Entertainment & Arts

Local Natives: 'better than ever'

Image caption Hummingbird was co-produced by The National's Aaron Dessner and recorded at his studio in Brooklyn, New York

Los Angeles' indie rockers Local Natives enjoyed massive critical acclaim with their debut album Gorilla Manor in 2009.

With their follow-up, Hummingbird, co-produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, the band reveal it's a much more "expressive" record that pushed them "out of their comfort zone".

There's a palpable sense of nervous excitement from Local Natives as they prepare for the release of Hummingbird and their forthcoming tour.

So far, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have responded well to the new material, following a number of sell-out gigs at the end of last year.

"When that happens it's thrilling because we've spent so much time with [each song], so if someone's already feeling it and moving along to it, it's rewarding," says guitarist Ryan Hahn.

A youthful rock band in 2009, Local Natives' melodic self-funded debut Gorilla Manor featured soaring harmonies, chanting and lots of percussion, earning them favourable comparisons with Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear.

Image caption Singer-guitarist Taylor Rice credits Dessner with helping them to be spontaneous with the music

But just over three years on, the experiences endured by this group of Californian school friends in the intervening years have made Hummingbird a "very personal" record with a higher "depth of emotion".

Loss and personal grief

After they finished touring with the likes of The National and Arcade Fire in 2011, the band parted ways with their bassist Andy Hamm after six years - described at the time as a "heartbreaking" split.

Speaking about it now, singer-guitarist Taylor Rice is pragmatic: "We'd been a band for a very long time so it was difficult.

"But I feel very good - we all do - about where we are now, and I think it was a good decision for everyone in the long run."

Three months after the break with Hamm, the band were dealt a blow with the death of singer-keyboardist Kelcey Ayer's mother.

Ayer's heartbreaking loss can be heard on the track Colombia, as he glides through the lyrics: "A hummingbird crashed right in front of me, and I understood all you did for us."

Yet despite their collective sadness, grief has not cast a cloud over the album.

Instead, it has brought an emotive, deeper sounding record that's "expansive", mature and uplifting.

The soaring, heart-jolting harmonies so abundant on Gorilla Manor reappear on the likes of Black Spot and the last track, Bowery, but Hummingbird brings Ayer's falsetto closer to the fore. And that's not all that's different.

Having locked themselves away for eight months to write the tracks and record demos in their homemade studio in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, they later decamped to Brooklyn, moving in to Dessner's home-based recording studio for three months to make the final cut.

Brotherly partnership

It was a closer partnership with a tour buddy than most bands come to enjoy, particularly with a band such as The National - one of the most critically acclaimed groups to come out of the last decade.

"We wanted to collaborate with someone who would help us make a better record, but we were apprehensive about working with a producer," Rice says.

"With Aaron it was a guy we had met on tour, we were friends and he understands band dynamic because he has dealt with that."

Image caption Bassist Andy Hamm (r) left the band in 2011

Dessner, who plays guitar and keyboard in The National, pushed them into new territory, sampling upbeat melodies and stripped-back guitar tones.

"He's also a master in the studio," adds Rice. "We'd been toying around and tinkering ourselves for a long time so we learned a lot from him in that environment."

Local Natives are a self-professed "democratic" band, allowing each member to have a say in every small decision that affects them and their music.

"It's like a functional, dysfunctional family," jokes Hahn. "It gets ugly."

But the collaborative, perfectionist approach can make the writing process a bit frenetic.

"Sometimes I wish it was cleaner," he admits. "There's three guys bringing songs to the table in different stages of development.

"We tear them apart and then build them back up with everyone in the room. Lyrics often come later and we have a song that just mumbles for a long time, so it is kind of messy for us."

Dessner encouraged them to be more spontaneous and to "ease up on the meticulousness".

Image caption The band say they have expanded their palette "musically and arrangement-wise"

Elegiac harmonies

"We're super passionate about the music and you can get personally involved in your song and that [desire for perfection] can come out," explains Rice.

"Aaron was helpful for telling us to let mistakes be in there, let it be spontaneous, try an idea and record it."

While Hummingbird holds on to the unique sound of the band, it piles more synthesiser and electronic influences on top of the elegiac harmonies and sweeping percussion - the kind audible in Heavy Feet.

But the band are consciously aware of becoming too formulaic or dependent on electronic gear.

"We never wanted to have a laptop on stage as far as having to rely on a metronome or anything like that, so the tempos are going to change and we might miss a few keys here and there," Hahn says.

"It's still dangerous in some ways but it's natural, even though we're using a lot more synth."

The band admit they've had a tough year, but finishing their eagerly anticipated second album and bringing the songs to the live stage is what they have been waiting patiently for.

"We really love being on tour," Rice says. "It energises and propels us. Playing live is something our band feels very comfortable with and united."

There's also the excitement of playing new songs and seeing people respond, which Rice calls "refreshing".

"It feels very fresh and vital right now. For our first show [with this album] we had all those jitters but it felt very natural also. We feel better than we've ever felt."

Hummingbird is out now on Infectious. Local Natives begin their UK tour in February.

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