Interview: Local Natives

Local Natives
(Photo by Piper Ferguson)

“We always want to push forward and do some new stuff, so we’re definitely going to take some risks and chances on this one.”

Indie rock is one  of the most widely abused genres, with bands slapping the label on left and right. The term is tossed around to describe any up and coming artist with a unique sound. Local Natives, however, are well deserving of the title. From the urgent battle cries of their Gorilla Manor debut  to the ominous sense of loss strung throughout their sophomore album, Hummingbird, Local Natives have settled comfortably into the world of indie rock. The swelling vocals of “You & I” might sound like Young the Giant, and the quiet melancholy is reminiscent of Arcade Fire, but the honesty is all their own.

We had a chance to talk with vocalist Ryan Hahn about the band’s next album, touring, and hardcore punk over a static-filled telephone connection as they prepared for their Seattle show.

So, what’s going on with Local Natives?

Currently, we are pulling up to play at the venue in Seattle. We’re on tour with Kings of Leon. We’re kinda slowly transitioning into writing new music for our next record, so we’re doing a little less touring this year and insteading lying down to write some new music.

How’s the record looking? Can we expect any big changes from Hummingbird?

I wouldn’t say it’s time to call it a record of any kind. It’s still floating around, like little pieces of songs. I think when we get back from this tour, like in may, we’re going to get our rehearsal space back up and running and really kinda put these ideas together and get some full songs out of it. But I imagine it’s going to be different from Hummingbird and different from Gorilla Manor. We always want to push forward and do some new stuff, so we’re definitely going to take some risks and chances on this one.

You’ve only had a few dates so far, but how has the tour with Kings of Leon been?

It’s been good, I think playing these massive rooms is a whole new experience in and of itself, you know? Obviously, you’re the opening band so the venue’s not full or anything like that, but being able to play in a giant hockey arena is a new thing for us. I think we might have been able to reach new people, people who might not have heard of us otherwise.

Hummingbird was a very sincere and emotional record, so my question is, was it ever difficult to record that?

We definitely had to dig pretty deep on a lot of different levels when we were working on Hummingbird. But in a lot of ways, I think the emotional content was more cathartic. I think it was us working through a lot of stuff, and recording the songs actually felt really good, very beneficial. The recording might have been difficult for other reasons, but I think the emotional content was good to get out there.

Obviously Aaron Dessiner from The National was the producer on that album. What influence would you say he had on the record?

I think he was really good at getting us out of our comfort zone, especially for guitar, since he’s a guitarist himself. What was something that he really wanted to mess around with this time around by adding a lot of different guitar tones. He was able to allow us to experiment with different guitars, different effects, different amps, and just make us feel really comfortable in that regard. And also make us a little less- I don’t know if “precious” is the right word- but not to overthink things. When we would have an idea that was just kinda flowing and we were overthinking it he would say “Let’s just lay it down and record it right now.” I think we have a tendency to do the opposite and just spend weeks or months approaching ideas, so he really taught us to be really improvisational I think.

On Gorilla Manor, you guys covered “Warning Signs” by the Talking Heads. Why that particular song?

I think people have heard enough cover of “Psycho Killer” and “Once in a Lifetime”. I think we wanted to do one that would let us do our own thing, because when you do one of the more popular songs I think there’s kind of an expectation or something like that. We were such big fans of the Talking Heads, and especially at that time were listening to so much of their music. We thought it would be fun to do our own spin on a lesser-known song. The sparseness and the arrangements they had was kinda basically the polar opposite to what we were doing at the time, so we felt we could really take it somewhere new.

The Talking Heads are clearly an influence on the band, but what other artists would you say inspire you?

It’s kinda all over the map right now. I know we’ve been listening to a lot of more modern electronic stuff. There’s this new J. Paul record that he put out- or he didn’t really put it out, it was leaked I guess- a lot of Jon Hopkins and King Krule. A lot of really modern stuff like that. But then I go back and listen to Leonard Cohen. We’ve been playing a lot of New Order in the bus lately. So definitely all over the map right now.

One thing I noticed is that you guys released all the stems from Hummingbird online, and then let people make remixes and send them back in. Who had that idea?

We actually did that with our first record too and just kinda did it on a whim. We’re still kinda pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement and creativity we got. People were coming up with stuff where we never could have foreseen the song going in that direction. It was just a really cool experience, and I felt we got a really good reaction from people that listen to our music. So we wanted to do it again. And it was the same thing. There are a lot of creative people out there doing stuff that we never would have anticipated.

One thing that Taylor talked about before was the challenge of being a guitar-driven band in a world based around electronic music. Do you think there is a challenge to that?

Not really. I don’t even really see ourselves as a guitar-based band, I think those are the instruments that we’re written songs on up to this point. It’s interesting how you’re always evolving and changing.

A lot of the songs on Hummingbird maybe started on guitar and then transitioned into more keyboard-based songs. I think guitars, in a lot of ways, became more atmospheric elements, and we started experimenting with different synths and different samples and stuff. I know that some of the newer songs that we’ve been writing there’s been more of a focus on keyboard and even more drum-based. It’s interesting how we’ve evolved.

A lot of artists go through a lot of names before they finally pick a name that they stick with. What was the worst name you worked with before you started playing in Local Natives?

You mean this band?

This band, or another project.

[laughter] Taylor and I, when we were freshmen in high school, we were in a hardcore metal band…

No way.

I played guitar. At one point Taylor played guitar, but then we figured out that we liked the way he could scream.  So at that point he became the screamer. We were called “Friend or Foe?”, with a question mark.

You guys had a hardcore metal phase?

Oh yeah! We grew up in southern California, and it just felt like everyone, or at least every kid my age was at some point into punk rock or like Orange County hardcore stuff. I was always like a secret Beach Boys fan, and I had curly hair so I don’t think I was cool enough to be really part of the metal thing. But yeah, we were really into it for a while and when we started playing guitar, that’s kinda what we were trying to play.

Anything to say to the fans out there?

Stay tuned, because we got a few songs coming up, and hopefully we’ll see everyone out on tour in a few weeks- we have our own tour after we wrap up with Kings of Leon. So we hope we see everyone out there!

Local Natives are currently rolling through a long, treacherous tour of the United States. You can find their full touring schedule here.

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