Friday, November 6, 2009

Interview: Local Natives

This week music fans residing in the UK, are getting to enjoy the debut album from our Silver Lake friends, Local Natives. As posted on their blog an US release date is still unknown at this point, but they will be trekking through North America in support of Gorilla Manor. More exciting for Chicagoans, the band will be making a stop at the newly christened Lincoln Hall on Thanksgiving week. I got a chance to talk to the band not once but twice getting a chance in this expanded interview with guitarist/vocalists Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn.

Drawing From Music: I find there is a multitude of emotion that comes out with every verse, as though your songs are love letters to your past. Do you aim at your music to be more focused on the lyrics or the sound…how do you determine the balance of the two?

Taylor Rice: Our writing process is very collaborative, and as a result each song comes together differently. We spend a lot of time writing each song musically as a full group and everyone contributes to the arch and direction of the song. The lyrics tend to be more individual efforts, typically put forth by the writer who originated the song and is singing lead on it, but we even have a lot of collaboration in that area as well.

DFM: There is definitely a full bodied in the music played, almost if you took all the positive characteristics of three really great bands. What are some of the band’s musical influences?

TR: Harmony bands of the 60’s like The Zombies and Crosby Stills and Nash are vocal influences. Rhythmically we agree on identifying with modern bands like Broken Social Scene and Animal Collective. Musically I’ve been personally influenced by bands with an orchestral slant like Arcade Fire, Beirut, and Sufjan Stevens,

DFM: I read by day you are Taylor Rice, kitchen knife extraordinaire. How does touring affect your work schedule? Your bosses must be somewhat lenient…

TR: Actually, I am an independent contractor and therefore my own boss. The knife business has been good to me, but thankfully the band is picking up to the level where I don’t have to do the day job anymore. I’m happy to report I haven’t sold a knife for over two months.

DFM: Do you let current news related issues affect your creative/writing process with your music?

TR: Yeah. the writing process as an expression is inevitably impacted by what is going on in your life at the time, whether personally or on a broader level.

DFM: So what is the present status of Gorilla Manor…Is the 7” release of Sun Hands, a sign of good things to come?

TR: We’re very excited to be releasing a single with Chess Club in the UK, they are an amazing label and really great dudes. We are putting the finishing touches on Gorilla Manor and hope to find a home for the record in the next couple of months.

DFM: Has music always been a career goal or a distant fantasy? What were some of your musical upbringings…and how did the Local Natives come to be?

TR: This three part question needs a chronology:
So Ryan Kelcey and I grew up in Orange County. As tykes we were lucky enough to have dad’s that listened to the likes of Peter Paul and Mary, Beatles and Beach Boys. The three of us formed a guitar b and in high school, self taught by learning Metallica solos and gleaning the energy from the Orange County punk scene. We stayed together through going to separate colleges and then found Andy (bass) and Matt (drums) about three years ago. We’ve been playing together for a very long time so I think its safe to say everyone has always viewed this band as a career goal.

DFM: Do you have any concern about all the early buzz (much deserved in my opinion) that you guys are getting prior to your first album release? There are a few bands that come to mind that started off really strong and have been slightly lackluster afterwards…what are your thoughts on what you guys can do to avoid this?

TR: There is always the worry that the band will be written off as another buzz band without people actually looking into the music, but we’re confident in the record that we’ve made and I think good music always wins out in the end.

DFM: So far from what Ive read you guys were the busiest band at SXSW, was this the first time for you guys? How did an experience like that help you guys grow as a band and can we expect return trips?

TR: SXSW was insane. We played nine shows in four days and each one was packed with industry people who were checking out our band for the first time. Despite the obvious stress of a new band in that situation, we absolutely loved the experience. It was great to go from playing the pristinely acoustic room of the Central Presbyterian Church with Grizzly Bear to the 40 square foot bike shop with no sound system whatsoever and have both shows be great experiences. We will be returning for sure next year.

DFM: Do you think there were any creative sacrifices made in order to get this record signed to a label? I read somewhere that you are all musicians AND businessmen, what sort of compromises were necessary to move forward with Gorilla Manor, or is this exactly the record you guys always wanted to produce?

TR: We were completely independent throughout the writing and recording of this record (no management, label etc.), so there were no creative sacrifices at all in making the album. In fact that’s the first advice I would give to a starting band like us; make your record first, and then go to the industry.

DFM: Who are some of the bands out there you’re listening to? If you had a dream playbill who would it be?

TR: Veckatimist, though that’s on break now since we’ve been spinning it nonstop since sxsw. The new Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent’s new record Actor. I’ve also been listening to Of Montreal a lot recently since we got an amazing gig with them coming up in London. Dream Bill? Post Rubber Soul material Beatles and pre 1985 Talking Heads Reincarnate.

DFM:What sort of subject matter do you address or sing about n your music? Do you think of your music as more literal or abstract?

TR: Again because our music doesn’t stem from one primary writer, the answer is a bit more varied. I think in general though our lyrics and ideas tend to be a bit more literal than abstract. Everyone likes the occasional heavy handed metaphor but I tend to relate better with concrete writing.

DFM: The blog has kept us up to date with the craziness of your current tour…Are you guys driving all the way through? Is Amanda playing the entire tour? What has been the most interesting place so far?

