Part of the lure of LNZNDRF, a potent collective consisting of The National’s rhythm section (and brother duo) of Bryan and Scott Devendorf, Benjamin Lanz of Beirut and The National, and Aaron Arntz of Beirut and Grizzly Bear, is the spontaneity. In fact, as Bryan Devendorf told American Songwriter about II, the band’s new album out today, they had only one element in place when they convened to record back in 2019.
“One thing we did know going in is that we had the album cover ahead of time,” he laughs. “It was all geared toward that. We know the cover of the album. Let’s make it something that sounds good with that.”
The rest of this second full-length by LNZNDRF (pronounced “Lanzendorf”; “We removed the vowels thinking it would look cool, but it essentially just caused confusion,” Bryan jokes) was a much more impromptu affair. “It worked out because we were ending a tour in Texas with The National,” Bryan recalls. “We’d always talked about it would be great to record right after being on the road, because we feel like we’re with it, playing tightly. It just so happened that we had access to a studio in Austin, a couple-hour drive from Houston. We played Houston, drove down, set up shop there for four days and then just recorded the whole time.”
As has been the case in previous LNZNDRF releases, which have included a debut full-length in 2016, a 12- inch and an EP, improvisation drives the bus on these eight tracks, which feature sporadic vocals and extended musical explorations that intersperse mysterious synth soundscapes with pounding Krautrock rhythms. “We just basically set up and got sounds and whoever had something, typically it was Ben or Aaron, we would just kind of play along and play for four hours,” Bryan says of the process. “The songwriting stuff all happened after the fact, with Ben Lanz taking all the files and crafting the multi- hour jams into these little bite-size bits that he and other people sang over.”
Lanz was also in charge of the song titles, which often (“The Xeric Steppe, “Chicxulub,” “Gaskiers”) hinted at natural phenomena. “He was on this geological, hydrological trip, and they were very intentionally done to match the moods of the music and the lyrics,” Bryan says.
What makes LNZNDRF’s music so thrilling are the juxtapositions of the abstract and the concrete, distant sound waves floating through the air suddenly brought into focus by the Devendorf brothers’ forceful grooves. “I think that’s why we do it,” Bryan says. “You take this formless, sonic landscape and then you play a hard beat underneath to define whatever mood or contour you want to give it. That’s the whole enchilada right there.”
Knowing how that rhythm section so forcefully defines many of The National’s classic tracks, some might expect LNZNDRF to be merely a chance for the Devendorf brothers to show off. But there is no hero ball to be found anywhere on this album. “We try not to make it too fussy and complicated,” Bryan says. “Let the natural sonic character of the instruments we play dictate the parts. We’re all B-type personalities. Like ‘You kick the ball. No, you kick the ball.’ We’re passing the ball around and no one’s going to shoot.”
Bryan Devendorf says that The National is idling for right now, considering that they don’t have the ability to tour new music properly. “We have stuff cooking,” he explains. “Everybody is always writing stuff. We’re just getting ready to coalesce and make a go of starting that climb up the mountain again. 2022 is our goal to really come out swinging.”
In the meantime, he’s grateful for having in LNZNDRF, such a fruitful outlet for his artistic expression. “Having a brother who happens to be in the same band and is the bass player and I’m the drummer, it feeds back into this narrative from my childhood where we’re still doing the same thing,” Bryan explains. “This is like where we feel the most ourselves in a way. Back to our roots where we’re in the basement at Mom and Dad’s house.”
“I like to sit and play drums for hours. I’m lazy, but when I get going, I really get going. This ticks that box. Just to be free of pre-set forms or pre-set intentions. There’s a freedom there.”
Photo by Indira Dominici