Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf are the duo behind the band EL VY. You may know Matt from the hugely popular indie band The National, and Brent from the Portland band Menomena. Their first album together, “Return to the Moon,” is in Berninger’s words his “most personal record, the most I’ve ever dug into my own past to try and figure out why I’m the way I am.” Here they are to list some tunes and to bust each other’s chops.
Matt Berninger: Hey, this is Matt from EL VY, and I’m here with Brent. Brent, say hello.
Brent Knopf: Hey, everybody. We’re here with our dinner party soundtrack.
Bobby Charles – “Small Town Talk”
Matt Berninger: First song I’d like to pick is Bobby Charles, “Small Town Talk.” Bobby Charles is best known for, like, they call it “swamp pop.” He’s from Louisiana, and he co-wrote this song with Rich Danko from The Band. See, I did some research for this, Brent.
Brent Knopf: Mm-hmm, it shows.
Matt Berninger: There’s a lesson to be learned in this song. It’s just about gossip. And if you throw glass houses around, you might hit some stones, so watch out. In my opinion, [a] dinner party is like, you and a bunch of friends get together and just talk smack about the other friends that aren’t at the dinner party.
Brent Knopf: Matt, you talk about people behind their backs? Is that what you’re saying?
Matt Berninger: I… mostly nice things.
Brent Knopf: What do you say about me?
Matt Berninger: What do I say about you?
Brent Knopf: Yeah.
Matt Berninger: I don’t know. I can’t tell you.
Brent Knopf: If I had something to say to you, I’d say it to your face.
Matt Berninger: OK, great. Well, what do you have to say? What’s your song?
Harry Chapin – “Cat’s in the Cradle”
Brent Knopf: Well, rather than talk about other people, I think, you know, another good discussion item is family. And “fathers and sons” is a great topic to bring up. You think about the classic track by Cat Stevens called “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
Brent Knopf: And, it’s a…
Matt Berninger: Hmmm, OK.
Brent Knopf: …He– I don’t know if you know this, not many people know this…
Matt Berninger: Not sure you’re right about that, but go ahead. Take it away, Brent.
Brent Knopf: Cat Stevens went on a pilgrimage to Kathmandu.
Matt Berninger: Is this true?
Brent Knopf: It’s on his pilgrimage that he actually meets The Beatles.
Matt Berninger: Is this something you read somewhere, Brent?
Brent Knopf: It’s on Wikipedia. Look it up! And it was there that Cat Stevens asked George Harrison to play sitar. So you could hear some sitar on this track. So, this is… [Matt starts laughing] Why are you laughing?!?
Matt Berninger: [Still laughing] None of it’s true!
Can I just say, I don’t know if that’s a great song for this because, don’t you cry every time? All the men at the table are just going to start crying about their dads.
Brent Knopf: But I think that’s a beautiful thing.
Matt Berninger: Maybe. It could open up a lot of feelings in the house. But everything you said about that song, I’m pretty sure, is incorrect. For the record, Harry Chapin sings that song. And no, he didn’t play sitar with The Beatles. And he didn’t write all the songs that have “cat” in the title.
Brent Knopf: He wrote the musical “Cats.”
Matt Berninger: Uhhh… no, he didn’t.
EL VY – “Paul is Alive”
Matt Berninger: Let’s do our song now. I’d rather put our song right here, right in the middle of the dinner party. Mostly because I want people to hear it. And if the dinner party’s not going well, then everyone will leave before our song comes on, which happens all the time. So, let’s do “Paul is Alive.” Brent, why don’t you tell us about this one?
Brent Knopf: You know, whenever we get interviewed, people always ask me what the lyrics are about. And we don’t really talk about it because we only talk about each other behind each other’s backs, apparently. But, as far as I can tell, this one is about an alcoholic horse racer [Matt laughs] who almost drowns in the river outside Cincinnati.
Matt Berninger: Where are you getting the horse racer part?
Brent Knopf: It’s in the lyrics.
Matt Berninger: Oh, the Jockey Club. No, that’s a punk club, bro.
Brent Knopf: Yeah. I mean, don’t you think it’s limiting to constrain the meaning of a song to one definition?
Matt Berninger: Great, dude.
Brent Knopf: That’s what it means to me.
Matt Berninger: OK, great.
Brent Knopf: When I hear it. I mean…
Matt Berninger: Well done. I think that’s a really interesting interpretation. Interesting and totally wrong.
It’s a story about my parents and about growing up in Cincinnati. It’s not about a dead horse racer.
Brent Knopf: No, he’s alive. He almost drowns…
Matt Berninger: OK, nope. Next song.
The Sex-O-Rama Band – “Stiffed”
Matt Berninger: Let’s say at this point in the evening, it’s time for the party to be over. When I’m trying to get rid of friends, I like to play a song called “Stiffed” by the Sex-O-Rama Band.
Matt Berninger: Hear that? Feeling the vibe there? Everyone’s going to get instantly uncomfortable. Everyone would suddenly feel like, “What’s Matt trying to do here? This is weird. We should all leave now before it gets weird!” And next thing you know, everybody’s gone!
Brent Knopf: You sure this song wouldn’t make people want to stay…
Matt Berninger: You’re right.
Brent Knopf: …All night?
Matt Berninger: It could backfire. Be careful with this one. You’ve got to know your friends well.