What do you do when you're constantly on the road, touring with one of the hottest bands in the indie world, and suddenly you find some alone time to experiment with your own music? If you're Kelcey Ayer, AKA Local Natives
' singer/multi-instrumentalist, you write your own record. Being the first member to start a solo project, which is called Jaws Of Love.
, writing the whole thing was easy. "The stuff that comes out from Local Natives is always going to be the things that - no one can explain why - feels right to the five people. So that was awesome, having to be the only person that needed to be pleased or needed the opinion of," Ayer told us. But although writing the album was easy, some apprehension followed when the time came to throw it into the world, "if someone doesn't like it, it's 100% on me... It just feels so much more high stakes... From an existential, personal level."
The solo album, entitled Tasha Sits Close To The Piano,
was just released earlier this month. Before listening, prepare for something you haven't probably heard recently. The record is comprised mainly of ballads based around the piano. It's not something you'll hear on Top 40 radio, but it offers something much more important: darkness, healing, and emotionality. Ayer is happily married, but even so, a majority of the record deals with the painful truths that come with love, like the fear of loss. It's a painful record, but it's cathartic, and it's important. After hearing the 10 beautiful tracks that Ayer had to offer, we had the privilege to sit down and talk to him about vulnerability, writing with Local Natives vs. writing alone, and what's next to come.
KIRSTEN SPRUCH: I was just listening to the record, and it's beautiful, so beautiful. You really took your piano skills to a whole new level. Is that something you always wanted to do?
KELCEY AYER: I really like emotionality in music and I feel like you find this thing a lot in singer-songwriter music where they're telling stories about their lives. I like that a lot but I feel like there isn't a lot of songwriter albums like that that are based on piano. I think that's why I wanted to hear an album like that, one that was just all centered on piano. There's just so many albums that are centered around a guy and an acoustic guitar and that's cool, but I feel like I'm always trying to make the music that I want to hear. So I had this project and I said "fuck it."
KS: I hate saying this, but it's not really a "popular" type of music. You know, an entire album of ballads. Is that something you took into consideration?
KA: Yeah, I'm definitely aware that what's on KISS-FM is not what this is. I mean, I made this for people like me who just like to listen to music, and I don't know, people who still really listen to albums. I still care about albums and full statements and music that moves me internally. It's not just party music.
KS: And what you're doing now is kind of the opposite of what Local Natives is doing. What was it like being the first side project to evolve from that band?
KA: Pretty interesting. At times it felt so incredible to be free and able to make every decision creatively regarding the art on the album. Being in a band is so much about getting everyone on the same page. It can be very arduous. For this project it felt so freeing and amazing to be on my own and not have to explain myself to anyone. I don't think I'm a good explainer. The stuff that comes out from Local Natives is always going to be the things that - no one can explain why - feels right to the five people. So that was awesome, having to be the only person that needed to be pleased or needed the opinion of. It was all based on my gut. But now that the record is out and I'm doing interviews and I'm trying to push it myself, I'm feeling really vulnerable and terrified and alone.
KA: Yeah. I mean, I think everyone can relate to taking your family for granted. Every Local Natives album is five people all together, but this album very much feels like it's 100% me and if someone doesn't like it, it's 100% on me. I don't know. It just feels so much more high stakes or something, just from an existential, personal level. So those have been interesting waters to navigate. I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. I just talk to my wife about it everyday and she's sick of hearing about it.
KS: Does performing this new music feel different for you in a live setting?
KA: Sometimes it is as dense as a band and sometimes it's really bare, but I've been able to figure out how to do it live with my friend Mark Nieto who goes by COMBAT! He actually did some additional production on a handful of the songs on the record. He's been a long time friend and he agreed to help me out. He's kind of saving my ass and making this show really happen. I didn't want to just do whatever is the stripped down, bare bones version of these songs. I really would love for this project to exist on its own and stand up on its own and not just be a fleeting side thing. I wanted the shows to be real representations of the music I've made on the album. So Mark being involved, between the two of us, I think we've been able to recreate the album in an awesome, interesting way. And who knows? If the album does well and I can afford to get other players, then it might expand. But for now, me and Mark seem to be doing it justice.
KS: You've said that it's always been hard for you to write a song while you're happily in love, until you found ways to write about the little issues and miscommunications in a relationship. Have you ever just tried to sit down and write a happy song about being in love?
KA: Yeah, every time I tried, it just felt tired and trite and felt like, if i was a grape, I'd shrivel up into a raisin and just kind of fall over. I didn't like it.
KA: I don't know what it is about it. I feel like I can't do it in a way that doesn't feel super cheesy to me. That's why I have a lot of respect for people who can do that because I think that is one of the hardest things to do, to write a pop, happy love song. I have the utmost respect for people who can do that.
KS: Which artists inspire you musically?
KA: My all-time favorite band is Radiohead. When I heard Amnesiac
and Kid A
I realized that there was a place for music like that. Also, Portishead's third record. It's called Third
. I feel like Radiohead paints with so many different colors and can go and morph into so many different things, but then when I heard that Portishead record, I never heard a record like that that was so unabashedly and unapologetically moody and emotional and dark. It really felt like it gave me permission to go to those places and that those places were okay to go to. And I think that stuff like that ends up making me feel good in a weird way. It's a relatable thing.
KS: Have you ever listened to Sampha?
KA: Yeah, yeah. I love that record. He just won the Mercury Prize, right?
KA: Yeah, I dug that record. Most of the music was done by the time I heard that record, but it felt nice that another artist was out there doing something kind of similar in the vein of what I was doing. Another artist I look up to a lot is James Blake. In the way I was talking about that Portishead record, he's unabashedly and unapologetically himself. He's definitely holding up a torch for introspective, darker music. He's got a lot of electronic, dance-y stuff in there, so I feel like it really works as more of a mainstream, getting out there vibe, which I love.
KS: What song on the record are you most proud of?
KA: I'm the most proud of "Microwaves." I never thought I could write something like that and I really tried to follow my instincts and just do whatever I was feeling for the project. There were a lot of things I learned from Local Natives and there was a lot of rewiring that I had to do. I wanted to try and go as far away from that world as possible and I feel like I really achieved that in a way that made me feel super satisfied, and it was through "Microwaves."
KS: What are you most excited for in the future with this project? Do you think there's going to be a second solo album? Jumping really far ahead here…
KA: I think that for Jaws of Love., I've really started something and I'll see how far it goes. But I'm definitely going to be doing music outside of Local Natives, probably for the rest of my life. That could turn into anything. Maybe another Jaws of Love. record, maybe something else entirely. I don't know. I'll do some more stuff before I die. I hope this thing turns into whatever it's supposed to turn into. If it's just an album that a few people really dug, and just really affects some people in a profound way, that's going to make me feel so great. And if it goes really well, I would like that too.