Our 2021 Annual Report continues with the announcement of Aaron and Bryce Dessner as our Composers of the Year. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.
There are collaborators, and then there are the Dessner brothers. Twins Aaron and Bryce are known largely for their work in The National, where the two serve largely as musical leaders. But their individual resumés are loaded with other co-workers, including Taylor Swift, Big Red Machine with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and the folks who get involved when they pen concertos and film scores. The siblings always seem to be working with someone, and especially with each other.
Despite being apart for a year and a half during the pandemic, that level of collaboration didn’t just continue; it expanded. The Dessners remotely wrote music for a trio of films over the last two years: Joe Wright’s Cyrano, Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon, and Clint Bentley’s Jockey. Thankfully, this wasn’t entirely uncharted territory.
“I think we’ve benefitted in a very significant way in just the simple DNA of The National,” explains Aaron, “in just how we never really work in a room together.”
Then there’s their relationship with the projects and filmmakers themselves. Screenwriter Erica Schmidt adapted Cyrano from her own stage musical, for which the Dessners wrote the arrangements and their National bandmate Matt Berninger wrote the lyrics alongside his wife/collaborator, Carin Besser. (The star happens to be Schmidt’s husband, Peter Dinklage, so the family lines run deep in this one.)
C’mon C’mon, meanwhile, is a passion project of Mills’ that began back when he was working with The National on their I Am Easy to Find short film and album.
“I think that we were really drawn to filmmakers and visual artists,” says Bryce. “The way they think formally is really interesting for us as musicians, whether they’re seeing the bigger lines of things or taking a different emotional response.”