Local Natives: Newfangled folk

In 2008, five friends moved into a house together in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. The house was known as Gorilla Manor. It was exactly what one would expect of a house of 20-something year old musicians: a mess of amps, cords, guitars and a constant flow of friends coming and going. Out of the chaos came the self-funded twelve song debut album of a band poised to change the face of indie-rock.

Speaking from Nashville, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kelcey Ayer describes the newest release from his band, Local Natives, and the fruits of collaboration.

Fresh off a European tour, Local Natives flew straight from London to Austin for the South By Southwest music festival. It’s a festival that helped the band grab the attention of the music press and music lovers in 2009, when they played no less than nine shows in and around the festival in a seven-day span.

“It was zero degrees in London when we left, and the next day we’re in Austin where it’s crazy hot,” jokes Ayer. “We all got sunburns the first day.” They enjoyed the nostalgia of the festival and the impact it had on their overall success.

Local Natives are a band born out of mutual respect and years of collaboration. Taylor Rice (guitar, vocals, bass) and Ryan Hahn (guitar, keyboards, mandolin, vocals) have been writing songs together since they were in the 8th grade. Ayer joined the two near the end of their high school years in Orange County, CA, with drummer Matt Frazier added soon after. The years of friendship and musical development plays out in the effortless way the band infuses their unique blend of indie-rock with gorgeous harmonies and layered vocals.

“Everything about the band is completely organic,” says Ayer. They have worked to define a sound that honestly represents each member, collaborating on every song and reaching a consensus before finalizing anything. “We were just a high school band, writing shitty songs, trying to figure out what we wanted to say and how to say it,” adds Ayers. Once they figured it out, Local Natives secured a place alongside bands like Grizzly Bear, The National, and Fleet Foxes in the upper echelon of indie rock.

Much has happened in the two years since the release of Local Natives’ first full length. They struggled to maintain personal relationships at home during a rigorous touring schedule, and the tone of their second record reflects the polarity and emotional toll taken on the band. After the sudden loss of a close family member, and the parting of long time bassist Andy Hamm, Local Natives pushed forward as a four-piece to create a sprawling soundscape gracefully presented with sincerity and precision on their sophomore release, Hummingbird.

“The big difference with Hummingbird is this is the only thing we’re doing,” says Ayer. While recording Gorilla Manor, each member held down side jobs and balanced other commitments, which meant the time they had together had to be used wisely. “We still had to eat, so we had to work outside the band,” says Ayer. “So the time we had for music, it forced us into a productive situation.”

While Gorilla Manor has a youthful urgency and energy, Hummingbird thrives on smooth and coolly calculated songwriting and melodies. “Because we had so much time (with this record), we were worried, we thought we wouldn’t be able to recreate what we did for Gorilla Manor,” says Ayer. While the band no longer shares the house in which Gorilla Manor was created, they rented and soundproofed a moldy one room house in Silver Lake as a stand-in. They worked tirelessly in this space for months before emerging with what they felt was studio-ready material. They flew to Brooklyn to record with The National’s Aaron Dessner in his home studio.

“A lot of the songs were finished, but when we got together with Aaron, he likes to mix things up and move things around in a way we haven’t done in the past,” says Ayer. “Even though things are done, he’ll want to try something else, so a lot of things happened more on the fly than before.”

Dessner became like a fifth band member during the recording process, helping to push the songwriting to a higher level. “We all love what comes from collaboration,” says Ayer. Despite the frustrations and disagreements over sounds and songs, Ayer says in the end it’s for the best. “Taylor, Ryan and I are able to get out each others’ best work for the band, and we’re all happy with the end product.”

And while they may be happy with the end product, Local Natives are not content to sit back and enjoy their successes. They’ve made the switch from a tour van to a bus, which Ayer hopes will allow more time to write on the road. And it’s a long road ahead.

“We have a lot of shows coming up, and want to be constantly upping the level of production,” says Ayes. “It’s going to be an awesome year. We’re so excited and proud.”