After hearing just one song — “Wide Eyes,” the opening track off Local Natives’ debut album, Gorilla Manor — I was convinced that the band was the best thing to happen to the Los Angeles music community in years because they had that invaluable quality that every other act strives to achieve: they were something different. I was consumed by the unique vocal arrangement and harmonies and beyond impressed with songwriting. To say that the band’s sophomore album, 2013′s Hummingbird, was highly anticipated is a gross understatement.
About to embark on a US tour, the band’s own Taylor Rice was kind enough to take some time to talk to me about Local Natives’ experiences, history, and, of course, newest album.
Gorilla Manor was a really big breakout record for you guys. How did you approach Hummingbird given the knowledge that you gained from your first album and experiences you had from touring in support of it?
I think we wanted to throw out any sort of preconceptions or rulebooks from before, so our process was actually a little different from what we had done with Gorilla Manor. That really helped push us into new areas and encourage new exploration.
For us, Hummingbird is a more directly emotional album, though we weren’t really planning on that. That’s just where the chemistry of the band took us, and we really wanted to be open to that. For example, I think a song like “Columbia” was one that was really important for us to allow to be the album, and it did take a lot of work for us to get there.
“Breakers” was fans’ first preview of the new album, so did you make an effort to reflect those changes visually through the music video for that track as well?
Yeah, making the music video for “Breakers” was the most fun I’ve ever had making a music video. We made it with a really good friend of mine, a director named Jaffe Zinn. We sort of had this vision for it, and it was the first time we were really hands-on in making a music video. To me, I think it captured the emotion of the song and where we were as a band.
Making it was awesome. (LAUGHS) I think I couldn’t walk for like four days after filming from all the falling that I did in it, but I think that it looked good. It was worth it.
Knowing that you wanted to approach the album creation differently this time around, when you guys listened to Hummingbird for the first time after going into the studio to record it, was there anything you heard that maybe surprised you?
Making this record was such a slow process for us — we wrote in our own studio, demo-ing for eight months before we even went to record the album — so that realization came not after hearing the album for the first time, but maybe after we finished it and I didn’t listen to it for a couple months and then listened to it again with a little more perspective.
I think that was a moment when I could actually see the thing as a whole and have a little bit of space from it. The feeling that I got from it was, maybe not surprise — I put so many hours into putting it together, you know, so maybe not surprising — but one thing in reflection that was kind of unexpected was the depth of the album and its layers.
I think Hummingbird is definitely more of a headphones album than Gorilla Manor, which is really more upfront and present. With Hummingbird there’s a lot of orchestration and arrangement that we did to the songs, so I think seeing that contrast was a bit surprising to me after taking a little break from the album.
Now that you guys have some experience on the road, how’s touring in support of Hummingbird compare to the first time around?
It is crazy how different it feels from Gorilla Manor. I feel like I’m a veteran of the road at this point, and it’s only our second album.
I think when it’s your first time, every step you take is different. Like with Coachella, for example: I think I borderline blacked out. (LAUGHS) In my mind, it was over in like 5 minutes the very first time we played, whereas this year we played on a larger stage on a much larger scale, but I was able to be much more present and in the moment, really taking it all in.
That’s definitely a good contrast for us, and it’s been really great to have all this material to work with, especially with our headline shows. There’s so much that we can do now, drawing off of the two albums. We play music from both records. We’re about to start this next US tour, and we have these big, ambitious plans that I’m not sure we’re going to be able to pull off, but we’re just always trying to change things and grow and add more to the show. That’s been really fun.
I think what made me fall in love with you guys in Gorilla Manor is that there’s really no other band that I can think to compare you to. How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard you before?
It’s just the hardest, worst thing to do, but it’s such a reasonable request. I mean, I will run into people who ask, “What does your band sound like?” and it’s weird to try to be self-aware enough to answer the question. I don’t know. (LAUGHS) I always stumble through it when I have to answer this question in a real-life interaction.
So you kind of just want to hand them a CD and that be it?
(LAUGHS) Basically. I just advise them to listen to it. That’s something music journalists are really good at, but I find most musicians tend to not be good at it, especially when they’re talking about themselves.
When you were younger, who were some of the musicians that inspired you to become a musician?
There were so many. We’ve been playing music together for so long, so we went through a lot of phases together, you know? I grew up with Ryan [Hahn] and Kelcey [Ayer], and we had a band in high school. Our first show was in my living room, and that was when we were like 16 years old.
In the very beginning, in that first phase, the punk and hardcore scenes were so huge, so the shows were all about energy. My and Ryan’s favorite band was At The Drive In, and they were just such heroes to us. We never got to see them live, but we’d wait like three days to download a live video, and we’d just watch it over and over and over and marvel at what they were doing onstage.
I think that was the first big push, just super intense, energetic guitar music. Then we all got into ’60s music, which had always been around, but we had always said, “Ah no. We just want to go crazy.” But then we got into The Zombies and Crosby, Stills, and Nash and even the Beach Boys and The Beatles.
I think we just gravitated towards that as we were coming into our own as singers. We all wanted to sing together, so I think that’s why we were so attracted to all these ’60s harmonies bands. That was a big phase for us, and then with Gorilla Manor, Animal Collective was another important band rhythmically. I think the drums on Gorilla Manor are pretty influenced by Animal Collective.
I can definitely see that influence. Who are some bands that you’d now recommend to our readers?
We had a really awesome experience playing with this Irish band Villagers. I had known them before and heard their first record, but something about it didn’t pull me in. Then we played a couple of festivals with them, and we ended up becoming friends. I saw them play with their whole band, and they really, really blew me away. It’s really beautiful music. They spring to mind. Do you know them?
I actually heard about them from reading an interview with you. Apparently they had helped you out at a festival with some gear?
Yeah, yeah exactly! It was the luckiest thing ever. We had just befriended them, and we were playing an Irish festival called Longitude. The airline lost all of our gear, and they let us borrow all of their stuff, so it was lucky that we had just become friends.
Local Natives will be playing at the Greek Theatre this Friday, September 13th. Grab your tickets before they sell out!
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