It took Local Natives four years to follow up their debut record with last year’s Hummingbird, but the L.A. band is already back in the studio working on a third album. We caught up with singer/guitarist Taylor Rice and drummer Matt Frazier to get the scoop on the new disc, as well as retrace some of the steps they had to take to get here.
: Gorilla Manor was a monstrous record that really didn’t sound like anything else. As a fan of any band, it eventually comes time for the second record and we, the fans, start to worry. “They’re going to make a new record. What if it’s not as good?” But luckily, Hummingbird is this beautiful record.
Taylor Rice: Thank you!
: There’s really something about your music that screams summer. Like the hazier days when everything seems just a little bit lost and out of control. That’s the way I hear it. It’s vibrant music, but it’s like there’s something always searching inside.
Rice: Yeah, I think that definitely has a ring to it. The two albums are very different. We were in a situation of going into our second album, “what’s it going to be?” We didn’t know. We didn’t have a grand architecture for it. It just came out how it did and really expressed where we were in our lives. But both albums do kind of have that feel. I mean, we’re an L.A. band, and we love being in L.A. and we rep that. I think that probably has that feel to it, the haziness. Especially with Hummingbird, that was a time when we were really going through a lot as a band emotionally, and as a family and everything. It was a very cathartic record for us. Searching was definitely a theme of it.
: Looking at it now, would you call it a transition record? Though maybe that’s a question to ask you two albums from now. But it was quite different from the first record.
Rice: And I feel like we’re in a very different place today. I think Hummingbird and everything that symbolized for us and dealing with death in the family, these really heavy topics, that’s through us now, and we’re just in a very different place. Everybody’s really pumped and excited, so I definitely think it’s going to pivot off again and be another thing where it’s really not like the last record.
: Having to deal with all of those issues, and it being your sophomore album when all the attention and expectations are there, that’s rough.
Rice: Yeah, the self-awareness…making our first record, it’s just you against the world, and it’s very anonymous, and you just have your band. That was it. We were holed up together, living together, making this record, and then all of a sudden you have this awareness. “Oh, somebody’s actually going to listen to this song.” As an artist, you have to defeat that and just get over it.
: Of course. That’s where the idea of the sophomore slump comes from because the artist gets defeated.
Rice: Exactly. Just crumbles under it. And it’s so funny, you always think, “Ah, it’s fine. It’s no problem.” But that pressure is kind of crazy to go through. I think for us, we have each other. It’s a collaborative writing experience. We have each other to lean on. It’s not just on the shoulders of one person.
: Relationships, they’re hard to keep together when you’re not in a band. Have you all learned how to control your personal lives now, eight years in?
Matt Frazier: Yeah, for most of us, we’ve lived together at a certain point. We’ve been touring for five or six years pretty heavily now.
: Do you think you’ve got it down? I mean, most people on the outside, the fans, they don’t know the life of a musician. There’s a romantic image. We know about all the sitting around and what it really is, but there is the challenge of how you take hold of that. There are some people who once they get older, they never leave the road. Dylan, Willie or Neil Young. They become like the guy who’s been in jail for decades and doesn’t know how to survive on the outside anymore.
Rice: When you get off of tour, there is a very real comedown. It really is a drug to be performing to thousands of people. It’s this really awesome experience that you get to have as your job that’s super insane and surreal, but you get used to it so fast. You get used to that lifestyle of being on the road, and I think there’s always this pretty intense crash when you come home.
: I read an interview with Bono once where he has a deal with his wife where she won’t talk to him for like three days once he gets home. It’s that idea of walking into the supermarket. The most mundane thing that suddenly seems to alien. You’ve done five months on the road, and suddenly you’re pushing the cart looking for the milk and bread. You need time to get your bearings.
Rice: Well, I don’t know that we’re at the Bono level. He has a harder time in the supermarket getting his vegetables.
Frazier: I cannot picture Bono picking out 2 percent milk. “Do I want 2 percent…1 percent? Soy milk?”
Rice: “Honey, don’t talk to me. I’m just gonna get the fruit.”
: There’s only like, what, 2000 people in Ireland? They probably all know him.
Frazier: They’re all buddies.
: For Hummingbird, and maybe it’s different on an indie label versus a major label, but how did they take it when you gave them Hummingbird? Was it ever, “Wow, this is different”? Did you ever have to suffer any of that?
Rice: “Where are the singles?”
Frazier: “Where are the hits?”
