An Interview with… Local Natives’ Kelcey Ayer

BY TARA McEVOY

 

Bursting onto the indie-rock scene in 2010 with the universally acclaimed debut album Gorilla Manor, Local Natives have quickly established themselves as one of the best bands to hail from the US in recent times, cementing this reputation with this year’s Hummingbird – a sophomore offering boasting a more mature sound that still retains the characteristics that won the band legions of fans three years ago. Ahead of their Belfast show this autumn, The Gown caught up with the band’s singer-keyboardist Kelcey Ayer to talk world tours, vinyl artwork and Saturday night TV:

Having played Ireland in the past, how do you find the crowds here?

Dublin is awesome, Belfast’s Limelight too. We played there at the end of a really long winter tour in 2010, a really, really, really cold tour – and our van had no heat. So I didn’t know what I was doing, I lost my voice. That was the last show of the tour, I just remember laughing I felt so awful. But it was a cool city, it made it better.

You’re from Silver Lake, Los Angeles – but how do the crowds at your shows back home rate?

LA is so amazing, they’ve been so awesome to us. But we’ve been really lucky to say that about a lot of different places. It’s kind of hard to choose a favourite.

Can you tell us a little about Hummingbird?

We spent a little over a year making it… We couldn’t really get started until the summer of 2011, when we found this practice space in the heart of Silver Lake (LA), where we live. It was this room that hadn’t been used for two years, that had vines and mould inside. And we cleaned it all out and it was our home base for 8-9 months, when we started actually writing. And towards the end of that, we did a few shows with The National. That’s how we met Aaron Dessner who co-produced the record, and so on tour we got closer – he was a big fan of the band, he was interested in what we were doing and we were looking for producers at the time. But we’d never considered him as a viable option – he’s in a bigger band and he’s, you know, a busy dude – we were looking at more straight-ahead professional producers. We tried a couple people and it didn’t really feel right – we came to realise that we needed a guy who could wear a lot of different hats. Not someone who had a producer role as their day job. But someone who could take it on as a passion project, have it be something they don’t normally do. And he was really capable – he engineers and produces all The National stuff, and just worked on that Sharon Van Etten record that sounded amazing. We figured, why not just send him the demos, and a month after we toured with them we sent him some stuff. He got back the next day – he was really excited about it, and kind of from there, that’s when we started working together. From there, we went to Montreal for a couple of weeks to record live in a big room. We recorded most of the album in Aaron’s house, in Brooklyn, but we wanted a bigger live room for some stuff. So yeah, here we are now!

 

You’ve previously claimed that touring with the likes of Arcade Fire and The National didn’t have much of an impact on your sound – did you take anything from the experience on the level of your live performance?

Just to see a band working that efficiently, at that big a level, writing music that they want to write, not being dictated to by genres or trends. I think, we really look up to bands that still find success while not compromising. We’d love to be one of those bands one day. Seeing them do what they do every night was inspiring. I guess we’re all in a similar bombastic, indie-rock genre. But they didn’t totally influence the record. You can obviously hear some shades of The National, just through Aaron Dessner and his tones. But it’s kind of hard to say.

How does the new record mark a progression from Gorilla Manor?

We always try to write from our own experiences, on how we feel, not to force anything. That’s one of the main things about us. We work for a long time on songs, and have to spend hours trying to get it to happen. It’s wonderful when inspiration strikes, but that doesn’t happen all the time – it happens around 10% of the time. For the rest, you’re just grinding away and trying to find something that everyone can agree on. With this album, it wasn’t a clear direction for us that we chose, but just since we write about what we experience, and since the last couple years have been hard, I think that’s what made the record what it is. It’s a little darker and a little heavier in tone than Gorilla Manor, but I think that’s just a product of growing up, maturing. And I think we felt more confident as song writers, to be able to get a little more personal.

What current music would you recommend?

I’ve been listening to James Blake, a lot of us are really big James Blake fans. And a Montreal band called The Luyas, who released an album called Animator last year. I’ve been really getting into that – over the past couple of years, I’ve been getting into Portishead for the first time, and this record really gives me that vibe that Third did. A really dark vibe.

Artwork has always been important to the band – was incorporating a visual element important to this record?

I love the idea of packaging – when I was fifteen, if I got an album I would tear through it, read all the liner notes. It was just an experience, and it’s something we really care about. We’re really stoked on the deluxe version of the vinyl, the slip cover and everything. It’s so hard to sell CDs and vinyl in the first place, you might as well make them really awesome. So yeah, we try.

How do you feel about the waning popularity of physical copies?

Every new vinyl that I’ve bought in the last few years has been amazing. I feel that people really care about the quality of the vinyl. It’s kind of a culture, a fun community to be a part of. For this genre of music, it seems like everyone cares.

You’re playing a lot of new material on tour – do you find it a refreshing change from some of the older songs?

Parts of Gorilla Manor feel detached from where we are now, but some feel connected. Those songs are still getting an amazing reaction. We’re never going to stop playing those songs. But it’s hard, I’m so excited about this new stuff, these new songs, that they’re kind of all I want to play. But every time I play old songs, even though that’s not where I am now, I’m proud of that. At least I’m not grimacing. Talk to me in four albums.

What’s your favourite song to plalive at the moment?

I really like playing ‘You and I’. I love how that song turned out. It’s just kind of fun to sing.

How has your live show evolved between albums?

It’s definitely more intricate. We used to be able to plug in and play, but now there’s more stuff going on, the newer songs are more delicate. They need for the room to feel good and sound good to come across. That’s been the struggle playing small shows, where the sound is not as good even if the vibe is amazing.

Finally, what would be your main aspiration for the future?

I just want to play SNL (Saturday Night Live), that would be amazing!

 

Hummingbird is out now on Infectious Records. Local Natives play Belfast’s Limelight this October 22nd.

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