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Interview with Local Natives at Green Man Festival 2013

  • By Art. Author Avatar
  • 20 August 2013

Local Natives interview at Green Man Festival 2013. 

In Green Man Festival’s 25 degree Sunday heat, slouched over an old trailer in search for shade, we flicked off the green flies and bugs to chat with Kelcey Ayer and Ryan Hahn from  Local Natives. We had the chance to ask about their seminal 2013 record, Hummingbird, working with Aaron Dressner from the National, Damon Albarn, and whether they knew who Ryan Giggs was. 

SJ: What separates Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird?

Ryan: It seems like it dug deeper with everything musically, and especially emotionally and lyrically. I feel like we were more willing to be more direct with the lyrics and explore more personal topics. Musically, I feel like we were able to expand ourselves: there are more sparse moments but also more bombastic stuff as well. So, the whole thing in our mind feels more bold and in a direction.

SJ: What about production specifically?

Kelcey: Well, I think that we were a lot less worried about how it’s going to sound live or how we’re going to replicate it live and we were just trying to tell ourselves ‘let’s focus on the record’, pretty much how most people do anyway (laughs). But on our first record we kind of just plugged in without any pedals, effects or anything and just kind of went. Then this time around, we wanted to try and experiment with layers and acting on how it sounded out of the speakers and gelled together as opposed to just in a room together.

Ryan: I think we learned a lot and became more confident as musicians. The first time we kind of just mic’ed up the piano and were like ‘oh, that’s it, that’s the piano sound’ this time it was like ‘let’s try that mic’, ‘let’s move this mic over here’

Kelcey: ‘Run it through an amp’

Ryan: Yeah, ‘run it through an amp’ and we just experimented with all of these things until we were happy with the sound.

SJ: So did Aaron Dressner (the National) have an impact on that?

Both: Definitely.

Kelcey: We’d spent 9 months demoing stuff in a space in LA that we’d decked out and sound proofed ourselves, and we had pretty much the whole thing written by the time that Aaron came in. We then did some pre-production with him and went to Montreal and Brooklyn to actually record it. He (Aaron) is really good because we get really rigid in this way that we’ll work on a part for forever, and it’ll be like ‘THAT’S the piano’, ‘THAT’S the guitar part’ – everything is in our heads and its like checking off on a list like ‘ok, now that’s good’. But Aaron was like ‘the record’s not done until it’s done, and nothing is set in stone so we need to throw out any kind of playbook’ which kind of threw us for a spin, but I think really benefitted the record. Giving it some ‘human-ness’, like we certainly wouldn’t ever have a guitar solo on a record (laughs), without Aaron.

SJ: He brought that out in you?

Kelycey: Yeah, just to try shit that we wouldn’t try before.

Ryan: He tried to make it more unhinged in parts, which I think benefitted the record.

Kelycey: Yeah, we tend to over think things a lot. So it was really helpful to have someone with one foot in the creative circle and one out.

SJ: Did you guys get in touch with him about working together?

Kelcey: Well, he took us out on tour, The National did.

Ryan: It was a very casual conversation at first, because we were trying to play new songs on that tour. So he was telling us how big a fan he was of our first record and what he thought of the new songs and it was a kind of, we’d been drinking a lot of wine (laughs), and it was one those things where he was like: “You guys should have ME do it” – and we were like “sweet man, let’s do it”. Then I don’t think anyone thought it was like a serious proposition but then a few months later we hit him up about it.

SJ: Did you say ‘No, you promised!’

Ryan: (laughs) Yeah!

Kelcey: ‘You don’t remember!?’ (laughs) It’s cool like, I felt like this really cool mutual respect. We really like them as a band and he was a big fan of us too, so it was cool to have somebody come in and it not be their day job. It felt like a shared passion. We all wanted to make a great record.

SJ: I suppose that’s part of working with an artist isn’t it?

Kelcey: Yeah. I mean, it’s just so important to us. We wanted somebody who would see it as important as it was to us.

SJ: When you write a song, what is it in its simplest form?

Ryan: How its been up until now, it’s very melody based. I think each of us has a hundred voice memos on our phones, of humming melodies. Then usually that’ll be put to one of us playing guitar, piano and it’s very infantile. It usually doesn’t develop super far, because we like to bring it to the other guys and work super-collaboratively, but that’s up to this point. I think now we’re becoming more confident to write songs to a lot further along, then record them on the road and before we bring them to the other guys. It’s always changing, but we are insanely collaborative: functioning dysfunction.

SJ: How does that affect the lyrics? The way that, if you’re writing melodies first, how does that inform how you approach the song lyrically?

Kelcey: Well, I think how we approach the songs in general is very collaborative. Everyone’s shaping things together, but with lyrics, this time around we tried to let one person, like Ryan, Taylor or myself, go down our own path and stick to our own perspective because I think, at the end of the day, they come across more when you’re getting in someone’s head and not diluting it with a bunch of opinions and people trying to change it. So, we try to let each other have a little more of their own space when it comes to lyrics.

