NO MEAN FEET
Conquering the infamous sophomore slump following their critically hailed debut Gorilla Manor, LA’s Local Natives spoke to Mixdown about the pressures of the follow up album, and how they rose to them to deliver a more personal and introspective record than their first.
The title of the new album, Hummingbird, is taken from a lyric in the song Columbia, which is about the passing of Kelcey [Ayer, guitarist]’s mother. Why did you end up choosing that as the title of the album?
Well I know for Kelcey, it obviously has a very personal significance to him. In a lot of ways, we spent so much time together, we really do consider each other like family, and when one thing happens to one person, it tends to really affect us all, so that song in particular is really special for us. When it came time to name the album, holding onto that significance of hummingbirds just seemed to fit, this album having more bombastic and crazier moments than the first one, but also sparser and more fragile moments. The name “Hummingbird” seemed to fit that dichotomy.
With such a collaborative approach, is there a lot of tension and hostility based on everything having to go through so many minds and people?
Oh totally man, it’s really tense. I’d love to tell you that it’s all happy go lucky, but it’s really hard, everyone’s really passionate about it. At the end of the day, we’re writing songs and the people we’re looking most to impress are each other, so it’s hard to bring a personal song to the rest of the guys cause I really want them to like it and understand what I’m doing, so there are moments where we just have to step outside and grab coffee or something cause it’s too much.
Do you think that lends credence the old maxim that the best art comes in times of turmoil?
I mean, there are songs on the record that we just had to get out of us, and once we got them finished, there was a huge feeling of accomplishment, but there are other songs that came really quickly. “Black Spot” is a song on the album that came out in one session, where we went out to the desert to just get away, and we kinda set up the mics and recorded us playing, and we were actually kinda nervous about that because normally it takes us a long time, but that song just felt really good right off the bat so I guess there’s no hold and fast rule for us.
When putting together an album, do you try to insulate yourself from what other contemporary bands are doing?
I think we made a conscious effort this time to unplug and to just get in our own world. We really avoided reading what was going on on the blogs and stuff, and just stuck to the classics. We were listening to a lot of Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. You’re working so hard, you just kinda wanna be in your own world, and I think we tried to focus as much as we could on writing our own music.
When the music press attributes you to a certain scene, like the indie folk scene, and compares you to bands like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes, do you find that frustrating?
It is kinda frustrating. I mean, that’s their job, they’ve gotta box it up and put a genre on it, and give people a way to relate to it by referencing bands. I guess we get referenced to really hip bands, which is cool, but it is frustrating as an artist, because you don’t want to think of your music that way, but we just have to step back from it and feel comfortable that we’re doing our own thing.
You ended up working with Aaron Dessner from the National on this album. What did he bring to the whole process?
That was really cool, it came about in a really natural way. We’d been talking about a lot of producers. We were used to doing everything ourselves, and we thought of a producer as kinda scary, but when we met on tour, we played him some of the new songs. He was a big fan of the band, and he started talking about what he would do if he were producer, and we hit it off in this great natural artistic way. With us, we always try to write everything before we get to the studio so we can just get in there and record it, but this time there were a lot of question marks that made us nervous, but he’s such a pro in the studio, so he was able to just get us to plug in and record these improvisations, and I think that the album is better for it.
How do you feel the band has evolved since Gorilla Manor?
For one, I think vocally we became much more confident in letting a single vocal tell the story, and allow that to be the emotional crux on the song. I think the first time around that would have made us a little bit nervous, but this time around it’s just great to hear these very personal songs, and not have us get in the way or anything like that. We’ve grown a lot, the first time around I was literally just plugging my guitar into my amp, but now I’m running through all these great effects and trading out different amps and different guitars, and using my guitar in ways I never would have the first time around.
What effects are you using specifically on your guitar this time around to create all those new sounds?
Well, we really wanted to make sure that any effects we used were more natural, that we wouldn’t cringe at them in a few years. We used a lot of vintage guitars, a lot of guitars from the 50s and 60s, delay pedals and tremolos, and on this record I got my first guitar solo in there!
After Gorilla Manor was so well received, did you feel a lot of pressure to follow it up?
You’ve heard it a million times, you have your whole life to write the first record, and this one now, it is a weird thing to think that people are waiting to hear this album, so best as we could, we tried to push that from our mind and just focus. We wanna write a record that the four of us can really get into, and that’s what’s really nice about being in a band like ours, we have this kinda quality control with each other, an idea has to be really strong to get past the four of us. This record is much more personal lyrically, and I think we just wanted to put it all out there and put the time in and just be really proud of whatever we put out there.
BY ZACH COOPER
Hummingbird is out now through Liberator. Local Natives will be touring the east coast this May.
Wednesday, May 15 – Metro Theatre, Sydney (18+)
Saturday, May 18 – Forum Theatre, Melbourne (18+)
Sunday, May 19 – The Zoo, Brisbane (18+)