The National’s Matt Berninger sat down with longtime fan David Letterman for an intimate discussion about depression, Berninger’s songwriting process, and the demands of maintaining a balanced life as a public figure. The two men chatted in a cozy house in the country, where they made their own cake pops by dipping tiny cake spheres into mugs of colorful chocolate. Watch it all happen below.
During their half-hour conversation, Letterman asked Berninger about his experience with depression and relayed his own difficulties with it over the years. Berninger mentioned a tough period that occurred roughly a year into the pandemic, and how his mental state prevented him from writing, even as his bandmates were sending him music.
At one point, Berninger revealed that some of his difficulties stemmed from the gap between being a public, performing artist and navigating the more mundane side of life. He spoke of the dissonance between “having to kind of turn on a personality for an intense few hours, and then turn it off, and then try to get some sleep and then the next day, turn it on, turn it off.” Letterman related to the feeling and referred to that mental back-and-forth during his time on late-night television as “holy hell.”
Letterman also asked Berninger about his writing process for Laugh Track songs like “Space Invader,” “Hornets,” and “Smoke Detector,” particularly the “Smoke Detector” line about “pharmacy slippers.” Berninger said that the lyric was a reference to getting on medication for his depression, and standing in line under the harsh fluorescent lights at Rite-Aid. Letterman said he had pictured a Duane Reade.
The National released Laugh Track in September, marking their second album of 2023, following First Two Pages of Frankenstein.