When Local Natives released their first record, “Gorilla Manor” in 2010, radio stations rather quickly picked up on them and generated well-deserved buzz for the band. After opening for the likes of Arcade Fire and The National, it was expected that they’d follow up with a new album quickly to capitalize on their success. However, the death of singer-keyboardist Kelcey Ayer’s mother and the departure of bassist Andy Hamm not only delayed the process, but changed the tone of the new record, “Hummingbird”. Produced by Aaron Dessner from The National, the album has a far more introspective tone that makes it even more remarkable than their debut. Taylor Rice talked to Todd and Amy about the pressures of making a record that dealt with lofty expectations and life’s tragedies.
TDOA: I read an interview from right before Hummingbird was released, where you guys seemed really grounded and without lofty expectations for the record. Was there a point while recording this record, when you recorded certain songs that you thought, “Hey, this song is really going to go over well”. Do you know when you’ve written a song that will likely be the single?
Taylor: When we finished this record, we looked back and thought that it didn’t have any singles on it. We like pop music, but for a song to come out sounding as a “single,” a lot of things have to sort of fall into place. We’ll never force a song in that direction.
TDOA: How has the process of writing music changed for your guys? I’ve talked to bands who always started with lyrics and vocal melodies, who found themselves changing their style of writing because they found they were coming up with guitar riffs during sound checks and building songs from those riffs. Any change in style for you guys?
Taylor: The biggest change in writing on this record is that we built out our own little studio in Silverlake and recorded as we were writing. This opened up so many possibilities to expand our palette and experiment with songs and tones. The songs on Gorilla Manor were all pretty much written in a room and played live before being set to tape.
TDOA: I love Matt’s drumming on Wooly Mammoth. What came first on that song, lyrics, music or drums?
Taylor: It’s amazing that you sniffed that example out, because its the only song we’ve ever written that started with the drums. It was on a writing trip we took to the desert, and we had set up all these mics in this geodesic dome we had rented in Joshua Tree. We were jamming and when we listened back to that bit, the drums sounded insanely massive.
TDOA: From personal loss to exiting band members, you address some pretty heavy themes in the record. Was there any reluctance to do so, knowing that you’d have to explain it during interviews?
Taylor: We did talk about that, but in the end we had to be honest. It wouldn’t make sense to write a record full of music that left out the hardest parts of the last two years that made us who we are.
TDOA: How did Aaron Dessner end up getting involved with this record? I know you toured with The National, but how did you broach the topic of having him produce and play on the album?
Taylor: It pretty much started as a joke over drinks backstage. During that tour we had finished a lot of songs and were trying them out live for the first time. When we began looking for producers back in LA, it felt awkward to get involved with someone we didn’t know creatively. The idea popped into my head to ask Aaron, and he was super enthusiastic about working with us.
TDOA: I’m always interested in the roles that different producers assume. With Aaron sharing production credits, I wonder if you could talk about his contributions in that regard. Did he get involved in song arrangement, the overall sound of the record or was his role a bit more passive?
Taylor: Aaron was great to work with because he understands band dynamic and ego so well. He knew that we’d be precious and very protective, and knew when to step in and when to give us space. He also was great at stirring up creativity and helping us find keys when we needed them.
TDOA: Is Aaron touring with you or are you playing live as a quartet?
Taylor: We have a bass player who comes with us on tour. his name is Nik. He’s great. Whenever we are somewhere in the world Aaron is, we like to have him play with us when possible though.
TDOA: I think a lot of people, particularly music writers, are quick to box bands into fields of contemporaries. There seems to be almost a rush to declare a band the “next Broken Social Scene.” How do these comparisons affect you as a group?
Taylor: Music doesn’t fit as nicely into cubes as music writers would ideally like. I think those comparisons tend to fall away over time. I think there’s more and more bleed over from scenes that start in certain locals because of how easy it is for music to spread around.
TDOA: You’ve played SXSW several times before. Any advice for bands playing their for the first time? It’s a bit insane for you when you’re playing a zillion shows in three or four days, right?
Taylor: We played nine shows in three days the two weeks we’ve played sx. Those were two of the craziest weeks of my life for sure, but its really amazing. I love that there are literally hundreds of venues and bands playing on every corner. It’s a fun hustle.
TDOA: Obviously, there was a big gap between the two albums. Any plans to try and get a new one out soon? I’m guessing you’ve got a ton of songs already written and ready.
Taylor: This record needs to be released out of its cage and live a bit before we start thinking about the next record. These things are phasic, the cyclical nature is an important part of the process.