The National’s Matt Berninger Talks ‘WAP,’ Tom Petty And Waits, Dr. Seuss And More On ‘People Have The Power’ Podcast

National frontman and Taylor Swift collaborator on Evermore, Matt Berninger joins host Steve Baltin on this week’s People Have The Power podcast. In October, Matt Berninger released his debut solo album, Serpentine Prison, produced by Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer Booker T. Jones.

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In celebration of the release, Berninger joins the show to discuss, among other things, the making of the album, which originally was intended to be a covers album in the vein of Willie Nelson’s Stardust.  

“I meant to make a covers record like Stardust and I’m lucky enough to know Booker T. Jones,” he says. “I sent him a bunch of covers and we started working on those. But then I sent him ‘Loved So Little’ and ‘Distant Axis,’ that I wrote with Mike Brewer, from my first band, Nancy. We wrote the song ‘Loved So Little’ and when Booker heard those he was really excited and said, ‘What other originals do you have?'”

He also picks an incredibly eclectic list of protest songs that range from Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” to tracks from Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.

Berninger’s explanation of why he chose “WAP” is particularly powerful and insightful.

“It’s about sexuality, human sexuality and honest human sexuality from a woman’s perspective and that is very political,” he says. “I know it’s a leap, but in the same way, comparing ‘WAP’ to the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in Cincinnati when I was a teenager. Robert Mapplethorpe was using art and beauty and photographs to try to get people around him to understand him—specifically, even if 90 percent of the photos were of flowers, some of them were about very graphic sexual things from Robert Mapplethorpe expressing a sexual side of himself and that is what ‘WAP’ is doing. I don’t know who wrote all the lyrics or who designed the costumes, but Meghan Thee Stallion and Cardi B remind me of Robert Mapplethorpe and that is political.”

He also talks about his fandom of Tom Waits. ” I have a tattoo that says ‘Martha Jane,'” he says. “The Martha is from Tom Waits’ ‘Martha’ and the Jane is for [Leonard Cohen’s] ‘Famous Blue Raincoat.’ That’s the only tattoo I’ve ever had. It’s after those two songs. The awkward thing is my mom’s best friend’s name is Martha Jane and so I got this tattoo 20 years ago. I think when I came home with it and my mom first saw this tattoo she thought I had some long-buried crush on her best friend (laughs). So when I see this tattoo I think of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, a girlfriend I had. It’s too many things.”

For more of the nearly hour-long conversation check out People Have The Power.

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