Three Great Things: Bryan Devendorf

The National drummer and Royal Green mastermind talks swimming and the greatest band of all time.

1. Crock Pot Cooking

I had a tough time making selections, so I just went with everyday stuff. I’m not making anything too fancy in my crock pot. I choose a protein, typically chicken thighs, and then simmer over the course of several hours. I just put in any liquid, typically a low-sodium chicken broth, then you’re just free to do whatever. I’m cooking for children mainly, so nothing too crazy, but anything from the enchilada world to teriyaki… I pretty much freestyle now, just because I don’t always have the right ingredients. I’ll use recipes as a launching point. It fills the house with a pleasant aroma throughout the day. It’s something my mom did, so I’m kind of carrying on that comfort food tradition. We’ve got three kids ranging from 6 to 9. One of them tends to sort of boycott everything I make, but the other two find it very tasty. For the boycotter, I can do a Midwestern quesadilla. He’s gotten into monterey-jack, it used to be strictly American. Baby steps. I haven’t had any Crock Pot disasters. There’ve been times I thought it was a total failure and then my little girl will taste it and say, “It’s delicious!” Sometimes I’ll overcook or underseason, but they’re mostly easy to please. 

2. The Grateful Dead

I don’t know if you’re familiar with this quote, but Jerry Garcia, his description of the band is that they’re “like black licorice. Most people don’t like it, but those that do like it a lot.” My earliest experiences, growing up here in the Midwest, in Cincinnati, the Grateful Dead were this bastion for cool-kid soccer players. I didn’t really get into it because of that. I was more listening to stuff my older brother had; he had a record collection that was very ‘80s punk-rock stuff, like Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Naked Raygun, The Cramps, JFA, on and on. Skate rock, really. I don’t know what triggered the Grateful Dead for me exactly. I think it was this live recording called One From The Vault, where Bill Graham, their buddy and promoter, introduces the band, and it sounds really cool. From there, I just sought out the live recordings and finally made some friends who had tapes. I just kind of got lost in all the music, because there’s a lot of it. This was sometime around when I started driving, 15 or 16.

If I’m in the car now, I’ll definitely have the Dead on, but I don’t drive that much. I’m so lame, I listen to a lot of music on YouTube, so there’s shows I’ll listen to on YouTube, particularly this one from December 26, 1979, which is a really smokin’ show. It’s tight. Obviously not every show was great, there are moments when things fall apart and risks are taken. But this show is really crisp sounding. Everything’s fast and tight, and the band is just having a really great night for some reason. I could go deeper into trivial matters, but it was just a really hot show. But 12-26-79 was the first time they’d played a big song of theirs called “Uncle John’s Band” in a few years, and it just electrified the whole second set. They famously would just fade into song after song after song, and there’s a particular run on this show where they go from “Uncle John’s” into “He’s Gone” into “Estimated Prophet” — just great songs played exquisitely. In that era, they didn’t have that stadium sound. Everything still sounded warm and tight. From ‘79 into the early ‘80s is a particularly awesome period. I don’t know if they were using set lists, I should know this. I think they were kind of cooked up on the spot, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe they had songs they knew they were going to start and end with. They would typically alternate, since they had two main singers, Bob and Jerry. I think they just kind of figured it out from the stage. They wouldn’t do the same song on consecutive nights, so they had some kind of system. 

I don’t think there’s the same sense of collecting shows with The National. I do know that fans have contacted the band and mentioned a specific show that was meaningful to them, sometimes for a heartwrenching reason, like someone has passed away. But we’re not the Grateful Dead. There’s only one.

3. Swimming/Aquatics

I say “aquatics” so I can include kayaking, or any sort of boat travel, or multi-part spa experiences where you can shower, soak, bake yourself in a sauna. There’s a man-made lake out in the rural districts where I can go do this kind of stuff. Sometimes in the backyard I’ll set up the sprinkler for the kids. We definitely don’t go to the Ohio River, that’s not the place to swim. I used to go to the sports club pool inside, but I’ve stopped doing that.

When we tour, there’s always a swimming trip. There’s other members of the touring party and we’ll get into a van or walk. I’ve been in so many different bodies of water. In the Indian Ocean we went in boat once and swam with seals and went to this island that you can’t go on — you can only look at it—and it’s only inhabited by snakes and birds, and the snakes are all blind because the birds peck their eyes out because the snakes are trying to steal the birds’ eggs. And the water is turquoise and you’re swimming out there with manta rays and probably sharks nearby.

We’ve been to the Adriatic Sea, the Mediterranean. I’ve never swam in the Channel, but I have swam in the body of water — I don’t know what it’s called — between Sweden and Denmark. That’s probably the coldest swim I’ve done. In South America, in Rio, we’ve done that. The waves there are monstrous. I could go on and on. It’s such a fun thing to do.

It just happens on tour. We have a good tour manager who has options, and swimming is often one of them if it’s a summer tour. One summer at a festival in Germany, there was water that was related to this nuclear power plant—it was safe, it wasn’t radioactive! — like an emergency reservoir or something. That was a fun dip. I guess my most recent thing was Lake Michigan, up in northern Michigan on vacation, a little place called Sleeping Bear Bay. It’s like 68 degrees, pretty cold, it almost stops your heart when you get in.

I’ve only been to Hawaii for a couple days, for a show, and swam on Waikiki Beach. I know on the other islands there are waterfalls with a swimming hole at the bottom, you know what I’m talking about? I’d like the experience that kind of thing, in Hawaii or Costa Rica. I’ve never done a proper waterfall swim.  

(Photo Credit: Keith Klenowski)

Bryan Devendorf, founding member and drummer for The National, recently released a self-titled album under the name Royal Green. Royal Green was co-produced with Nate Martinez and recorded in Brooklyn, NY. The eight-song album features original songs as well as some surprising covers. It includes the single “Breaking The River,” a breezy jam that features additional guitar from The National’s Aaron Dessner, and some groovy bass playing from Bob Weir Campfire Band bandmate, Josh Kaufman.