Interview: Local Natives

Interview with Local Natives

Local Natives


LA’s Local Natives are back with Hummingbird, the follow-up to their acclaimed debut, Gorilla Manor. We went to The National’s ATP Festival at Camber Sands to quiz band members Kelcey and Matt about the new record.

Questions and answers

Hi guys, how’s it going?

Kelcey Ayer: Good! We just did six small shows to preview the new material, and tomorrow’s the last show of our little run. It’s so funny though, because we go out there so excited about the new stuff, and everybody is but they’re visibly more excited about the old stuff. So it can be hard to read the energy level, but y’know that’s how it is. I just can’t wait for the record to be out because then everyone will be on the same page.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at ATP this weekend?

Matt Frazier: Wild Beasts. When we saw them in LA, they played ‘End Come Too Soon’ last, and they drew it out even more than they do on the record. It was awesome.

If you were curating ATP, who would be on the bill?

MF: I would have Tame Impala.

KA: Yeah, and Wild Beasts for sure. I would love to have James Blake or Frank Ocean. And then you’ve got to keep it eclectic. I mean, if we could get Portishead, that would be f*cking amazing. But this is our dream world, right? So we’d have Radiohead, maybe Atoms For Peace actually. I got to see them at Coachella 2010, and it was so, so awesome. That’s a really exciting combination of really great people.

I mean, it’s just so overwhelming: we only have five minutes to decide! (Laughs) Weezer? Sh*t, no! Quick, take it back! (Laughs) LCD Soundsystem, would be awesome, and Arcade Fire and The National...

So you’ve had a line-up change since the last record, haven’t you?

KA: Just kind of an adjustment. We parted ways with our bass player, Andy, last year.

But you write collaboratively, don’t you? What impact did his leaving have?

KA: Well, he wasn’t our main songwriter, but when we wrote the first album, it was five people in a room together, figuring out everything live, with a lot of organic, “plug-in and play” tones. With this record, we were kind of still in a five-piece state of mind but because there were four of us, we relied a lot more on recording stuff, seeing how that sounded and worrying about the live aspect later. It took us out of our comfort zone, and I think everyone really enjoyed it.

MF: And we’re touring with a fifth member, just because we still need that extra member for the old songs.

We heard that Aaron Dessner produced the album. How did that come about?

KA: We did some shows with The National towards the end of last year. He was a fan of the first record, and was asking what we were gonna do next, and we joked around maybe working together. And then when it came time to really lock something down, we sent him the demos, asked if he was serious and the timing worked out.

I think he’s great for so many reasons. He writes most of The National’s material, and he’s been producing music for years, so he can fill in a producer role and an engineer role really well. But then also he understands the band dynamic, and knows when to push and when to pull back, and that’s what we wanted most of all: someone who could wear many hats. He’s just an amazing collaborator.

Did you have any specific goals for this record, sonically?

MF: It was mainly more of a generic “We don’t want to do the same thing twice” kinda thing. We wanted to push ourselves to make something not completely organically – trying out synthetic instruments and things like that.

KA: Sonically, it is more expansive than Gorilla Manor, and that’s pretty much what we wanted. I feel like we’ve grown and matured so much over the past couple of years, just from touring constantly and having a very fast-paced lifestyle. I think it manifested itself into making a record with more purposeful parts.

You’ve been quoted as saying that, in the period after Gorilla Manor, you experienced “the highest highs and the lowest lows”...

MF: Yeah. Once the first record came out, we started seeing more and more success, touring constantly, playing bigger and bigger shows, with amazing bands, at amazing festivals – it was like this wild dream come true. We had the honour of playing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s this really prestigious thing, and we never in a million years thought that on our first record we’d be able to play there, with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra behind us.

So there were all these amazing moments but afterwards some really difficult times came around. Parting with Andy was very difficult, and the loss of family members...

KA: Yeah, I had a death in the family last year, so I had to go through that. And it can be hard maintaining relationships, what with being on the road all the time. Honestly, they were some of the hardest times we’ve ever been through in our lives, and I think we used all of them to write this record. It definitely felt cathartic. And now we’re just proud of the songs and now that catharsis is able to happen every night on stage when we play the songs.

What’s the significance of the album title?

KA: Hummingbird is from a lyric in ‘Colombia’. It symbolises something really personal to us, and we thought it would be fitting, because with this time round we dug a little deeper to make a more personal record. And there’s this dichotomy to hummingbirds: they are very fragile and beautiful, but there’s a very powerful imagery to them. It just felt right.

Which track on the album are you proudest of?

KA: I’m very proud of ‘You & I’. I had the chord progression on piano for a long, long time, and we were trying to write beats for it but nothing worked. I mean, we had this five-week writing period at the end of 2011, where we wrote seven songs, but it wasn’t as fruitful as when we came back at the beginning of this year.

Ryan and I were in the studio and I stopped playing [the chord progression] on the piano, and played it on the Prophet – which is like this drone-y thing – and then Ryan wrote the beat for it with the pads, and it ignited this really productive three months where we wrote most of the rest of the record. So that was a really great moment.

What’s been your favourite album of 2012?

MF: Tame Impala. You know they spent a lot of time on it, but it feels effortless.

KA: I would probably say Frank Ocean. And it’s funny because I don’t normally listen to a lot of music like that, but it’s just so ahead of its time. Because there are so many tired ways of looking at club life, and women, and relationships – that you hear in normal R&B – and his take on it is so much more unique. This guy’s, like, 24 and this is his debut album? He’s a genius.

So what’s the plan for 2013?

MF: The record comes out at the end of January, and when it comes out we’ll be playing a couple of LA shows, a couple of New York shows, and then right after that we come back over here and start a pretty extensive European tour, which goes straight into a US tour. So we’re pretty much touring, full-on for the next 18 months to two years.

KA: But I’m really excited for touring this round because I think the band is better than ever: because of all the things we went through, it feels like the four of us are stronger, and happier, and more together than ever. We’re proud of this record, and we’re excited to see how people react to it.