Interview - Taylor Rice, Local Natives, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
SIS: Here we are in the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, you’ve just sound checked and will be taking to the stage in just under two hours. How are you?
Have you been to the Brudenell before?
Taylor Rice (TR): I’m good, I’m excited. We have been here before yes, I’m not sure whether once or twice. But this place is almost mythical in our minds; we had a really amazing show here last time. We love it. This venue is really cool, the people that work here are great, we’re really good friends with Wild Beasts who are from Leeds, so there’s all these reasons why we remember the Brudenell. We’re really excited to be back.
|Local Natives courtesy of Kevin Lawson (editradio.org)|
SIS: This is the first night of your UK tour, how did the shows in the U.S go?
TR: They were amazing, they went so well. It’s quite crazy, we played some small shows but we also played our largest ever theatre gig in San Francisco to 2,800 people, so to play that and then this, it’s fun. That was a big beautiful theatre and now this is going to be a super sweaty gig. It’s a good variation.
SIS: Do crowd receptions differ between here and the U.S?
TR: There’s a different vibe city to city; I don’t think I could generalise the two countries. The smaller towns, Leeds vs London, or Atlanta instead of New York, the smaller towns go crazier. Maybe they’re less worried about looking cool in small towns. But we just played New York, they were really great this time round, so maybe big cities are making a comeback!
SIS: There has been quite a gap between records, was this a conscious decision to leave such time between or is this just how the record materialised?
TR: Both really. The main reason it took so long is simply because Gorilla Manor touring just kept going and going, every time we thought we were done we’d get this incredible offer we just couldn’t say no to. Like we got to play with an orchestra at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, which is my favourite building in LA and an incredible venue, its so amazing. Or touring with Arcade Fire or The National. So that’s part of the reason, but even then, we knew consciously that we wanted to take a break, clear our minds. When we’re writing, it’s very consuming and you have to be in the right headspace, so we put our roots back in LA, had a home and a life again. We also knew that we were not going to release the record or be done with it on any sort of time limit. We worked on a principle of ‘when we’re done, we’re done’, so it was a conscious break in that sense.
SIS: You seem to have a bit of a penchant for naming your records after animals…
TR: (laughs) That definitely isn’t a conscious thing, it’s just how that worked out. I don’t think our third record will have that.
SIS: What themes do inspire you? What inspired the writing of Hummingbird?
TR: I was actually really inspired by surrealist artists, from all different avenues. I really got into Leonard Cohen; first his poetry rather than his music. I became obsessed with how he weaves stories and how he manages to leave things open ended, but still pack in so much detail and keep things so vibrant. Also Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author, he’s been my favourite author for the past few years and when we were touring I read a ton of his books. My favourite is The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, it’s just gorgeously written. The past two years for us have kind of felt quite surreal for us as a band, so I think I have been attracted to that in literature. We’ve been touring the world, playing music to so many people, its more than you could dream or imagine. And then when we came home, we had some really difficult times that we had to get through together, we felt pulled in two different directions. There have obviously been the musical influences too – Portishead’s record Third, it was out years ago but that has been influential to us this time round tonally.
SIS: You’ve always taken quite a D.I.Y approach in terms of creative control in Local Natives, doing your own artwork and recording and in many cases promotion, do you feel this is an ethos more bands should follow?
TR: Well… most of the bands I know do function that way, the ones we’re friends with anyway. Our obsession with it is definitely more exaggerated than some, but I think it’s just a case of doing what works for you. If you’re a band that really loves another designer or artist, or a producer, there is nothing wrong with that. But for us, we’ve very protective of everything we put our name to creatively and also, we enjoy that side of it, it’s fun for us, it’s not just a job.
SIS: But this record, you let someone in. Aaron Dessner, of The National produced it. Why did you feel the time was right to let somebody else in?
TR: We decided to go with him because we knew the one thing we definitely needed help on was the actual recording (laughs). So we demoed the songs really intensively ourselves for about 8 months, but we’re still not at a level where we could get the sound we wanted without an expert engineer. Aaron is definitely that. The reason we took him on as a co-producer and the reason we felt so comfortable letting him in is that he is in a band himself, and he is a songwriter – he completely gets the band dynamic. He completely understand ego, and that fact that we would be really protective of the record. So he was amazing, there are no horror stories, he just integrated really well with us and the whole process. He was coming from the same perspective.
SIS: Do you think you’d work with him again?
