Sundance 2021 Composer Spotlight: Aaron Dessner
Maybe it’s because he’s a twin, but Aaron Dessner says he feels like he was born to collaborate. “My brother Bryce and I grew up sharing a room and playing music at the same time, so it’s always been natural for me to develop ideas with other people.”
Dessner is a New York-based musician, composer and producer, best known for his work in Grammy Award-winning alternative band The National, whose albums he has co-written and co-produced since the group’s inception in 1999. He began producing outside projects almost a decade ago, developing his own distinctive sound and approach, and an ability to connect with artists from disparate genres, whether it’s Sharon Van Etten’s breakthrough album Tramp, the delicate craftsmanship of Irish artist Lisa Hannigan, or the haunting gothic blues of up-and-coming singer-songwriter Adia Victoria.
His studio, Long Pond, near Hudson, New York, has become a creative oasis for Dessner and his collaborators -- a place where the beauty of the woods and the water makes it easy to get lost in the moment. “The best music happens when you aren’t overthinking or putting too much pressure on yourself,” he says. “What is most rewarding for me now is to write music and share it with other musicians, to see what strange alchemy happens when someone else adds their own voice, emotion and ideas into it. I think every idea is worth chasing, and every experiment is worthwhile. Sometimes what seems like a discardable fragment is actually the seed of a great song.”
Dessner also collaborates with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on their collaborative project Big Red Machine, and co-founded international music festivals including the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival in Wisconsin, Boston Calling, and The National’s own Homecoming festival in Cincinnati. Along with Bryce, Vernon and a community of musicians and creatives, he launched the 37d03d (PEOPLE) collective in 2016. 37d03d produces multi-artist events and operates an independent record label, all with the goal of supporting and encouraging spontaneous collaboration.