For our music feature this week, we spoke with acclaimed L.A. indie rockers Local Natives about their much-anticipated new album Hummingbird, out next week. Ascending from relative obscurity in Orange County to opening for Arcade Fire on tour in 2011, Local Natives helped breathe new life into the Silver Lake music scene with their debut album Gorilla Manor.
We caught up with the band at Food+Lab for our initial interview in December and again in January, at lead singer Kelcey Ayer's apartment. The members gabbed openly about everything, from their roots dating back to junior high to recording their new album in Brooklyn last year with Aaron Dessner of The National. Here are some outtakes that didn't make the story.
On the departure of bass player Andy Hamm:
Taylor Rice: We definitely don't want to misconstrue it or focus on it too much, but the bottom line was we grew apart personally and it just wasn't working out anymore. And I think that, while it was difficult at the time, it's definitely better for everyone involved and we feel super solid together, like better than we ever have before.
On the darker sounds that influenced their new album:
Ryan Hahn: On the first record, I think a lot of us were listening to '60s folk bands, but this time around, I know we were all kind of coming from different directions. David Bowie is one of my favorite artists of all time, but I remember around the time of the first record, I wouldn't touch any of his stuff from the later '70s or '80s. But now, I'm loving all that stuff he did in Berlin and even all the glossy stuff from the '80s. For me, I think The Smiths and New Order were big too, just for different guitar tones.
Kelcey Ayer: I think it was maybe a result of stuff in our personal lives and our tastes. We didn't plan on writing a darker record, but that's kind of just what happened. I was really getting into Third from Portishead. I know everyone loves those first two albums, but that one really connected with me. That type of really dark, sad sound, I had just never heard anybody do something like that before.
On the decision to cut back on vocal harmonies:
Hahn: I think on some of the songs where [Kelcey] just sings by himself, the subject matter he's singing about on “Colombia” or “Three Months,” it's more direct and more personal and intimate. So throwing another vocalist almost diluted it or took away from it. We really only wanted to include harmonies where they were effective or interesting in a way.
On their group trip to the Integratron, the “the rejuvenation machine” near Joshua Tree:
Rice: There's all this lore about how the guy that built it, like aliens told him how to build it and it's a portal to other dimensions.
Hahn: You get it for like 45 minutes I think, and this guy's playing his glass bowls or whatever and there's all sorts of frequencies. You lay down and we all fell asleep, but when I woke up we'd been there for almost two hours. And the guy was gone when we woke up, but we went right before sunset and when we woke up it was dark outside. It was weird.
Rice: It was awesome. It's relaxing in a way that you can lose sense of your body and everything because the acoustics in there are such that, from anywhere in the room it sounds like it's all around your head.
On living in Orange County and the decision to move to LA:
Rice: Living in Orange was actually amazing because we had this huge century-old avocado warehouse and it was massive and super cheap. We were also really secluded and I think that was good for us. I think that was really when we came together as a band and found our sound, even though we had been playing together for so long.
That, for us, was just this pivotal turning point and I think everything really coalesced. And once we were done, it was very obvious. We were going up to L.A. all the time anyways to see shows and meeting friends and we were playing shows and everything. It was just the obvious place to go to be at a musical epicenter, and by then we were ready because we had our album together.
On sleeping on a random cook's floor after playing a show for three people:
Rice: So we go to his house. We're spread out all over the floor. The guy takes this like six pack of tall boy PBRs, goes to his window and puts on a book on tape murder mystery and he just sits there cracking 'em and drinking 'em all night. And we're like trying to sleep on a hardwood floor and he got up one time to go to the bathroom and I was like I don't care if this guy murders me, I'm going to do it. I got up and I turned off the record player and got back in bed. So we slept for like two hours.
Ayer: His roommate got back towards the end of the night and was like, “Who the fuck are these people? What's going on?” So he had to kind of diffuse the situation. It was brutal.
On feeling connected to Silver Lake:
Rice: We've been lucky to spend a lot of time in other cities, but this is home and we feel that very solidly. We just feel very connected to this community. We have tons of friends in bands here and we've lived here for so long now. It's where we got our start. We moved here literally to try and make it happen and it just totally embraced us. We had the Silverlake Lounge residency and the Spaceland residency and those were both so huge for us getting our start and coming up, so we feel very connected to it.
On working with Aaron Dessner from The National, who produced their new album:
Rice: It was just kind of a no-brainer because he's more of a guy we know from tour, and he's a songwriter and we get along with him and respect him on that level. He understands band dynamics so well, because every band has their own crazy dynamic, so he was really good at being a producer that was very just hands-off. He knew how we were because he's exactly the same way, so it was really great.
Ayer: It was really comfy and it was really cool having new blood in the creative process.
Rice: He totally became like the fifth ghost member for that time period.
Ayer: It was cool because he was like our fifth member, but then he could also be that person observing things from the outside to give us some perspective during those times when we were banging our heads against the wall. He was really good about helping us not over-think things and being a little bit more spontaneous with recording.
On the tone and subject matter of the lyrics on Hummingbird:
Rice: On the first album, almost every song is about something specific and personal, but I just think that the subject matter is very different. They're both personal albums, but this album is more personal because of what these songs are about and what they mean to us. I'm speaking very generally, but as a whole it feels more personal and more important personally. And also, I think the other factor is us all growing as writers. I know I'm super proud of the growth that Ryan and Kelcey have made as songwriters and lyricists, and I think we were able to be more direct on this album, just from growing up and developing as musicians.
Ayer: The album is just completely about where we've been since the first one and we've just grown a lot. I don't think it was so intentional to sound more mature or more grown up, but that's just where we are.