Rice: “What’s with this shit?” You know what? [French Kiss] and the one abroad in the UK, that’s called Infectious, and I have to speak for both labels because they were super amazing and supportive throughout it. We did Gorilla Manor on our own and came to the labels with the album done. Then for Hummingbird they said, “Just do what you want. We’ll see you when it’s done.” Of course, it took us a long time because we toured for so long and because some of the things that happened right as we were starting to record. But they were super supportive. We turned it in and they said, “We love it. Can’t wait to work with it.” The whole horror story…we’ve been in a band since we were kids, and we made some stupid deals working with some shady people.
: So you’ve had those moments.
Rice: Oh yeah. When we were in high school and everything.
: Some of the tracks you co-wrote with Aaron Dessner [from The National, who also produced Hummingbird]. Is that the first time you’ve done co-writing? That really seems like a whole other world.
Rice: Definitely. When we met up with Aaron, we were just on tour with The National. They brought us out for a couple dates and we were talking to them about the record backstage after the shows and struck up a friendship. He was a fan of the band, and that was cool. It was really not in our heads at all to work with him. But we thought of that idea and sent him an email, and he was super psyched and ended up dedicating months of his life to produce the record with us.
: Yeah, I’ve heard about the studio being in his house.
Rice: Yeah, we were living in his house with his new baby and his wife. It was a really, really awesome, intimate experience for us. We hadn’t worked with anyone that intensely, co-producing the album. What I think worked with Aaron is that he’s in a band, he has his own thing going on, so he really just let us really be like, “Hey this is your guy’s band. This is your thing.” So that was cool to have a producer who understood the band ego insane dynamic.
: I guess that’s where my question comes in, because he gets writing credit.
Rice: We basically invited him to be like a fifth band member during the process. We had spent nine months on these songs before he came in. There are a couple songs we reworked with him in the room, so it just made sense.
: A word for a third. It’s the Nashville way. It’s how they get paid down there.
Rice: They send in the big guns to change the tense of the song.
: Speaking of Nashville, you guys covered Johnny Cash. It seems like that’s nothing these days, but it got me to thinking about that even just a couple decades ago, how bands were very much in a box. It was rare that two styles of music ever mixed. I don’t know if it’s a generation thing, but these days it’s completely washed away. No band has to be defined by a single sound anymore. You can cover Cash. Phoenix can do an acoustic version of Dylan. It’s like Aladdin. It’s a whole new world.
Frazier: That’s exactly what we think!
Rice: Yeah, I think that being open and collaborative, covering each other and working together all the time, that’s something that we were insulated from just starting out. Working with Aaron was a huge way that opened up for us. With his brother, he produced that Dark Was The Night [album], and it had all these artists doing all these amazing songs. He’s plugged into this community of all these musicians playing together on each other’s stuff all the time. So experiencing that was really cool and opened us up a little bit.
: Was there a time when you would have been more reluctant to do something like that?
Rice: Not cover Johnny Cash, who’s cool no matter what. But I think we may have been a little bit more precious with, “Are we going to lend ourselves to jam on this friend’s thing?” “Would we be as open to jumping on this compilation?” I think we are more open to it now.
: You gave your songs to your fans to do their own remixes. Do you ever hear those and find out that it’s directing you, like “We have to do that next time!” Not thieving from your fans per se, but letting them guide you.
Rice: Where I thought you were going with that was more…We just heard this one that was like a straight-up, reggae, weed-smoking, right in the box.
: Yeah, my next question was “How bad are the bad ones?”
Rice: I wouldn’t say that was a bad one. I’d be like, “This is awesome.” Just a straight-up reggae version of one of our songs. It was extremely well-done, but just every cliche to a T. So that can be kind of interesting. That’s not what I thought would happen when we put our stems out. It’s funny. All of our soundcheck jams, when we start goofing off, turn into reggae jams.
: Are you thinking about what comes next as far as music?
Frazier: Yeah, we’ve been off tour back at home in our studio and trying to write as much as possible. We’re starting to work on pieces of record three. It never ends.
Rice: It’s really exciting. We really are in an awesome place with writing right now, and it’s feeling really good. Festivals are super fun, but it’s turned into this thing where it’s like, “Ah. We want to be in the studio.” And it’s awesome, we’re expanding into a bigger studio right now. The one that we made Hummingbird in, I feel like we’ve outgrown it. We’ve got way too much gear now, so we got this bigger room.
: Is it premature to ask about the direction?
Rice: It’s premature. The songs morph so many times by the end, but there are definitely already themes that we all agreed upon. That’s different in a way from
Hummingbird. Everyone was kind of, “I have no idea what this album is going to be.” That’s where we started. But this, we actually have more of a coalesced idea.