The myth-ready back-story to LOCAL NATIVES’ rags to riches meteoric rise is by now a well-worn tale upon the lips of the blabbering fabulist. Wide-eyed and wanderlust, the DIY ethos that permeated Local Natives’ debut LP Gorilla Manor and that subsequent performance at SWSW in 2009 soon fostered their reputation as LA’s newest self-made success story. Propelled wholly by their tenacity, staunchness and talent, word of their exploits soon spread like a remorseless insect infiltrating people’s inner ears. For a while, their under-tapped euphoria and barbershop harmonies melted anyone who dared cross their path into bubbling pools of admiration. Then, they started hittin’ the ole dusty trail. They continued to relentlessly tour Gorilla Manor to great acclaim until their tired fingers were naught but powdered bone beneath their swollen feet.
And now they again reside on the precipice of cementing themselves into the limelight as one of the bands to keep a firm eye on in 2013. On January 28th, the Silverlake troupe release their forthcoming LP Hummingbird, which comes as a welcome return to the fray for the quartet after a lengthy gestation period. Although Local Natives may have slightly wandered off the radar since 2011, a couple of things remain clear during a transatlantic phone-call with their affable multi-instrumentalist, Ryan Hahn (Guitar/Vocals). The excitement in Ryan’s warm, genial voice is almost palpable and demonstrates that Local Natives are clearly ready to retake the bull by the horns in 2013: “It feels great to be back, man. I mean, we took quite a bit of time off to focus on writing and recording this new record, but we’re one of those few bands that really enjoy touring so we’ve been kind of missing it. It’s been really good just to get back out there and learn how to play these new songs live.”
Alas, their fortunes fell on difficult times in 2011.With their lives consumed by touring commitments, their spirits were tormented by the departure of long-term bassist and friend, Andy Hamm, who left for undisclosed reasons, assumed amicable. And yup, amicable or not, the glistening sheen of their stratospheric emergence was slightly scuffed… but not for too long. Ryan explains how, just as soon as five became four, they quickly stumbled upon the acquisition of The National’s Aaron Dessner, to fill that gaping void and co-produce their latest LP no less: “We’d kind of written most of the tracks for the new album and then we got the call that we were going to tour with them [The National] in 2011.” So, why Aaron then – was it an unconscious decision considering the circumstances? “Yes,” Ryan asserts. “We wanted to work with someone who we got along with on a personal level but also respected as a songwriter.” Ryan recounts that touring with The National gave them plenty of opportunities to smash their foreheads together with frontman Aaron: “He was just as interested in working together as we were and it just felt like a really natural musical relationship we had together. He really helped push us in the studio even though most of the songs were already written.”
You get the impression that Ryan’s suspended in a glowing state of nirvana when he talks about his new record, in an almost zen-like state of bliss. However, there’s still an underlying honesty when it comes to taking a step back and reflecting on his experiences over the past 12 months: “We went through a lot of heavy times last year; I think this record was us working through a lot of that stuff. With a band that’s as tight as we are, we’re just such close friends, ya know; when one thing happens to one of the guys, it really affects all of us.” His comments are twisted through with anguish, cryptic and vague; and the group’s lyrics refer to breaking down emotional barriers, documenting personal tribulations and affliction. The first single off their new LP Breakers exemplifies this: “Breathing out hoping to breathe in,” they sing. “I know nothing’s wrong but I’m not convinced,” they continue, full of dismay about their lack of confidence in their convictions. Ryan reinforces the listener’s feeling that the songs on this record are coming from “a personal and honest place”.
Aside from the more obvious comparisons drawn between Local Natives and the delicate fleeting harmonies of Fleet Foxes, the orchestral, theatrical dramatisations of Arcade Fire and the feather-light, rhythmic canter of Vampire Weekend, Ryan muses over their influences during the writing of Hummingbird. He cites Leonard Cohen as a “huge influence” and reels off a list of British bands from the 80s, including The Smiths and New Order, as references for introducing “different guitar tones”. These are bewildering influences considering Local Natives’ particular live, organic and ramshackle approach to production. Maybe there’s a secret collaboration in the pipeline, who knows? All (of this writer’s) pipe dreams aside, Ryan talks of how the band took a giant leap towards increasing their production values during the recording of Hummingbird: “On the first record we focused on making sure that everything was live, if you know what I mean; there wasn’t a whole lot of production, but there’s a lot more electronic elements to this record; we used a lot more instruments like different synths and drum samples. For us, this was a massive step more towards production, just to make sure it sounded relevant even in five years’ time, ya know.”
It seems that Local Natives’ decision to migrate to Brooklyn to record their long-gestating, second album has paid dividends. And Aaron Dessner has evidently proved to be an invaluable addition as well, as the band are reaping the benefits of his impending wisdom and technical nous. But what of their performance in Liverpool though, is Ryan looking forward it as much as we are? “Ahh, yeeeaahh, totally man! We haven’t been able to spend much time there, so we’re really looking forward to going out afterwards, and seeing the town.” And with that last burst of enthusiasm, Ryan’s voice evaporates into nothingness, to be replaced by the droning sound of a disconnected tone. See you at Garlands Ryan – you’re in for a belter.