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.


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+)

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