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Interview: Local Natives

After releasing their debut album Gorilla Manor in 2009, Los Angeles’ progressive indie-folk band, Local Natives have been touring the world for the past three years and settled in the studio to write and produce their much anticipated second album, Hummingbird. Teaming up with The National’s Aaron Dessner who produced the record, Hummingbird continues the plot where Gorilla Manor ended but fills a darker tone to the Local Natives story. Extracting from personal experiences, including the departure of bassist, Andy Hamm in March 2011, the now four-piece injected the past three years in Hummingbird. We caught up with Matt Frazier (drums) and Kelcey Ayer (vocals, keyboards, percussion, guitar) to talk about the process of Hummingbird as a whole.

Local Natives have played quite a few shows in the UK now, how does the crowd over here treat you compared to others?
Matt Frazier: Really well. When we released our record over here first, it was just crazy. Ever since we did that in 2009 we felt like we got a lot of love from the UK especially, so it’s been great.

That’s really good! And you’ve got your new album coming out early 2013, that everyone is waiting for, and it’s been almost three years since your last release.
Kelcey Ayer: Yeah! It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long but when you look at the first album being released in 2009 here in November and now we’re releasing in 2013, it sounds like a long, long time. But we toured until [that record] was kind of done by the beginning of last year then found a place, wrote and recorded an album for a year, which seems about right because we didn’t want to rush anything.

MF: We definitely wanted to take our time and put out something we were happy with first.

You’ve named your last album after the place you recorded at, is the same case with this new album?
KA: No. Hummingbird is a lyric taken from ‘Columbia‘ [a track from the new album] and it represents something really personal to us and the record being a much more personal record than the last, it just felt like it fit to encompass the whole record. And also the nature of a hummingbird, I just feel like there’s this nature of fragility that they have, but also a resilience and strength that they’ll have to keep beating their wings so fast otherwise they’ll die. They have this very beautiful nature to them but they also have their hardships as well. It seems like this album to us rides that line where it’s got its emotion and it’s got its pain but it’s still through the lens of it, we’ve come out a stronger unit.

When I listened to Hummingbird it felt like a continued plot from where Gorilla Manor ended and it just seemed like a matured version of that. What experiences did you take from those three years in between both records?
KA: We knew we wanted to make a record that embraced more of a sense of keeping in mistakes and more human qualities to it, while trying to go in a more synthetic direction where we’re using more fake drums and more synths, but also not too committed down that alley. We also wanted to make a more expansive sound overall, and I think it helped from learning from the other one that we don’t have to put a harmony on every vocal, and you don’t have to put a percussion breakdown on every song. We really wanted to do things purposefully so I think that was the goal. And I think everyone was pretty happy with how that came out. But the last few years have been really great with things happening, and any band just wants to have people notice their music and that happened for us. We’re really lucky and grateful things have gone so well for us. It’s a dream come true to be playing around the world, and also personal tragedies – I had a death in the family and relationships that fell apart that really informed this album because it was definitely really tough to go through what life throws at you while on tour and working constantly. So all that is in the record.

How was the songwriting process for this record? I heard the last was very collaborative between everyone in the band, was it the same?
MF: It’s definitely the same. We definitely have the same mentality in the band. It’s just this crazy democracy and everyone writes, and has equal say. We operate under that umbrella still but going from a five-piece to playing as a four-piece kind of required us to shift the way we [play]. Even when we were writing it was definitely different, instead of learning how to play the song live in a room we relied a lot more on recording stuff so that was a new venture for us and we knew basics, and we’re still not that savvy when we come to it. But we’re still evolving and getting better. I think that’s part of what created the sound of the record, having to adapt in that way to play these songs in a different way than before.

Is it true that you built a new studio to record in?
KA: A studio is a strong word.

MF: Yeah, well, for the first record we all lived together but now we all live in separate places but in the same area. So we needed like a home base and after looking around quite a bit in the Silver Lake area, we ended up finding this weird little one-bedroom house that had been kind of abandoned and some friends of ours live on the same property but on the main house in this little one bedroom that’s been left for dead pretty much. After talking to the landlord, he was really supportive of the idea and the place was totally dilapidated, it had mould and grime inside of it. It was not livable at all so we had to put a lot of work into it to get it into a position where we could start soundproofing it and whatnot. We made it more like a practice space. It was not like a legitimate studio.

KA: A place where we could record on the fly and just try out general ideas.

MF: And just be there 24/7 if needs be. That’s all we really needed.

Is that how you’d prefer to work, just spending hours together exchanging ideas?
KA: Well Ryan, Taylor and I would write a song and bring it to the other several members and start there, then work it up so we’ll write just small versions or very bare versions on our own and bring it to everybody to fill in the gaps and make it into a collaborative thing.

That’s really cool. And The National’s Aaron Dessner produced Hummingbird, how was it working with him and how did it come together?
KA: He’s great. We just thought he’d be a perfect fit because he’s already been in a band for over ten years with The National dudes and he knows what it’s like being in a position having your art and your vision, and not everyone having to get it and then trying to mould it into this end-thing that everyone can be happy with. So, he really appealed to us because he’s had experience producing The National’s records and he just finished producing the Sharon Van Etten record and obviously knows how to do that but also a really great engineer and a really great songwriter that we respect so it seemed like he’d be good just as a collaborator.

As we said before, it’s been 3 years since the release of Gorilla Manor, do you feel anxious releasing Hummingbird after the storming success of your last record?
KA: It’s not even so much about that. It’s just wanting people to be into it and respond well to something we’re totally proud of, and you never know how people are going to take it, but whatever, we just want people to hear it.

You sound a bit anxious…
KA: I just want to show people so bad, and we have a plan and a set-up so it’s been kind of done since September so sitting on it is extremely hard. We really wanted to [release] it at the beginning of the year and have something fresh to kick off, and have a new year of touring and not rush it out at the end of this year.

Everyone’s really excited to hear the new record anyway! So you’re back to play a UK tour in February 2013, what can fans expect from the live show now that you’re a four-piece?
KA: Well we have a fifth guy touring with us so we’re filling in that gap and that’s what was hard about writing the record because we’re writing five-piece music as a four-piece so that’s why we had to rely on recording so heavily but it’ll be pretty similar, there’s definitely more electronics on stage and more samples.

MF: But not a ridiculous amount! Just subtle add-ons. But we’re playing a lot of new stuff and we’ve done a couple of shows in the past month of two, and we probably play 75% new songs actually because we’re just trying them out and we want people to hear them. It’s good practice for us but there’ll be a lot of that.

What will you guys miss most from home whilst you’re on the epic 2013 tour?
MF: Loved ones.

KA: I’ll miss my wife! I’ll miss Mexican food, really badly because we all live off Mexican food and you don’t really have that anywhere else, especially not in Europe. We’re eating like… steak and ale pies. There’s nowhere you’re going to find a burrito. I’ve found a few places that I haven’t been too hot on but I’ve been finding new places.

MF: Our sound guy lives in London and tells us there’s some stuff coming… I don’t know. We’re all just excited to get back on the road and we’ve been at home for a while, and we just love playing live and touring so we’re all just really excited about it.

KA: Just excited to play in front of people who will know the record. They’ll have had a chance to hear it and be familiar with it and hear the songs live. I can’t wait for that because right now it’s great to debut the songs but people don’t really know them so they’re politely checking them out, but I can’t wait for them to know it.

- Jojo Khor

NB: An abridged version of Jojo’s interview with Local Natives appears in Notion 062.

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