Interview: Local Natives

Local Natives - Photo by Bryan Sheffield

Local Natives – Photo by Bryan Sheffield

For many bands, the idea of taking on a producer after never having one before can be a scary reality. But that was not the case with the Local Natives. For its second full-length album, this year’s “Hummingbird,” the Los Angeles-based indie rock band collaborated with The National’s Aaron Dessner, and due to the already collaborative nature of the group, bringing in another personality was less of a challenge and more of a welcome experience.

“It was interesting [as] we’d never really done that before, had like someone creatively be involved,” guitarist Ryan Hahn said of the experience. “[But] it was kind of nice to have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and we got to the point where he kind of became like an older brother.”

Of course, by the time Dessner entered the picture, most of the songs on the album had already been written and recorded as demos, but Hahn shared that Dessner helped the band push the music in new directions, something he said is apparent in the way the songs turned out.

In fact, a lot of discussion has transpired about the sound presented by the Local Natives, a band known for its elaborate orchestration that appeared on 2009’s debut, “Gorilla Manor.”

This time around, however, the group focused on experimenting more, which involved scaling back on the use of layers.

“I think it’s just the result of where we’re at musically,” Hahn said. “We’ve all grown a lot and we kind of, at first, I think maybe it was like a little uncomfortable, you know, to not fall back on the things that we knew to be like strengths of ours, but to kind of like push ourselves to maybe use more space and…rely on the strength of a single instrument.”

In turn, he admitted this composition technique has affected the older songs and the way they are played, if at all.

“Certain songs seem like they…have aged better than others,” he said, sharing that the members only still play the songs that they feel remain relevant.

Of course, the music isn’t the only thing that has progressed, as the lyrics on “Hummingbird” are much more open and emotionally vulnerable.

“This time the lyrics are definitely more direct and kind of personal, and we just kind of wanted to not really hold anything back,” Hahn said, throwing out the word “catharsis” as one that sums up the entire experience. “We had, like, a really crazy few years and I think like the songs, the lyrics, reflect that.”

Additionally, Hahn explained that the songwriting is done collaboratively with himself, guitarist/bassist Taylor Rice, and vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Kelcey Ayer, all three of whom are founding members. Meanwhile, drummer Matt Frazier isn’t so much a part of that process.

Hahn likened songwriting in Local Natives to a checks and balances system, although the penning of lyrics varies in its format, with whoever brings the song to the table being the one who writes the bulk of it.

“You want the lyrics to be not like a committee process,” he said. “You want them to be personal and kind of heartfelt.”

Overall, though, Hahn said the goal of the album was to stay true to themselves, in whatever form songwriting took on.

“Our main goal is to write, like, an album that we would want to listen to, you know? Like kind of just like write for ourselves…just try not to think about the outside pressures or anything like that,” he said. “We worked really really hard on it. I guess all we can do is kind of like just put the work in and be, like, honest.”

After some promo dates that occurred at the end of late year, Local Natives are on a European tour from Feb. 16 through March 9, which will be followed by a national tour in the U.S.

“We’re honestly just kind of stoked to be back on the road, just like touring again. We had a good time writing this record and, I don’t know, we just kinda like are looking forward to playing live and showing people the new songs,” Hahn said, adding that exploring cities is also something the members are excited about. “We’ve been to a lot of these places before so it’s kind of like enjoying…spending more relaxing time there…we’ve kind of done the tourist-y things. Now we can go a little bit deeper maybe.”

Of course, navigating the relationship between the members can be challenging, because of the close quarters they keep, both on and off the road. But ultimately, the pros far outweigh the cons.

“You know, it’s…our job and our career..and it can be really frustrating to not always be able to get your way,” Hanhn said. “But at the end of the day, we all love each other and we’re all still best friends.”

Local Natives play tonight at Comet Club in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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