Southern California’s Local Natives are playing Amoeba Hollywood Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. Prior to that, and the release of their much-anticipated second album, Hummingbird, that same day, I caught up with lead singer Kelcey Ayer about the band’s development, the nearly four-year break between their albums and what went into creating the band’s new album.
PST: Some bands force a second record out quickly, while you guys have seemed to take your time, refining and changing your sound over the past couple of years. Did you aim to take your time with this record, or was that a byproduct of touring or other priorities and obligations?
Ayer: It’s kind of both actually. People think we took all this time off, but we practically didn’t take any. We toured all of 2009 and 2010, and planned to start writing at the beginning of 2011, but then these offers came in that we just couldn’t say no to (opening for Arcade Fire, playing the Walt Disney Concert Hall with an orchestra, traveling and playing throughout Mexico, etc.). We finally locked down our own rehearsal/recording space together that summer, but diving into writing got postponed yet again because of a death in my family. From there we spent a year writing and making the record, and by the time it was finished last September, we decided it would be better to release it the beginning of this year. But none of that bothered us since we’d always told ourselves that we wouldn’t rush things. We thought if there was any way to avoid the sophomore slump, it would be by taking our time and not giving ourselves that unneeded pressure. We figured that it doesn’t matter when a record comes out if it’s not your best effort.
PST: You guys have seemed to consistently evolve, from your early days through the first record and now Hummingbird. Is that something important to you, to change pretty dramatically with each record?
Ayer: Well we’ve only made two albums so far, and I don’t really think I can say what someone else feels is a dramatic evolution, but we do definitely respect artists who try to move in a different direction. We figure that there’s no reason to do something you’ve already done, and even though that can have it growing pains with your audience, in the end I think it makes for a much more interesting catalogue.
PST: Have you played much of the new material live yet? What has fan response been like to the new material, both live and recorded, thus far?
Ayer: We did about ten small shows around the U.S. and Europe towards the end of last year, and we played almost all of the new album with a couple of old songs thrown in. I know we were asking a lot of our fans by playing mostly new songs, but they were really amazing in giving us their attention and enthusiasm, so that reception felt wonderful.
PST: Early reviews have said the record is darker than the previous. Maybe it’s the season, but I’d agree, from what I’ve heard. Gorilla Manor was kind of a summery record, perhaps this one is more wintry. Do you think that’s true? If so, what do you attribute that to – getting older, touring, all of the above?
Ayer: We definitely didn’t set out to make a darker record, but we always write about how we feel and the experiences we go through, and the last few years just had a lot of heartbreak. Some of the guys went through heavy relationship issues, some had strange health problems, parting ways with [bassist] Andy [Hamm] was awful, and I had a death in the family. We’ve always tried to be honest and truthful with our music and not force anything, so the record is simply a window into what we’ve been through recently and where we wanted to go with that musically. And getting older definitely had a lot to do with all of that.
PST: I know at least some of you were raised in OC and now call Silverlake home. Do you feel the expectation to rep. So. Cal., especially globally? Does that ever feel limiting?
Ayer: We love to say that we’re from LA, and I think that stems from a sort of underdog pride we feel from making music here. In the past everyone has seemed to be much more infatuated with or give a lot more credit to other scenes for music (Brooklyn, the Northwest, etc). But I’ve got to admit, I think the tides are turning. Everyday I hear of more and more artists moving to LA, and LA-based artists getting recognition for what they’re doing, and that is a really good feeling being an artist from here. Still, LA will never get the rep NYC is going to get, but I’m fine with that. I don’t want everyone moving here! As far as representing where you’re from feeling limiting, I think you limit yourself as much you choose to. I love saying where we’re from, but I would never let that get in between what I want our songs to sound like, or what I want to write about.
|Local Natives live at Amoeba San Francisco, Sept. 21, 2010|
PST: How did [producer, and member of The National] Aaron Dessner contribute to the sound of the new record? I feel like I hear a kinship to The National in “Heavy Feet,” for instance.
Ayer: It’s funny, sometimes I wonder if people will think it’s a darker record because of Aaron, but he was the one trying to make it happier! His contributions we’re much more from an engineer perspective, helping us with really classy guitar tones, and then helping us overall man the ship. He was such an amazing help because he would have one foot in on the creative process, and then one foot out to give us perspective. We tend to overthink things to a ridiculous degree, but he was great at holding us back from being self-destructive. He also inspired a sense of spontaneity that we never had before. A lot of little things ended up on the record that weren’t labored over, he just pressed record and we tried something on the fly. We never realized we’d be able to write good stuff that way.
PST: When was the new album written — over the past four years pretty evenly, more recently? How long did it take you to record?
Ayer: We’ve all had riffs and little things laying around that built up in numbers while touring for Gorilla Manor, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2011 when we could really dive into them and start writing actual songs. From there we took about around nine months of demoing in our practice space in Silverlake before we moved to Montreal and Brooklyn to actually record. That took us around four months from start to finish. It’s think it’s pretty interesting how I view the time we’ve spent in between this record and the last one, because I know all the work we’ve put in and how little time I’ve had to relax with friends or loved ones, but to everyone else it seems like they think we took a break? We took our time, but we definitely weren’t sitting around drinking margaritas on the beach. We’re still working hard to get to that point.
PST: Did you look to any particular records as signposts when looking for the sound of this record?
Ayer: Not really, since we all contribute to the writing and it’s hard enough to agree on parts and songs, let alone one or two records to influence our own. I think we like that about our process, because that combination of influences I think leads to something that we could never create without each other. I like that I don’t know how a record is going to end up. Through all the frustration and long hours, that seems to be the most exciting part about it.