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Last week, The National released their sixth studio album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’. It marks the steady progression of this band – originally from Dayton, Ohio and now Brooklyn-based – from alternative also-rans to top of the pile. It’s a journey that gained most momentum in 2007 with the release of their album ‘Boxer’, an album full of fin-de-siecle gloom conveyed most beautifully on the opening track ‘Fake Empire’.

The band’s journey to success was anything but overnight; for the first three albums, The National fought against decided disinterest. But the success of ‘Boxer’ – Barack Obama himself chose ‘Fake Empire’ as one of his campaign songs in 2008 – was added to by their follow-up, 2010’s ‘High Violet’ an album which added an extra cinematic sheen to their literate world-weariness.

In London, The National had long ago built up a cult following – but by the time the touring for ‘High Violet’ had hit its stride, they had well and truly broken out from playing clubs, filling venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and the Brixton Academy. Having long wanted to shoot them for my projects photographing them for my soundcheck project, I negotiated with their very friendly management about the possibility of shooting them somewhere in Europe. And one date seemed perfect – a show at the Den Atelier in Luxembourg City.

The Den Atelier is a club in the centre of Luxembourg City – it has a capacity of around 500 but it feels a hell of a lot smaller than that. It was the one of the last opportunities to shoot the band in a venue this intimate.

On a grey November afternoon I turned up to the band’s soundcheck. Like all the shoots for this project I used the same gear, a Nikon F100 and an all-manual Nikon FM2N, a 50mm and 85mm lens and Fuji Neopan, push-processed to 6400. Shooting this way maximises the atmosphere at soundcheck, with the lights down low, and no flash to avoid harsh light spots on the metal.

Normally, I try and get on stage for the soundcheck shooting, but this was one of the ties when there just wasn’t enough room – the band’s five members were also joined by a horn section. But I got a clutch of shots I’m pretty happy with, especially through the open door to backstage, where the band’s trombonist was practising before hitting the stage. And the above shot, of frontman Matt Berninger with eyes closed towards the end of soundcheck, captures the mood of the day.

Last week the band released their seventh album, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’, and a documentary directed by Berninger’s brother, Mistaken For Strangers, was one of the hits of last month’s Tribeca Film Festival. Chances are, if I get another chance to shoot this band, it won’t be at quite such close quarters.

For more National pics, check out my Flickr set.

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Stephen Dowling
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