There have been three and a half years since the release of Local Natives’ debut record, and three and a half years’ worth of changes.
The Los Angeles four-piece lost their bass player, Andy Hamm, while frontman Kelcey Ayer’s mother passed away in the summer of 2011. Beyond that, there was an almost endless series of tours, during which the band refined and evolved their craft. The result, finally, is sophomore LP, ‘Hummingbird’. Scene got on the phone to multi-instrumentalist Ryan Hahn to discuss the new album, recording in New York, the LA arts scene, and the band’s just announced May tour to Australia.
‘Hummingbird’ – released three and a half years after ‘Gorilla Manor’ in late 2009 – does it feel that long to you?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. We toured forever on that first record, and that has a weird way of warping time, you know (laughs). It flies by. And then we told ourselves that we weren’t going to release the next record until it’s ready. We just wanted to take our time with it and make sure whatever we were doing, we were really proud of. Now that we have it, now that it’s done, we just want to put it out immediately. I don’t know: I think we’re just ready to put it out there and get back on the road.
There seems to be a dichotomy developing, though. Albums are increasingly seen as ammunition for the live show, and yet there’s barely any time to stop these days and actually record an album. Fair call?
For us, the way we write and the kind of music we want to make, we really feel the need to get off the road, be still and focus. We love playing live, I think it’s our favourite part, but we put everything we learned over the last few years into this new record. So yeah – we wanted it to be something that could stand on its own and not, like you said, just be ammunition for touring.
Have you ever felt any pressure to write on the road?
Yeah. We do write as much as we can. But it’s just tough when you’re touring – the only moments you get where you don’t have to do anything, all you want to do is rest. It’s hard to write at soundcheck or write in the tour van. So it took us a while to get going once we got back and got our feet back on the ground. But once we got into the swing of things there was nine months of pure writing and demoing, and three months of recording.
The changes that came about with the new album – you have been through so much: you’ve done a truckload of touring, you lost Adam, and there’s been other personal stuff going on – how much of the change was premeditated, and how much just came out?
There was never any discussion: ‘This is what the record’s going to sound like’. We’d grown a lot and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves – I think that was maybe the only thing we discussed: ‘Let’s not just do ‘Gorilla Manor Version 2’. We just wanted to push ourselves and try new things and not be afraid to take some chances and branch out. It felt really good. It felt like we were where we needed to be.
What was the intention behind going across country to Brooklyn to record?
People talk about this album being a New York thing, but we actually wrote the whole thing in LA. We found ourselves a rehearsal spot and spent hours every day writing and demoing. Then, when it was time to record, I think that’s when we thought about trying to get away from all the distractions in the city and focus on the record – and we went to New York where there are plenty of distractions (laughs). But we almost wanted to go back to the first record when we were living together and just purely focussing on making music. That was the thought process.
I know you guys found the split with Andy hard. Writing and recording without Andy – did it change things much?
I think we’ve always been such a collaborative band, and me, Taylor [Rice, guitarist] and Kelcey have always been the songwriters. It is always super hard to lose a band member – we operate very much like a family – but we’d grown apart over the last few years together. There was the four of us going one way, the other not wanting to go, and it was just tough. But now, I feel like it’s been for the best and I really do honestly feel like we’re happier than ever and that we’re a stronger band than we’ve ever been.
Would you guys consider moving to Brooklyn permanently? It’s pretty much where every young Australian wants to go, as opposed to LA.
I don’t know. It’s pretty crazy: we’ve toured so much now, we’ve seen so much of the world, it’s been really amazing. But every time we come home we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is why we live here’. It’s just so awesome. We really feel like Los Angeles is home. Being in New York was cool, but I’ll always take LA over New York.
Talking about LA – it feels like there’s a rejuvenation going on there, though, where people are once again recognising its value to the arts. There was a time when it was painted as just film stars and fake breasts. Does it feel pretty vibrant there artistically at the moment?
It really does. It’s tough to pinpoint a scene or whatever. But I just think that you come out to LA and it just feels like there is a sense of people doing creative things. You walk around our neighbourhood and everyone’s working hard with their art: it might be music, or acting, or they’re making films. It does feel like there’s a creative atmosphere out here and it feels nice to be a part of that.
First the LP release, and now the tour. You’re in Australia in May – what do you remember about the last time you were here?
It was such a fun tour. Laneway was awesome – you’re just hanging out with friends in different bands, travelling with them – that was such a cool vibe. And we had a lot of days just to walk around and hang out in the cities. In a lot of ways it felt like California: sunshine and friendly people. We’re really looking forward to going back. I think we have it circled on the calendar. We’re looking forward to it.
And the rest of the year?
It just goes and goes and goes. We’ll be touring and doing festival season in the north and playing shows right up until December. Hopefully, just growing the live show and developing new things.
‘Hummingbird’ Is Out Now. Local Natives Play The Zoo May 19.