Ryan: And also, having the melody inform the lyrics secondly: I almost feel like with this record -- when you were working on it you had the melody and the basic instrumentation – the first lyric that you came up with, even it was gibberish at first, thematically or emotionally, was in line with what you want to do, then you can construct a story around that or whatever.  Usually one line will come – it felt like it made sense because it’s coming from the same place. With ‘Bowery’, which was one of the first songs, those were kind of like freestyle –the first stanza was very ‘off the cuff’ and I was always going to change it, but somehow it’s stayed to this day-

Kelcey: Everyone was like ‘it’s great, it’s great, let’s roll with it’ (laughs)

Ryan: I don’t know exactly what it means or anything, but I know it feels right – so I wrote the rest of it based on that.

Kelcey: I feel like sometimes words on paper are something, then words with music are something else. Where the music almost informs a word to mean something different to what it would normally mean. Sometimes things that shouldn’t work end up working really well.

SJ: So, has the amount of time you’ve spent on the road in the past two years affected you as artists?

Kelcey: It’s definitely been pretty eye-opening to see so many different places in the world, it gives you a different perspective. I mean, we grew up Orange County, which is a rich conservative area that we definitely wanted to get out of as soon as possible. So we went to college in LA and San Francisco and whatever, but getting to see all of these places definitely has an impact on our writing and stuff.

Ryan: Also, playing shows, like Kelcey said we wanted the record to be about the record as an experience, separate from the live thing. I dunno, the songs, even now, are so different having toured them – they constantly change, they evolve live, so we’re always learning about playing live and what that means.

SJ:  Usually you begin shows in a similar way to Hummingbird’s beginning: ‘You & I’ into ‘Breakers’

Kelcey: Right. We’ve actually started opening with ‘World News’ and doing ‘You & I’ later.

Ryan: Set lists are probably the most argumentative thing about being in a band (laughs), it gets so ugly and it’s the worst. Maybe tracklisting on an album is a close second, but that is the most painful part – it will always change I think, someone will always win.

SJ: Didn’t mean to throw a cat amongst the pigeons

Ryan: (laughs) no, no. I’m glad you noticed! Like we’re always like ‘there’s no way someone’s going to come to both shows and is going to see the same tracks’.

SJ: When I saw you in Nottingham a few weeks back it was very different to Scala in February, which felt very much like: we’re here to give you Hummingbird.

Ryan:  Yeah, (talking to Kelcey) you were super sick for that show!

Kelcey: I was, yeah, I had laryngitis and we had to cut a few songs. We had to cut ‘World News’ and somebody tweeted us saying ‘what the fuck? No World News?! What the fuck’ (laughs), I was in my hotel room while everybody was partying feeling sick.

SJ: Who do you want to collaborate with?

Both: Damon Albarn.

Ryan: I feel like everything he touches is just genius, and I love his work ethic. I’ve heard Nick Cave is the same way, like they just go in 9 to 5 and just like produce work, even if it’s not amazing, they just do something. I just feel like to be around somebody that creative would be so fun.

SJ: You guys played a lot with Blur this Summer didn’t you? Did you get to meet?

Ryan: No, I was too shy. They had a table-tennis table in their dressing room at Primavera, which they brought out into the hallway and I was kind of hoping they’d come out and try challenge us!

SJ: Just feed them wine and hope what happened with Aaron (Dressner) happens again!

Ryan: Yeah, just slide it into their dressing room.

SJ:  ‘You wanna work with us, we get it!’

Ryan: (laughs) yeah! That’s the way to do it *here you go*.

SJ: As it’s Green Man, and we’re in Glanusk Park, we’ve prepared some ‘Welsh Questions’

Kelcey: Now I’m nervous!

SJ: Who’s Ryan Giggs?

Kelcey: (points at Ryan) He’s Ryan Hahn.

Ryan: That’s not what he asked!

SJ: Guess – he’s a big Welsh celebrity.

Kelcey: Is he a football player?

SJ: Yeah! You did it!

Kelcey: Yeah man! You’re big in the UK, you’re probably playing football (laughs)

SJ: Do you know how to say Wales in Welsh?

Both: No

SJ:  Cymru

Ryan: Cymru?!

Kelcey: Cymru…

Ryan: Wow - it sounds very Middle-earth, shire-type

SJ: Who of these people isn’t Welsh: Laurence Olivier, Ryan Giggs or Christian Slater?

Kelcey: Christian Slater

SJ: Has the way you view your music changed as time has gone on?

Kelcey: I’ve been listening to a lot more older artists recently and thinking of your music defined as ‘In a career’ and just kind of thinking as records is not. I don’t know, we’re constantly evolving into different stuff and each record is just one step in the right direction. I’m trying not to think of things so hugely like: ‘THIS record is IT’, ‘THIS song is IT’, because I feel like (pauses) when we’re talking about Nick Cave and Damon Albarn, they’re just constantly releasing shit and you know, I’d love to get into that headspace. Where I’m just working and putting out stuff, and even if it’s not my best stuff. The more write, the quicker we’ll get to the ones that are really great. I guess I’ve just been thinking of things on a larger scale, as opposed to this year: 5 years from now, 10 years from now. I’m trying not to get bogged down by what’s trendy now – we’re obviously not an electronic band, and that’s very ‘of the moment’ I think, so we’re sometimes wondering where we fit in.

SJ:  That’s a good thing.

Kelcey: I think so. You just have to be stoked at what you’re doing, and I definitely am. Really proud of the album we’ve made.

SJ: Thanks so much guys.


Local Natives interview at Green Man Festival 2013.