TR: I don’t know, he’s a busy guy. It just worked out this time, time wise. We’d be totally open to it, but as I think you’ve caught on to, we’ve learnt so much from him and the whole recording process that I think we’d like to try and produce entirely ourselves. It’s very interesting the way The National write records, it’s very studio orientated, whereas we in local natives will play all together in a room, and so through that, Aaron has learnt so many techniques and tricks that he’s in turn shown us.
SIS: Didn’t you actually record the album in his family home?
TR: Yeah, his house in Brooklyn. The studio is in the garage and backyard.
SIS: So it wasn’t uncomfortable intruding on his family life at all?
TR: Not at all, they were awesome. He had a new baby as well at the time, their first girl. He and his family are on the bottom floor and we were above, sleeping in the attic. His band mates sometimes live there, so he used to it, but I guess it was different having a whole band in there so we were careful to stay respectful, but they were very welcoming. That whole community that they live in is very secluded and cut off, so it was nice.
SIS: Did it make you homesick at all, being part of someone else’s family? Correct me if I’m wrong of course, but it was vibe I was getting from the record, that air of missing home and feeling at sorts with your lifestyle, the touring and the conflict of leading a normal life…
TR: That’s interesting. I don’t know if I’d say that, only because we were living in L.A for a year between records. The record isn’t consciously about that, we wanted to avoid making ‘that touring record’ and we consciously decided to leave L.A to record. We didn’t know where we wanted to go but we knew we wanted to leave, because we wanted to be in a state where we didn’t feel so comfortable that we couldn’t push ourselves. We wrote most of it at home, so it has both themes of home and New York running through it.
SIS:You told NME that the record was ‘deeper’ that Gorilla Manor, did you mean sonically or lyrically?
TR: Both. We’ve gone through this very personal expansion, both sonically and writing wise, it pulls in both directions, deeper in terms of what we’ve gone through but also upwards. We’ve never been happier that where we are now, and Hummingbird is a full expansion of that emotion. It does however turn inward – this record has some of the barest moments we’ve ever allowed ourselves to write, just one voice and a thin harmony. We were really attracted to space and the leaving of space to breathe in certain songs this time. But outwardly, we have some of the most lush and layered things we’ve ever done, so it works both ways. I think that’s what we meant by deeper! More layers, but also less layers. Expanded rather than deep.
SIS: You mentioned your difficulties as a band earlier, one of which was the departure of you bassist Andy. How did this affect your group dynamic and the way you went about writing and recording?
TR: It actually worked out really well. It is a very sad thing, but we had grown apart and we had to split seperate ways. For us, though it was this sad moment, it really opened up a world of possibility for us. Instead of just playing in one room and then recording like last time, we built our own little studio for the demoes and invested in learning how to use it, recording as we went along, meaning everyone could play different instruments and just jump around, which really helped us with the experimentation and expansion we were looking for, the chance to push ourselves and expand our palette, as songwriters.
SIS: So you juggled skills around, rather than getting a new bassist? You didn’t consider recruiting a replacement?
TR: No. We can all play, we never considered getting somebody in. We do now have a touring bassist to cover the old five piece stuff but we can handle it now studiowise.
SIS: We read somewhere that you guys have a democratic system with playing cards when you are recording, to make decisions…
TR: Oh, the cards. (laughs) They’re not like real cards, they’re metaphysical ones. So it was just an idea of having a cache for the record, it was one of the tools Aaron brought in to balance egos. So you could say ‘this is important to me, I’m going to play all my cards right here’, then its like ‘okay, we don’t agree with you, but we’ll go with it.’
|Courtesy of Kevin Lawson (editradio.org)|
SIS: Did that ever get nasty?
TR: Yeah, sure! (laughs) definitely. There were a lot of songs that ended up getting cut from the record, and those were all the songs that we couldn’t agree on. In those moments, for me personally, there were a few songs that feel like your babies, your precious creations. And you really want them to work on the record but they don’t, or at least nobody else thinks they do, so it can get quite tense. There’s a lot of tension in the democratic process. But now it’s all over, you can just look at it as saving that material to work on in the future. They’ll just be four separate Local Natives side projects one day (laughs)
SIS: Gorilla Manor spawned 6 singles, do you consider singles in the songwriting process?
