As The National prepared to tour in support of their 2010 album ‘High Violet’ (which, somehow, Clash only awarded a 6/10), frontman Matt Berninger had a moment of inspiration: why not invite his younger brother Tom to join the band’s road crew?
“I thought it would be good for him because he needed a job and he’d never been to Europe, he was in a rut, and I thought it would shake-up his life a little bit,” explains Matt. “I also missed him. We hadn’t been together much in about 20 years.”
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Mistaken For Strangers, trailer
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The new film Mistaken For Strangers, directed by Tom, captures the experience. It shows a firm contrast between the focused Matt and his almost horizontally laidback sibling. Tom’s litany of roadie failings are mostly minor misdemeanours – including forgetting to guestlist Werner Herzog – which result in him being fired from the tour. As the younger Berninger accepts, The National’s rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle wasn’t as hedonistic as he desired.
“There was a lot of alcohol and a lot of late nights, but mainly it wasn’t as... wild?” he accepts. “They had a job to do every night and I didn’t, necessarily. Well, I did, but I really didn’t work very hard on that and so I partied by myself. And occasionally I filmed it.”
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Tom’s filming, initially envisaged as a short of undetermined nature, evolved into a feature that focuses on the brothers’ relationship rather than the band. Which is fortunate, laughs Matt, as the band were growing anxious about the “weird and unflattering” footage that Tom had gathered.
Despite Matt’s idea not working out as planned – “Hiring Tom in a role that he wasn’t suited for was both unfair to him and to our tour manager,” he says – both Berningers are adamant that it was a positive experience. Their connection is best demonstrated in the film’s closing scene in which Matt walks into the audience during a performance of ‘Terrible Love’, with Tom following close behind.
As Tom concludes: “He’s my older brother and he’s maybe leading the way and I’m always going to be the younger brother, tripping and falling but also holding him up. We’re always going to be there for each other.”
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Words: Ben Hopkins
Mistaken For Strangers is in British cinemas from June 27th. Find more information here.