Don't Swallow the Cap

Album: Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

Songfacts®:

  • Following a 22-month tour to promote The National's previous record, High Violet, guitarist Aaron Dessner returned home to Brooklyn, where the fitfulness of his newborn left him punch drunk with sleeplessness. Exhausted, he would shuffle into the band's studio, which is located in his backyard, and amuse himself writing musical fragments that he then sent over to vocalist Matt Berninger. Recalled Berninger of his bandmate, "He'd be so tired while he was playing his guitar and working on ideas that he wouldn't intellectualize anything. In the past, he and Aaron's twin brother, Bryce would be reluctant to send me things that weren't in their opinion musically interesting, which I respected, but often those would be hard for me to connect to emotionally. This time around, they sent me sketch after sketch that immediately got me on a visceral level."
  • This song finds an insomniac Berninger singing about dying but fearful about leaving his loved ones behind. The title may be a reference to playwright Tennessee Williams, who choked to death on the cap from a bottle of eye drops he frequently used.
  • This was released to American radio on April 22, 2013 and to European radio on May 13, 2013. It reached #52 on the on the Belgian Flanders singles chart.
  • The song features Sharon Van Etten's warm vocal harmonies. Her 2012 Tramp album was produced by Aaron Desner.
  • In an interview with Under The Radar, Matt Berninger spoke about the title, saying: "It's funny, because people have assumed things about that. One person thought it was 'Don't Swallow the Cat,' and they thought it was an Alice in Wonderland reference. Some people thought it was a druggy reference. And some people have interpreted it as 'don't swallow the cap on a mushroom,' like LSD. I honestly don't know. It sounded good. Some people think I was referencing Tennessee Williams, because there's something about how he died drinking a cap of something. I'm not sure. It might be because I have a 4-year-old, and they're always sticking things in their mouths, like the cap on toothpaste. I don't actually know what that title is about. I was just singing along and free associating with the ways words sounded, and weird little phrases ended up in there, and you don't know where it comes from. You forget, and it evolves into other meanings.

    I mean, R.E.M. - Michael Stipe also wrote lyrics because they sounded good, just these weird, mumbly lyrics. It was more about how they sounded than having some sort of message in the lyrics. I always loved R.E.M. for that, because listening to it, you could almost make it about yourself. I could interpret it in ways that pulled me into their music. It wasn't like I was being told a message or told a story. It sucked me into it because it was so blurry, and I could make their songs about whatever I was dealing with. Maybe I do a bit of that." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France

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