TR: Man, the drives on this tour could seriously be in the running for record breaking. We drove from LA to NYC straight, stopping for 6 hours to sleep in Omaha. That is a 45 hour drive. We then drove 32 hours without stopping from Minneapolis to LA in order to make our Ben Kweller show. Amanda was able to take enough time off of her film festival duties to play the entire tour with us. Most interesting place? I’d have to say DC. We had the day off and I never got to take that 7th grade field trip, so Amanda and I went on a run in the morning to check out Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument etc.

DFM: I’ve noticed that Amanda’s (Salazar) has been included on some shows during the tour…is this going to continue? Is there a running ballot somewhere to make her the official sixth member? (sign me up…hahaha)

TR:Amanda is a great friend who we love playing with, though she is not in the band. We’ll continue to have her play with us whenever possible.

DFM: [Question for Amanda ] Hi Amanda, so tell me what’s your musical background? It seems like the rest of the band you’re inclined with the musical geniuses of playing what seems any musical instrument…

AS: I wish I were as impressive as you make me sound! I am merely a violinist by trade. I have been classically trained in the violin for about 12 years now. I have played in a few bands since I was 17 but mostly stuck to orchestras, small ensembles and private stuff.

DFM: [Question for Amanda] How did you get mixed up with these guys…and do you have any other projects in the works?

AS: It's a funny story really...I was invited to a local show by a friend of mine that was on the bill that night so I ended up going by myself to check it out. The after party was held at my friend's house and the Local Natives (under a different name at the time) came along. I was just talking in the kitchen about some rehearsal I had to go to when Taylor asked me what I played and if I would jam on a couple of songs with him. I went to a few shows and it started with me just playing on a few songs live and it slowly evolved into what it is now. It's now been over a year that I have been playing with the guys.

As for other projects, I have recorded and played some live shows with other local bands. I have some recording lined up in the near future and I play in a side project with Taylor and another member, Jesse Epstein, called The Payphones. I really just love playing as much as I can.

DFM: Since our last conversation it seems as though the UK has embraced the Local Natives as their own, obviously with the release of Gorilla Manor this month. Is it easier to break into the business by beginning abroad, or are signing and releasing an album internationally essentially the first steps?

Ryan Hahn: We’re as surprised as anyone by the reception we’ve gotten over there. You kind of assume that you’ll first find success closer to home. I don’t really try to rationalize it. We just want to play music for people who want to listen – wherever that might be. We’re still so new to all of this, so I won’t pretend to know what the best or easiest way is.

DFM: What can we (US) expect from Local Natives in 2010?

RH: We’ll be releasing the album stateside on February 16th through French Kiss. We’ll be back at SXSW in March and from there we’ll start a pretty hefty nationwide tour. It’s going to be our busiest year yet and we’re gonna be on the road for almost all of it – which is awesome.

DFM: I'm excited to see you guys in Chicago in the next couple of weeks, Im curious, how do you feel you guys have evolved in the past six months in live performances, with all the road experience you have since the last time I saw you? Is new material still being created or are all touring energies put towards getting everyone excited about Gorilla Manor?

RH: Playing live has always been our favorite aspect of this band. It’s been awesome to grow in that regard over the past couple months. I’d definitely say we’re a tighter, more confident band. There’s a lot of subtleties you pick up: non verbal cues between each other, learning how to compensate for shitty stage sound, how to conserve your voice, how to play off different crowds, and so on.

DFM: How did CMJ go? How many shows did you guys end up playing, and who were some of the bands that really excited that were out there?

RH: It was nuts.Kind of a chaotic blur. We played 6 shows total – the best one being this sweaty loft party thrown by Brooklyn Vegan.We really didn’t get out much too see any bands unfortunately – I think we underestimated how jet lagged and exhausted we’d be coming straight off our tour overseas.

DFM: If you were to tell a story, or paint a picture that would best describe your music to someone who has never heard it, how would it be?

RH: We could probably play a few of our songs just using kitchen utensils and singing. Maybe.

DFM: If one were to run a background check on you what would they learn?

RH: I was born in Portsmouth, England and I lived in Singapore for a good part of my childhood.

DFM: If there were any character in history from any media (TV, literature, comics, etal.) that you would best liken yourselves to who would it be? Why?

RH: Kelcey would be Tom Hanks from Castaway. Matt would be the Volcano from Dante’s Peak. Taylor would be Julia Roberts from Hook. And Andy would be James Franco from Freaks and Geeks.

DFM: What albums would you say were most memorable for you since the year 2000?

Blur – Think Tank

Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Source Tags & Codes
The Strokes – Is this It
The Notwist – Neon Golden
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Gorillaz – Demon Days
Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak

DFM: Los Angeles has such a positive reputation for the output of bands it produces. Who are some of those current bands that really excite you? Who are some bands that you feel you should pimp?

RH: Voxhaul Broadcast, Rumspringa, Dawes, Foreign Born, Fool’s Gold, Pepper Rabbit.  A little bit further south in Orange County and Long Beach there’s the Union Line, Aushua, Delta Spirit and the Growlers, all of whom are amazing bands.

DFM: Finally, aside from music, what would you say is a personal outlet for you?

TR: Doing active things. The road can be kind of sedentary, so it’s always nice to come home so I can run around the Silverlake Reservoir. There’s also pickup basketball a mile from our house that I play with friends in some other local bands.

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