Mushrooms and vines: those were the things poking through cracks in the walls and crawling out from underneath the sink when Local Natives began to clear out the abandoned bungalow on Sunset that would eventually become their new studio space.
Formerly a tattoo parlor, the seemingly forsaken spot had immense potential for Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, and Matt Frazier when they did some detective work shortly after returning to Los Angeles from tour. “Basically, the landlord was this musician who came over from Ireland 15 or 20 years ago, and he owned a bunch of bars in LA,” says Rice. “It didn’t make sense for him to rent it, but he saw us as these musicians who could really use his help. He worked with us to clear the place out. We worked on the place for two months and completely rehabilitated it. It’s not a common thing for us to be out there with power tools and 2x4s, so that was a great exercise for us to do before we got into a creative space again.”
After soundproofing the walls and lugging the gear into the revived abode, Local Natives set about writing Hummingbird, the follow-up to 2010’s Gorilla Manor. Extensive touring–treks to Japan, a handful of Radio 1 tapings in the UK, supporting gigs for Arcade Fire and the National, laps on both the international festival and late night television circuits–kept the guys out of the studio, as every presented opportunity proved to be more tempting than the last for the up-and-coming indie band. Eight months at their spot on Sunset and a few sessions with Aaron Dessner (of the National) later, Hummingbird was ready for open ears exactly two years after the release of their debut .
Stylistically, Hummingbird picks up where Gorilla Manor left off, with the playful banter of guitars, dueling falsettos and a dependably hyperactive barrage of sharp drum hits keeping the pulse up in between meditative sojourns. “There are these really bare moments where there isn’t a lot going on and a ton of space,” says Rice of the differences he hears between the two records. “A couple of songs don’t have any harmonies on them at all. At the same time, we have a couple of songs that are by far the most expansive and layered and orchestrated of anything that we’ve done. We’ve pushed ourselves outward in both directions musically.”
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Though Hummingbird dropped three days ago, Local Natives remain creatures of habit: they kicked off their efforts behind the album with a show in Tokyo followed by a month straight of European dates before the holidays. They can’t keep still, but given the demonstrated growth, like-a-pro showmanship and the expansive, grandiose nature of their experimental rock explorations, it’s easy to see why they’re eager to share–even though Hummingbird is arguably their most personal endeavor yet. Break-ups happened, loved ones were lost, and according to Rice, the emotional depth of Hummingbird is indebted both to these rough experiences as much as it is the literal blood, sweat and tears they put into the creation of it.
“We didn’t set out to make a record in any specific way–this is the record that we made because of our process,” says Rice. “The big difference to me is that this album lessens the wall between when you write a song and what the song means to you, and how it comes out. On this record, especially lyrically, it’s a very personal record for us–the songs feel very joyful and very cathartic. We’ve just begun playing them live, and it feels like much more of a celebration and this joyful catharsis than it does remembering a sad time or something. There are things that happen in life that you have no control over, and we went through them. We were just feeling these incredible highs, and at the same time those were easily some of the hardest years we’ve been through, so this push and pulling goes to a deeper place by nature of that fact. For me, songwriting is almost more about getting out of the way than it is about making the song, not like, ‘I have this vision and this is what it is.’ To me, songwriting is more about channeling what’s going on within you.”
Local Natives play tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg. The show is sold out. Sorrrrry.