Music

Local Natives’ Kelcey Ayer on the Band’s Sophomore Success, ‘Hummingbird’

Music

Local Natives’ Kelcey Ayer on the Band’s Sophomore Success, ‘Hummingbird’

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It’s happening. Local Natives are releasing another album and the Internet is losing its hive mind over it. Fans of their explosively successful EP, Gorilla Manor, hoped and prayed that the LA-based band was holed up someplace, diligently working on a masterful second effort, perhaps with the production assistance of someone brilliant who just so happens to be in another band we love.  Well, it turns out that’s exactly what they’ve done. To record their second album, the boys invaded former tour buddy The National’s Aaron Dessner’s Brooklyn home and studio. The five musicians, who each had their say in the recording process, managed not to kill each other and instead emerged with Hummingbird, an unintentionally darker record.

But the Natives’ singer-keyboardist Kelcey Ayer doesn’t wait to be asked if he is feeling the pressure involved with creating album number two. With a slew of sold out shows (three in New York alone) and the record set to release in mere moments, the only feeling we get from Ayer is a charming sense of excitement to play an album the band is wholeheartedly proud of. It’s a good thing Local Natives do not “fear success”—as many indie bands on the cusp of full-fledged stardom do— because they’re certainly at a high risk of becoming exponentially more famous this time around. We spoke to Ayerabout the process of creating a “first second album,” success, and his lack of magical powers 

I imagine your lives have become radically different since Gorilla Manor came out in 2010. Could you possibly have anticipated the success you’ve experienced?
We were just desperately trying to get a booking agent so that we could play shows on the west coast and open for what we thought was a big band. Those were the goals that we had when we were making Gorilla Manor. When everything went as well as it did…. No one expected that. You obviously idealize what it will be like if you have some success. The amount that we received was constantly surprising.

Let’s talk about Hummingbird, how has your sound changed or evolved in the past couple of years?
We obviously have never been in this position before where we are making our second record. The first record is whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t have some giant plan or vision. The big difference with a second album is you have something to work off of. We wanted to try to do something different because we respect artists that try to move in one direction or another between albums. This album is definitely a product of the things that we went through the last couple years. We didn’t set out to write a darker album by any means, but it kind of came out that way. It’s also a much denser record because we weren’t so focused on how it was going to replicate itself live. We just wanted to focus on the record being as good as it can be.

You mention the record emerging a bit darker due to your experiences. What specifically do you mean by that?
Touring was great, and we were pumped about the success of the first album. We had these really high highs and then suddenly… touring definitely had its hardships in the fact that you can’t really keep relationships on an even keel when you’re so far away. There’s a lot of trouble with friendships and girlfriends. Parting with Andy [Hamm, bassist] was difficult and my mother passed away in 2011 and that is reflected in the album as well. It’s a big mix of really hard times that are shown through the songs. 

I know you toured with The National, but how did you come to work with Aaron Dessner on this album?
We toured with them towards the end of 2011 and we’d been working on songs for this record for about five or six months. We were interested in working with a producer but also a little hesitant because we had never worked with someone outside the band in a creative environment. I think everyone was nervous about bringing someone else into the fold. Aaron does a lot of writing and production stuff for The National and he had just produced that Sharon Van Etten record. He wasn’t on our radar as far as people to work with. We had all these other producers in mind. We tried to shoot big. I don’t think we heard back from Damon Albarn or Geoff Barrow (laughs). Aaron was kind of off the radar and then we started toying around with the idea after the tour happened. We thought, why don’t we send him some demos and see if he’s interested. He was on vacation in Hawaii at the time and that day he got back to us with all these notes and said he was really interested. A month after that we shot the shit for a week and then worked on some of the songs. It clicked in a really awesome way. He really understood the band dynamic. If we had a producer where that was his normal day job I don’t think he’d get it as much.

What was the experience like living and recording in his studio in Brooklyn?
We had written for almost a year at a practice space in LA and we really wanted to go outside of LA to record it properly. I don’t think we had intended it, but it ended up putting us back in a house together. That is always a really good thing for us, when we can wake up and work and go to sleep all in the same place it seems to benefit our process. It was really important to the making of the record because it put us outside of our comfort zone in the sense that it wasn’t familiar surroundings. We couldn’t rely on going to our favorite places. It was all about survival, just trying to get through the making of the record. Our process is one where everyone has an equal say. It’s four cooks in the kitchen and then you add Aaron and that’s five. It can be really frustrating at times. You kind of need to go into a black hole for a second to really squeeze every ounce of what you have to put into your record. No music has ever killed anybody, so you come out the other side and it’s all good.

I know the name Gorilla Manor was derived from the name of your house. Where does Hummingbird come from?
Hummingbird refers to a lyric in Columbia, one of the songs off the record, and it represents something really personal to us. Given the album is much more personal it kind of felt right. There’s also such a beautiful dichotomy to them. They’re so fragile that if they stop beating their wings for more than thirty seconds they die but then seeing them is such a powerful image. Those two feelings put together felt right given every part of the album.

So you’re about to go on quite a tour, how have your expectations changed this time around and how do you “prepare” for a tour?
It’s just a lot of testing the new songs because we obviously haven’t played them as much as our older material. We got to go out and play seven shows in the UK and Europe in November and December and that was awesome to test out the stuff from the new album. The biggest thing I’m excited for is just to be able to play the songs to people who have heard the album and know it and can get on the same page as us. Right now we’re most excited about these new songs so we can’t wait for people to be able to digest them.

You mentioned there was less of an emphasis on how the new record would translate live. What can we expect from your live show this time around?
Our equipment and sound has definitely expanded. We really enjoy taking our songs and turning them around and flipping them on their heads. For the most part, I think we have the new material pretty close to the original. We’re just figuring out ways to express it with different accents and electronics. It’s pretty fun actually.

Your Wiki page says you have magic powers. Is this true?
No. I mean… I’m sorry. If people think that I guess we’re doing something right.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I want to say I’d be a chef, I love to cook, but I think that would be a very high stress job. I’m a little more laid back than it would take to be a chef but I would probably lean that way. I’d also be interested in brewing beer. Matt and I are beer nuts.

Do you have a specialty dish?
My specialty is guacamole.

Do you have a “vision” for your band for the next couple of years?
We’re definitely very ambitious in the fact that I don’t think we’d be afraid to play bigger venues and be a bigger band. Our goal is always to just keep making positive steps in the direction of having a career. As long as we move forward, even a little bit, with this new record that would be great. Other than that you can’t really have too many expectations because you never know how things are going to go. I don’t know what people are going to think about the record. A lot of people have been asking if there’s pressure and I think the only pressure we have is trying to make something that we’re proud of. It’s kind of an inward pressure. If it’s a flop then at least we can say this is exactly what we wanted to make.