Matt Berninger says he never thought he would release a solo album, “I don’t play the guitar or the piano, so the idea of a solo album always seemed … unlikely.” What began as a covers recording project eventually began to collect bits and pieces of “orphan songs” that never made it onto albums by his main band The National, until the results became Serpentine Prison, his first ever album under his own name.
Working with soul legend Booker T. Jones, who produced and arranged much of the album, helped Berninger find confidence in going to new places with his admittedly limited vocal range. Berninger also credits Jones with helping him to find space while working with much more stripped down arrangements than with The National’s soaring song structures.
“Booker really likes things that have a lot of space. For him thin quiet moments can be as emotionally intense as big giant choruses with strings and all that.”
Despite the conflict often present in his songwriting, Berninger has been with the same bandmates in The National for two decades and has been happily married for years. He credits honest listening for sustaining these long relationships. “Remember that we all change,” he says, “Two people, or a family, or a band … all of these relationships everyone changes along the way … and so healthy relationships have to evolve as the people evolve and you need to keep learning about your partner and your friends and how you can be there for them now.”
Hear Matt Berninger play songs live from home from his solo album Serpentine Prison and the full interview in this Home Studio Session.