‘The National has a team that knows what they want and appreciates the little things from us’
UK - Cincinnati alt-rockers, The National, use Skan PA Hire for arena-scale audio solutions with a boutique approach, deploying a d&b KSL PA system, and Avid Venue S6L consoles with E6L 192 Engines at both ends.
“The first time we worked with Skan, I immediately thought, ‘This is the way an audio company should operate,’” says production manager and monitor engineer, Stu Tenold.
“Every package I've received from Skan is built for the artist I’m with. There's real attention to detail in what they do. Now being part of Clair Global, I can see what director Chris Fitch can offer; there's a lot more resources at his fingertips. But, for those who know, Skan is a boutique PA company, and they provide a very specific service.”
The band - vocalist Matt Berninger, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner (piano, guitar, keys), and brothers Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums) - favour a certain degree of controlled chaos when it comes to their live mixes, and with up to nine musicians on stage, Tenold doesn’t sit back.
He mixes on an Avid Venue S6L 32D with E6L 192 Engine, as does FOH engineer Adam Armstrong.
Tenold continues: “The band often has musical guests that I’ll find out about during changeover… they’re a little punk rock at heart! It requires a lot of thinking on my feet and acting as quickly as possible to accomplish whatever needs to happen. I have 16 mixes of Shure PSM 1000 IEMs, and I often use them all.”
To deal with this unpredictable influx of fun, all comms are integrated with shout mics between front of house and monitors, with talkback mics for the techs.
At FOH, Armstrong has been settled with the band since 2017 - the first two years as a tech - and now delivers their two decades’ worth of material, from the high energy dynamics to the quieter, more emotional moments, through his Avid S6L.
He says: “I try to take the audience on a journey and ride through the ups and downs of what the band is performing; this show can go from being very loud to having very quiet moments.
“I’ve been mixing on Avid consoles for quite a long time now, and I don't have a huge amount of outboard gear, it's just one rack, but it is all integrated and works seamlessly and consistently everyday thanks to Skan.”
Frontman Matt Berninger uses a 150ft wired microphone to walk right into the audience. A challenge for Armstrong, but one that has become a part of the show.
He explains: “I think it connects the audience to the performance. People are passing the cable over the crowd and helping the bit to happen. It's always a great moment that the fans enjoy.”
The band and crew hadn't toured with a PA since before the pandemic, so when the opportunity arose, Armstrong opted for the d&b audiotechnik KSL Series.
He continues: “I really like the KSL; you get a consistent show from venue to venue with this system, so using it makes my job a lot easier. Whenever I get to tour with a PA, I can focus more on the elements of my mix, and less on what the venue might throw at me.”
For UK arenas, the set-up consists of KSL for the main and side hangs with V Series rear hangs/delays for the wider rooms, perfectly complemented by d&b’s cardioid SL-Sub subwoofers, and Y10P for front-fills. The system is powered by d40 and d80 amplifiers and driven by Lab.gruppen LM 44s with Lake Controller.
Armstrong has the luxury of Skan systems designer and engineer, Scott Essen, to deal with real-time and phase alignment on this run.
“Adam and I had a good chat about everything before the first show, so we could work off each other's wavelengths. He's very clued-up, so he knows how the d&b system works, and what he wants to get out of it,” Essen explains.
The band is playing from a huge body of work (80 songs in rotation thanks to two album releases this year) which drove the NME’s five-star review to declare: “Only The National have the consistency of catalogue and the sheer musicianship to deliver such a marathon showcase of pure class.”
And to help deliver it, Essen has one overriding mission: “As always, my main priority with any system is to establish even coverage for every fan in the room. Each venue offers a different space, with different drapes, different layouts etc, so I ensure that we have everything right, especially when it comes to the subs because [frontman] Matt likes to crawl around them. He’s very active.
“The National has a team that knows what they want and appreciates the little things from us. The compatibility of a vendor and their client is important to us all,” he adds.
Armstrong echoes this: “Skan are accommodating, I brought a little rack with me, and they left the perfect little spot for it in their gear, because they knew it was coming. Now I don't have to set it up every single day.”
The wider Skan crew comprises account executive, Chris Fitch, tour prep from Alvin Russ and Nick Ellins-Stagg, and tour support and prep by Tom Tunney. On the road, PA technician Maria Head, FOH technician and crew chief Adam Dickson and monitor technician Eluned Ashwood look after the team.
As a production manager, Tenold puts part of his touring success with The National down to working with Skan and knowing that the team has his back.
“Because I'm constantly going back and forth between my two roles, knowing Skan is going to get my audio set-up right for me is invaluable,” he says. “I can walk up to my desk at showtime, and everything is ready to go. It's that peace of mind that even allows me to juggle both jobs. If I couldn’t use Skan, I honestly think that it would be a dealbreaker. In fact, I wouldn't even want to try.”

Latest Issue. . .