Back in 2008, three high school friends and two additional musicians moved in to an LA suburb with plans to write and record their debut album. The following year, Local Natives released the highly acclaimed Gorilla Manor which quickly led to the group hitching rides on national and international tours with bands like Arcade Fire, The National, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Jump ahead to 2013, and Local Natives are helping lead indie music's worldwide steamroll of modern pop. The band is currently gearing up to release their sophomore LP, Hummingbird, which for obvious reasons has garnered fervent anticipation.
We recently gave Local Natives guitarist/keys/vocalist Ryan Hahn a ring to chat about the band's overwhelmingly rough 2012, what it was like recording with The National's Aaron Dessner, as well as pry for a few hints into what the next year might look like for the band.
Your debut, Gorilla Manor, was recorded in late 2008, correct?
So it's been about four years. How much of that time did you guys dedicate to recording Hummingbird ?
We did a lot of the recording in 2009, too, but either way yeah, you're right, it's been a while. I guess all told, we did about a year of writing and recording for Hummingbird. Yeah, like pure focus on the album. We spent so much time touring that we kind of wanted to sit down and focus on making this new record.
You had some pretty awesome tours. What was it like touring with The National and Arcade Fire?
Oh yeah, those were definite highlights. Most of those bands we're big fans of. I don't know, I guess in a lot of ways it was just really cool to see what you can do. Both those bands are bands that have kind of stuck to their guns and done things their own way, and it was just really inspiring to come see what you can do as a band like that, you know?
It seems like you guys have really taken off since then, too, so it's almost like you're in that spotlight now.
Yeah, we want to keep moving in that direction and maintain what we want to do but also grow like that.
Gorilla Manor was made when you guys all lived together and it was named after the house that it was recorded in?
Yeah, more or less, yeah.
Is there any significance to the name Hummingbird?
Yeah, totally. It's from one of the songs on the record called "Columbia." Kelcey [Ayer] wrote that song about his mother who passed away last year. It was actually a really intense year for us. But that was, you know, one of many very, very rough patches, and I think that song for him as well as the rest of us kind of represents this dichotomy of having the most amazing things in life happen that you've always wanted to happen and then at the same time there are always things that kind of rive through in your way and we had to work through a lot of that. In a lot of ways, this album feels very cathartic. Hummingbird kind of represents that to us.
And how was it working with Aaron Dessner on Hummingbird?
It was awesome. We keep saying in a lot of ways he's like, the older brother figure. I think that's exactly how I felt. We very quickly became comfortable with hanging out on tour and talking about music and then when we approached him to work together, we were surprised by how quickly...I don't know, we all got along so well and we had no problem being blunt and honest with each other about ideas. It was just really, really fun.
The record was written in LA but it was recorded in Montreal and in Brooklyn?
Yeah that's right. We had mostly written all the songs before Aaron came on board to help with production duties and then we went out to Montreal and Brooklyn to record.
And would you say this album has more of an East Coast feel than your debut album because of that?
Oh, I don't know. I mean, maybe. I think this record for us was about challenging ourselves to do something new and to push ourselves in new directions. I think we kind of managed in a lot of ways living somewhere else and being out of our comfort zone, being in Montreal, this new city, and obviously New York. It helped us be more open to trying new things.
And having such a rough year, was it good to get away from home for a little while?
I think it was. I think the first record we lived together and that was a really special time for us. And we did spend a lot of time together, obviously, writing this record for hours on end with the band. But it was really cool to go to Montreal and go to Brooklyn and live together again. Every waking moment, like when we weren't making music. We're making food and watching movies and just hanging out which was really cool. So in a lot of ways it helped us focus on making music again which was great.
A few weeks ago the music video for "Breakers" was released. Does the meaning of the song tie in with the meaning of the video?
Yeah, maybe on some level. I think for us there have been a lot of ideas being pitched at us and we were going to go with a few of them but a lot of circumstantial stuff happened, so we ended up having to take it upon ourselves and make a video. We'd never done that before. Luckily we have a friend who had a great camera and is really talented as a director. We just came up with a lot of ideas that we thought fit the mood visually and were just great visual pieces that go with the song. I'm sure there's something in there, but for us it was just a lot of fun to make.
Were there any pieces that didn't make the cut?
Oh yeah (laughs) Oh yeah, there's a lot of that stuff. Maybe it'll surface one day.
Do you have any examples?
Yeah, there's one where Matt [Frazier] was wearing a space suit and we were just driving along the freeway and we saw some guys selling strawberries, as a lot of people do in California. And you see Matt buying strawberries from these nice old farmer guys, like a really surreal thing. I was totally down to do it. We had a great time.
With the album coming out, can we look forward to any other videos?
Yeah, definitely. I think we're going to try to do as many things like that as we can. I think "Heavy Feeds" - the single we just put out - I know that's going to have a video to go with it. I don't know, it's kind of fun to kind of - we've been focusing on writing music for so long now, and the focus has shifted to touring and getting back out creative pieces like that, so I'm sure there's going to be a lot of visual stuff.
As an artist, what mode do you enjoy more, the writing or this promo/touring period?
They're both so rewarding and really fun. I gotta say, I'm really excited to get back out there and tour. This album has been really interesting because it's a bit more in the studio than the last one and we've been having fun figuring out how to play these songs live. It's going to be cool doing that and traveling again and seeing all the places we've already been. Writing this record was just such an awesome experience. I think I learned a whole lot. So I don't know. Is it fair to say both? I don't know if that's copping out, but...both.
You guys are in for a pretty big tour, right?
I think at the end of the month we leave for - I was just looking at the dates actually, there are dates we haven't even posted - basically we're going 'til Christmas.
Any big stops that you're looking forward to?
Oh yeah, definitely. In particular...there's things I can't even talk about because we haven't announced it yet. But I'm really looking forward to it.
Would I be going too far to ask if you're making any big festival stops?
(laughs) You might be.
Watch the "Breakers" music video:
Watch Local Natives live at Bowery Ballroom on Baeblemusic: