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The National’s Aaron Dessner Talks ‘Crazy Instant Chemistry’ Working With Taylor Swift on ‘Folklore’

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, on a desert island with patchy Internet connection, you’ll know Taylor Swift just released a new album, Folklore.

The National’s Aaron Dessner had a big hand in Swift’s surprise release, which was shaped in isolation and features a collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on the track “Exile.”

Speaking with Zane Lowe on Apple Music, Dessner explained how the album, accompanied by haunting, black and white images, was sonically shaped by the lockdown.

Dessner produced the record and co-wrote 11 of its tracks, much it remotely communicated. If Taylor “had a strong idea for a song,” he explains, “she would have a very specific template or roadmap in mind for the structure of it.”

There was little wastage on this project. Swift and Dessner were “very focused,” on the task at hand. “It was months of work and it ended up being really a ton of work, but I think it was possible because of this weird outbreak that was happening.”

Now that he’s able to step back and survey their efforts, Dessner reflects, “it feels very intimate.” The subject matter and “how her voice sounds is very raw and on the surface and kind of full frequency and just beautiful.”

To be sure, Swift reached out to Dessner, he explains. They were mutual fans, and swiftly got to work on some ideas. From early on, some “crazy instant chemistry” inspired the process.

Taylor’s “really just one of the most hardworking, sharp, focused, talented people I’ve ever encountered. So like when she had an idea, it was kind of magic and came very quickly.”

Dessner also discussed working with his brother Bryce on the album, and Vernon (“he’s a very generous, community-oriented person”), and keeping everyone else out of the loop, including the rocker’s eight-year-old daughter.

The end result, notes Dessner, is something tangible. “I think a lot of times, when you make an album and it’s very produced, some of that stuff gets ironed out,” he explains. “We were both paying a lot of attention to that, just trying to keep… This is also, it’s complete. It’s finished. It feels produced, but I think it will feel fairly organic or raw compared to past things.”

Swift’s eighth album Folklore comes with a lyric video for each and every song on the album, 16 in total. There’s one more to come with “The Lakes,” which doesn’t appear on streaming platforms but will feature on physical versions of the set, which is available on CD, cassette and vinyl.

Stream Dessner’s interview with Lowe here.

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