TR: Definitely not in the writing process. When we actually finished that record, we thought god, we have no singles! (laughs) so no. But when the record is completely done, that’s when we sit down with the label, consider what we have and work releases out that way. Choosing Breakers as the first release from Hummingbird was never a conscious decision, we never wrote it thinking ‘man, this is the lead single’, in fact we thought there was no way. But then it turned out to be a nice bridge between the two albums so it made sense. We’re so lucky that everyone we work with knew what they were signing up for and they know that we’re going to do whatever we’re going to do. They always just like ‘let us know when you’re done.’ I can’t imagine they’d ever tell us to write singles. You hear that it’s a single dominated culture all the time in the press, that people only buy singles and there’s no point to records or tracklisting but whether it’s completely naive or not, we believe that making an album, a cohesive album, is something people can still really connect to and listen to in full. That’s how we relate to music and how we grew up. That’s what we want to focus on, rather than having a shot at radio play. There is that business side of it, but the reality is that bands don’t make any money from that side anyway anymore, so it’s not really in their interests to care too much about it. For me again, the bands I know, the people I’ve met at festivals and things, they’re all definitely against that way of thinking.
SIS: Speaking of festivals, do you have any cheeky announcements in that area?
TR: (laughs) I don’t actually know yet, I wish that I did! It’s all news to me. We’ve got Primavera, a few in the states and obviously a few I’m not really meant to say yet. But festival season is the best. It’s like some crazy long summer camp, you get to see a lot of the same people in all these different places and make friends, that’s how we make most of our musical friends.
SIS: We were talking about the quieter moments on the record, and one of the standout tracks in that area is Three Months. Did you and Kelsey approach your voices or the way you sing on this record any differently to Gorilla Manor?
TR: I can definitely see what you mean with that song, that’s interesting you say that. A lot of these songs, lyrically, feel a lot more direct. We made that decision to thin the wall between the song and how it relates; we wanted to mean everything we were signing about. And I guess that comes through in the conviction of our delivery.
SIS: Stripping away the melodies that kind of made your name, that’s a brave move.
TR: Exactly, that’s what we wanted. With Three Months, there is no harmony at all, and it was so hard not to add it in, I really wanted to layer it up originally and I wrote tons of arrangement. But it’s such a beautiful song and because of what the song is, and what it’s about, it became important to keep the directness of one voice.
SIS: Being a touring band though, you can experiment with those arrangements, maybe try harmonies out live on it?
TR: That’s actually really true, we should try that! We do a lot of acoustic recorded sessions for websites and things where we usually change the song up completely for fun, so I shall take that idea back to the band and tell them you’re supportive of a big harmony version. (laughs)
SIS: Throughout your career, you mentioned the bands you were touring with earlier, you’ve been compared to the likes of The National and Arcade Fire a lot, or pigeonholed in that group. Do you think that is a fair representation of your music?
TR: I’m not sure. It’s true that I’ve seen that a lot. But I’ve also seen, especially a lot of places that I wouldn’t expect it from, a lot of review of this record that say we have transcended that comparison.it is what it is. The comparison to Fleet Foxes on the first record! (laughs) if you listen to fleet foxes record and then Gorilla Manor, in my opinion the difference is absurd. They just hear harmonies and put us together. With that reasoning, you could just as easily say we sound like Fleetwood Mac. Every band, especially new, will get that. And at least we’re being compared to amazing bands, it could be way worse. I just take it in my stride.
SIS: I noticed on your facebook that you like to do tour playlists, I noticed a lot of British and European bands on the most recent one – melody’s echo chamber, King Krule…
TR: Gosh yes, we loooooove King Krule. Everyone in the band is huge fans. Ryan makes most of our playlists, he more than anyone loves British music. We all do but he especially grew up on the Brit invasion.
SIS: Are there any other Brit bands you really love?
TR: I’ve mentioned them hundreds of times, they don’t need any introduction. But Wild Beasts are really in our collective top 2 or 3 contemporary bands at the moment. We’re huge fans, we played ATP together, we got right down the front for their show and were loving it. Smother is an incredible record and it was so special to hear it all live. They’re really nice guys too.
SIS: That leads us nicely into our last question, the golden bonus one. Are you ready?
TR: (laughs) I think so.
SIS: Wild Beasts did the Smother thing in full, but if you could see any band, perform any album in full, in any venue, who would it be?
TR: God! (laughs) do they have to be alive? It would have to be The White Album…oh god…Or would it be Let It Be? I mean, everyone has seen the roof performance, the one they did for the Apple studios, so only because of that I’d choose The White Album. Plus its super long, so it would a tactical choice (laughs). Venuewise, I guess I’d choose somewhere in London, Shepherds Bush. That’s one of my favourite venues. Although damn, I missed a trick, I should have picked the Brudenell. (laughs)
SIS: We’ll forgive you! Thanks so much Taylor.
