First Two Pages of Frankenstein

First Two Pages of Frankenstein

A year or so into the pandemic—and two decades into a career spent fronting The National—Matt Berninger couldn’t bear to write another song. “I didn't want to unpack myself,” he tells Apple Music. “I was burned out on introspection and self-analysis and making all these songs about complicated personal things. It was a mess I didn't want to clean up in my mind. So I just avoided it.” For months, he assured his bandmates that he’d been making progress. But when the time came to join them in the studio, “everybody realized, ‘Oh, maybe we might have a problem here,’” he says. “Having to literally face the music, not really having anything to do or lyrics to share—I’d go into the booth and could barely open my mouth. I couldn't free-associate, I couldn't even come up with melodies.” Despite the real fear that he might not be able to write ever again, Berninger kept at it. After completing stand-alone single “Weird Goodbyes,” he spent time back on tour, where he was “forced to sink or swim onstage,” he says. “And slowly, I started swimming again.” The result is First Two Pages of Frankenstein, the veteran indie rock outfit’s ninth full-length—and their first since multi-instrumentalist Aaron Dessner began working, famously, with one Taylor Swift, who guests here along with other noteworthy longtime collaborators Sufjan Stevens and Phoebe Bridgers. “The music that I eventually started connecting to, of all the stuff that we had, was the stuff that was a comfort for me,” Berninger says of the album, which also features lyrics written by his wife, Carin Besser. “It felt like a friend, like it was doing me some emotional good, like it was untangling the knot. I think getting out of my head and getting out of whatever loop I was in broke the spell. The approach that I ultimately had was to start exposing these weird, blurry, dark feelings to sunlight. This record is that—a record that I needed to make to fix myself.” Here Berninger tells the stories behind a few of the album's key tracks. “Once Upon a Poolside” “It starts with this image of being about to go onstage, and the song you walk out to is almost over and you can't stall it anymore. You have to go to get started, you have to do this thing. The song, it feels very much like a prologue to a complicated mess. There’s something about the line, which is a line that I stole from something my wife was writing: ‘What was the worried thing you said to me?’ Which is the one line that she's got in that song, but I keep coming back to that. I think it feels good because it’s introducing by saying this record's going to unpack a lot of worried things.” “Eucalyptus” “It's a song about, ‘What do you do with all the things that don't matter?’ When there's a fracture and you think about, ‘What about this? What about that? What about the tree we planted together? What about the water subscription we have?’ All those little details are silly, in a way, but you can feel each one. I think every healthy marriage is always trying to figure out how to keep their marriage from falling apart—it’s a constant challenge. I think I like to look into the ugly corners of what that would really mean, what would that feel like? It's very much me looking over the edge, like, ‘What if this band did fall apart?’” “New Order T-Shirt” “You reflect, you have memories that stick with you. Sometimes some of them haunt you, sometimes some of them are a little good-luck crystal in your pocket that, in times of need, you'll go over or hold on to. But they're always really small. Some people have brains that remember, but nobody remembers a five-minute conversation, you just remember three seconds of a conversation, or just tiny fragments, or images, or moments. So I wanted to put together a quilt of those little significant memories. A lot of mostly really, really loving, fun, joyous little bits that you really try to hold on to. Every moment of your life could be a moment that sticks with you forever, so make it a good one.” “Tropic Morning News” “My wife and I don't write together in a room, and we almost don't even talk about songs really that much—it’s more of a thing where I'm digging in, and I'm singing tons of melodies and trying to get words, and she just keeps a scrap of fragments of little bits and pieces of ideas or phrases. So I’ll just raid her stash of stuff. She'll be out there pulling wildflowers and turnips from the woods, and then I'll be the one that goes in into the cauldron and puts in the newt's foot and frog's legs and all that shit in together into the witch's cauldron to try to make something that creates a spell. But oftentimes, it's her incredible little fragments that are the most magical ingredients in it all. ‘Tropic Morning News’ was a phrase she just had for a comical description of the daily darkness of the news, and the doomscroll.” “The Alcott” “I was imagining a scene—a contained moment and narrative between two people. Someone meeting someone at a place they used to hang out, or maybe the other person wasn't expecting them, but knew they'd be there. It’s just two people that maybe have a chance to reconnect and maybe they don’t. I wrote and I sent it to Aaron, and when he sent Taylor a few things, she heard that one and was able to instantly get into the mindset of the person I was talking about. So she wrote all her stuff as a response to me, and very much from the perspective of my wife, who I was writing about. So when Carin heard that one, and heard Taylor Swift embodying her character in a song, writing responses to me, that was really fun for everybody. It was a really cool moment. It was like walking down a path and thinking you're alone, and all of a sudden somebody appears out of nowhere and joins you on this path.” “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend” “Phoebe—the way she sings is like no other. You can hear her right away. There's something incredibly soothing and comforting about her presence, and the way she sings. This song’s title was something that my wife was echoing to me a lot, she was saying that to me over and over again over the course of this year, and I just kept holding on to that thought. It was really helpful, because, somehow, I was able to not blame myself. It wasn't my fault I was in this position, it was my mind's fault. This wasn't me, it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Phoebe singing that was, in many ways, in this background echoey way, it was the voice of my wife in my head a little bit. I think that's why it felt like a good one to send her.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada