Matt Berninger on The National’s new song ‘Somebody Desperate’: “We all have these deep insecurities when it comes to our hearts”
The National have shared brand new song ‘Somebody Desperate’, which features in the end credits of the new film adaptation of Cyrano – check it out below, along with NME’s exclusive interview with frontman Matt Berninger.
- READ MORE: Aaron and Bryce Dessner on their ‘Cyrano’ film soundtrack: “They’re National songs in a way, and have an interior, intimate feeling”
Based on the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac – a fictionalised account of the self-conscious, swashbucking, lovelorn poet of the same name – the new adaptation of Cyrano stars Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage in the titular role, and will come to UK cinemas in January. The soundtrack arrives next week (December 10), with music from The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner and lyrics from Berninger and his wife Carin Besser.
In a recent interview with NME, the Dessners discussed how the tracks on the Cyrano soundtrack are “National songs in a way, and have an interior, intimate feeling”. ‘Somebody Desperate’, the band’s first new song since 2019’s acclaimed ‘I Am Easy To Find‘, is intertwined with the plot of the film but, as Berninger told us, has common ground with his own lyricism with The National – which has seen him mine love, loss, fear and anxiety for two decades.
“I was writing a lot from my own perspective and bringing my own insecurities and my own feelings to the story,” Berninger told NME. “It’s easy to channel what these characters are going through, because we all have these deep insecurities when it comes to our hearts, and I’ve written about this stuff forever.”
Read NME’s exclusive interview with Berninger below, as he tells us about the new song, what went into making the soundtrack, and how all artists are little like Cyrano…
NME: You’ve been working on Cyrano since 2018 – at what point did ‘Somebody Desperate’ enter the picture?
Berninger: “We wrote a lot of songs for the stage version of Cyrano, and then a lot of those songs changed and we added new ones in for the film. It was a continuously evolving process. I initially wrote ‘Somebody Desperate’ for the character Christian, but we ended up having enough songs for the film itself. The film weaves the songs in and out, and there aren’t these big giant musical numbers. They come in and out of the dialogue, and there’s a lot of small fragments of songs.
“It didn’t feel like the film itself needed this song in the narrative, but it captured an overall perspective on the whole thing, and it could have been written about any of the three main characters.”
What do you consider the song to be about, and how does that fit the purpose of tying the narrative together?
“It’s a song about someone being honest about not being honest with themselves, and about not being honest with other people. It’s someone confronting their own insecurities, and how they put on false pretences to cover up those insecurities.”
You and Carin wrote all the lyrics for the soundtrack, for the cast to sing. was there a particular reason why you wanted to sing this one yourself, and put it out as The National?
“Cyrano wasn’t necessarily a National project. Obviously Aaron and Bryce worked on it and I worked on it with my wife, but it was outside of the context of the band. We thought it’d be interesting to make it a National moment at the end of the film, to show the process of how we wrote the songs and how they’re adapted – it’s like uncovering the hood of the songwriting, and pulling back the curtain back.”
How did the writing process develop across the three years you’ve been working on the project? Are you surprised where it ended up?
“I started writing these lyrics on my laptop in these private little moments early in the morning, and then Carin and I would pass them back and forth – it was a pretty intimate grading process. Then, but then to see them in a big ensemble, with dancing and sword-fighting and choreography, it is a big leap from the kind of environment that I’m used to!”
- READ MORE The National’s Matt Berninger on going solo: “These songs are about the people that made me… me”
“The sentiments are all still very quiet and introspective though, and so often these characters are alone and singing to themselves, and there aren’t that many songs that are these big, musical theatre ensemble songs. Most of them are people singing their inner thoughts and their inner confessions to themselves, and it’s different than a lot of musicals in that way. When I or Carin was writing alone, it was easy to get inside the heads of these characters, and to imagine these desperate feelings that they’re all having for each other.”
With your lyrical background, do you think that helped you to connect to the characters?
“I was writing a lot from my own perspective and bringing my own insecurities and my own feelings to the story. It’s easy to channel what these characters are going through, because we all have these deep insecurities when it comes to our hearts, and I’ve written about this stuff forever. This song feels like it could have been on any of our records.”
“I was really enthusiastic about it when Erica Schmidt [Dinklage’s wife and Cyrano script-writer] first approached us. It did feel in my wheelhouse, with all these romantically insecure characters where I could write about love and desire and fear. I grew up feeling like a little awkward teenager, and the story of somebody wooing someone they’re infatuated with through songs obviously really resonated with me. It’s a way to package their messy feelings into something beautiful.”
That’s what artists do, right?
“People who have difficulty interacting on a normal social level often end up in bands or become artists, because it’s how they learn how to be able to express themselves privately in the way they want to, and the stories here are the same. Those characters were also so affected in that place of not really being able to say what they want to someone else truthfully, so they devise other schemes of getting their feelings across and romanticising each other. It was a good fit for me, and so much fun to do.”
The Cyrano official soundstrack is released via Decca Records on December 10. The National have a run of world tour dates in 2022, including their return to London’s All Points East Festival for a headline performance on Friday August 26.