TR: No problem at all. See you at the show!
Local Natives - Hummingbird Review
There used to be a time when this website was my first priority. I treated it like a business, investing all my spare time in writing things as quickly as I could think of them, pouring over music, pushing it as far as possible. Now, in formalised music journalism training, all my spare time is going on coursework, assignments, meetings and by the time I get in, it’s all I can do to crash in front of the television to relax for an hour before I fall asleep, ready to get up again and do it all over the next day.
I have made significant strides in both my personal and academic life, and in many ways I am the happiest I have ever been. And yet certain facets of my work ethic, or at the least the work I put upon myself, the work I really truly enjoy, has started to slip. I don’t see my friends as much as I used to, for they are as busy as I am, and I spend extortionate levels of time staring at this here computer. But yet still, feelings of inadequacy creep in.It is this sentiment that struck me round the face within my first listen to the opening track of local natives hummingbird, You and I. The nautical vibe of its beginning strains oddly similar to that of Gorillaz Plastic Beach before dissolving into a Grizzly Bear-esque thump, subtly evoking imagery of both Orange County (where the band are from) and New York (where they recorded the album) straight away, a neat storytelling device. It works as a well crafted, audible cv - you know where they are from, where they’ve been and where they are going. The lyric ‘the closer, I get, the further I have to go’ becomes the perfect analogy for the record, and indeed where I am at personally.
Heavy feet continues this theme of homesickness for the person you once were, the same uncomfortable feeling you get as your plane sets off, knowing you won’t be going home again for months on end, torn between the lust for adventure and challenge and the longing for what is comfortable and familiar. Containing the double drumming that made Gorilla Manor such a delight, honey smooth vocals and an urgent chorus, it is undoubtedly their best single to date, a clear indication that once the smiles fade, the artful spirit of their debut still lives through, albeit in a more mature incarnation.
Fellow single breakers takes the same harmonies that once saw them compared to fleet foxes and injects them with life, somehow evoking wood fires and well-manicured beards with every note. It’s joyous guitar chimes make it easy to ignore the dark, paranoid undertones as Kelsey and Taylor deliver the line ‘I know nothings’ wrong/but I’m not convinced’ in unison, almost trying to convince one another, parts of the same self-doubting person. Summing up the frustrations of losing their previous bassist through the line ‘like trying to strike a match that’s soaking wet’, they turn tragedy to triumph with ease.
There has always been something very sincere and intimately personal about Local Natives, but it comes to fruition here, via the dusky chimes of Ceilings, the natural teen rom-com worthy brother of old fan favourite Who Knows Who Cares, and the much darker Bowery, not a million miles away from Foals spacier, atmospheric moments, the lyric ‘can’t tell if the ceilings rising/or if the floor is falling out’ the obvious match to the frankly stunning album artwork. Three Months is the gorgeous culmination of their new found ability to let their music breathe, lead singer Kelsey Ayer experimenting and pushing his voice to spellbinding fragility as he dances along the top notes of ‘ I am letting you know. I am ready to feel you’ with startingly directness. It’s shiver- inducing stuff. The same can be said for Columbia, the album title referencing song that indicates the closing act of the record before the encore. It’s a touching open letter to the sadly passed mother of Ayer, starkly addressing her by name, more like a beautiful, lamenting prayer than and indie rock song, a testament to their versatility and ability to portray such difficult emotions without lapsing into self-indulgence, through the simple question ‘Patricia/every night I ask myself/Am I Giving Enough?’.
Hummingbird is a record that acts as a touchstone of a band rediscovering themselves, and in many ways, provides a good parallel to how myself, and many other people, need to adjust their lives. Finding that time to stop, letting things breathe, switching off the things that do not matter to us and put 120% into the things that do. Using challenges and obstacles as motivation to prioritise and reflect on our support networks in times of need. And asking ourselves, are we giving enough? One gets the impression that this is exactly what Local Natives have done as a new found four piece, using Hummingbird for catharsis over their various losses, but also recognizing the potential it has as a record to really push forward their career, a career they have worked a long time towards. Maybe naming their second album after a creature that mythologically represents vigour, energy and propensity to work was no coincidence.
Local natives seem to be in a place, as people, where they are perhaps underestimating their true worth and potential. You know that feeling of listlessness that occurs when you know you have created something great, but you know you have it in you to one day make something even bigger? Hopefully this nervous energy will stir them on to even more dizzying and elegant heights. Until then, they have made an early play for album of the year.