the Beacon Theatre in 2011.

The conversation in total is fascinating, as Berninger also dishes on his current EL VY project as well as what’s to come with The National (the band is working on a new record Berninger says will be out in 2017) along with some wider thoughts on the band’s career arc and other topics. On the new National record, he also notes that “there are five, I can say with confidence, that might be five of the best National songs ever written.” 

Listen to the full podcast, which also features an interview with Dan Auerbach, below.