Music Interviews

Interview: Local Natives

Local Natives (Photo: Bryan Sheffield) Local Natives aren’t perhaps the most rock ‘n’ roll band around. Their music, evidenced on this year’s album Hummingbird, is cerebral and soulful, full of quiet, sundrenched atmospherics rather than gut-wrenching riffs and rib-rattling rhythms – music for introverts, delicately wrought and unafraid of the gently offbeat. And that tendency towards to offbeat extends to their videos.

If you’re a fan of the Californian band, the chances are you’ve seen the one for their latest single You & I by now. For the uninitiated, the clip is a takeoff of the film Children Of Men, only with humanity replaced by dogs. All the Hollywood clichés you find in apocalypse movies and hospital scenes are checked off as The Last Dog On Earth expires – people jab their fingers angrily at contagion-zone maps, owners kneel and weep melodramatically by their dead pets’ hospital beds.

“We kept calling it Children Of Dog, that was the working title of the video,” reveals Local Natives’ frontman Taylor Rice. “It was our idea. It stemmed from when we were at the very end of recording Hummingbird and I started playing this really sad music on piano – just messing around on piano. I think it was [fellow bandmates] Ryan [Hahn] or Kelsey [Ayer] saying sarcastically, ‘that sounds like the soundtrack to the last dog on earth’, and it just sprang from there.”

It’s very funny, despite revolving around a dying dog – was that intentional? “I’m glad you see the humour in it. We wrote the script and everything but couldn’t be there for the filming, which for us… we’re such control freaks about keeping creative things in the band, but they seemed to get the idea, all the references and everything. They did a really good job, made it come across as it’s supposed to be, with the underlying humour.”

We’re speaking half an hour before Local Natives are due to play an instore set at Rough Trade East. Do they approach instore performances differently to other live shows? “We’re doing a more stripped-down thing. We have all these stripped-down acoustic versions of our songs that we do for blogs and radio, and most people never see us do it live, so we thought it’d be cool to do that. It accommodates an instore a little bit easier.” It’s a little different to some of Local Natives’ other recent performances. “Glastonbury we were on the John Peel Stage, it’s such a legendary venue. We didn’t have much time there this year, unfortunately, but it was awesome. We’ve been having a lot of ping-pong backstage. The weather’s been so nice as well – being from LA we had started to give up hope on the UK, based on our last experiences! When we played T in the Park in 2010 it was raining sideways onto the stage.”

It’s clear from Rice’s tone that the band has been having a blast on their recent whistle-stop tour of European festivals. “Festival season is definitely one of those things that you look forward to most as a touring band. There are so many independent ventures now that are popping up, a few really stand out. We played this little Italian festival and it was in this square that was from the eighth century – literally over a thousand years old with this huge clock tower behind us, really atmospheric. There have been a bunch of really awesome French festivals we’ve done as well.”

As an American, does he find European events differ much from the ones back home? “There is a big difference. There are obviously some huge festivals in Europe, but American ones are pretty much all these big, major festivals – we’re about to do Lollapalooza, and we did Bonnaroo and Coachella. There are a few boutiquey ones popping up now but mostly they’re these huge endeavours. Whereas in the UK and Europe there’s something like Latitude, which feels really special. I think the first festival we ever did was Latitude, out in the woods with painted sheep everywhere – there’s this attention to detail, making something that’s art in and of itself.”

Time spent flitting round Europe on tour has led to some unexpected directions for Local Natives – namely the electro remixes of songs from their sophomore album Hummingbird that they’ve been putting out recently, a far cry from the band’s usual gentle, world-influenced indie. “We’d been on the bus – this is our first time with a bus in Europe, so as a band that’s quite a celebrated thing, when you’ve spent most of your waking hours in a van for years and years. One of the awesome things about that is you have all this time on the road, and we’ve been spending it in all kinds of ways, we’ve been shooting a music video on the road – and we’ve been working on remixes a lot more. It kind of lends itself to electronic music, just using a laptop. We’re hoping to debut a cover song at Rough Trade and it’s really been hard to get everyone together and jam – I think we’ve just about got it – but the remix thing is way easier to do because you can just do it on the bus.”

Is the electronic direction something the band are interested in pursuing more for future releases, or is this just an amusing diversion for them? “I think we’re getting more and more interested in the electronic world and electronic music. We’ve really branched out into it on Hummingbird and it seems to be opening up a lot of possibilities for us musically.” He won’t be drawn on whether its something the band will delve deeper into in future, though. “Any time that you try to make a blueprint for us, it’s always wrong. I definitely could imagine [making an electronic album], but the way we write is just where we are at the time, what inspires us. As a band we’re not really like, ‘we want to make this kind of record’ and then we make that kind of record – it just has to come out naturally. I think it would probably be a safe bet, though, considering we’re all getting more and more involved in making our own remixes and electronic music.”

In an age where attention spans are shorter than ever and new acts have to continually remain in the limelight to prevent a slide into obscurity, the time gap between Local Natives’ 2009 debut, Gorilla Manor, and this year’s follow-up Hummingbird was unusually long. “A lot of things happened,” says Rice; he doesn’t go into detail, but it’s well-known that the departure of original bassist Andy Hamm in 2011 and the death of Ayers’ mother both weighed heavily on the band, contributing to the time lapse between albums and influencing the content of Hummingbird.

“Musically what happened it that we opened up our worlds and our palates a lot. Gorilla Manor was like you just plug everything directly in and play, and that’s it, that’s your part – we barely had guitar pedals. For Hummingbird, we built our own studio in Silver Lake and holed up there, spending twelve hours a day every day for months and months and months, just experimenting. That was an awesome exploration, and we ended up having like a song completely made up of drum samples, and having some electronic pads, and also making the guitars feel a lot more textural. Songwriting-wise I think the veil in between the song and the personal meaning got even more thin, and the songs are more direct on Hummingbird – probably a bit more personal.”

Hummingbird was produced by Aaron Dessner of The National – one of the many bands, alongside the likes of Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, that Local Natives are often lumped in together with by the music press. Rice’s response to this is pragmatic. “Some of those bands we know personally and they’re awesome people – and I think it happens with any kind of band, so it could be worse, but…” It’s not something they’re particularly happy about? “We’re happy as long as people listen to the music and don’t just take a journalistic comparison at face value. It’s understandable why, as a music writer, those comparisons are a useful tool – but at the end of it you have to spend some time with the record.”

Rice, on the other hand, has to go off and spend some time with whoever’s milling about in the aisles of Rough Trade – sounding as geared up and enthusiastic about it as he has with everything else we’ve discussed. “I love the Rough Trade thing, I love that you just roll in and do it.” From stripped-down acoustic sessions to dabblings in electro, ancient Italian courtyards to rainy English fields, the Local Natives whirlwind carries on spinning, seemingly blowing the band away as much as it does their audience. It’s always the quiet ones.

Local Natives’ debut album Hummingbird is out now through Infectious. They play the Beacons Festival, Skipton on 17 August 2013 and The Green Man Festival, Wales on 18 August 2013. Local Natives embark on a headline tour of the UK in October, including a date at London’s Brixton Academy on 17 October 2013. More at their website.

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