Local Natives caught the attention of the indie pop music scene two years ago with their song “Airplanes,” an ode to guitarist Kelcey Ayer’s late grandfather. Native to California, the four-piece band consists of Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, and Matt Frazier. The Natives’ new record, Hummingbird, doesn’t stray far from the intricate, haunting melodies and thoughtful lyrics of their debut record, Gorilla Manor. Recorded in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, most of the album was produced with Aaron Dessner of The National. There is something cathartic about the way that the band writes—although upbeat at times, there is an overarching dark tone to Hummingbird.
We spoke with singer and guitarist Taylor Rice about loss, building a studio, and getting battered and bruised making the “Breakers” music video.
ILANA KAPLAN: Where are you guys right now?
TAYLOR RICE: We’re at home in Los Angeles, but we’re actually catching a plane tonight to do our first Euro run. We’re playing in London tonight.
KAPLAN: Gorilla Manor was very successful. Did you anticipate that level of success?
RICE: You know, I think we anticipated success. Gorilla Manor, we were all really excited about it and very confident, but I don’t think anybody in their far-flung, wildest imagination have thought that we’d be playing all over the world with tons of people or playing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with an orchestra.
KAPLAN: Gorilla Manor came out in 2009; what have you experimented with over the last few years that ended up on your new record?
RICE: Well, I think that the new record, since it’s been done for a little bit, is even more of a deeply personal record. The subject matter, where the songs were born from, came out of our experience over the last two years. We had these really amazing moments, and got to live out our dreams coming true before our very eyes. At the same time, we went through some very difficult times, both personally and as a band, [and] that tone is really reflected on this record. I think it’s more balanced— there’s an undercurrent of joy in the record, but some of it is born out of some more difficult times. Where we expanded musically, we built out our own little studio in Silver Lake, where we live in Los Angeles. That was awesome because on the first record, it was all of us jamming the songs live in a room, and they were done when we were finished working on them together. On this one, building the studio enabled us to record as we went. It really changed the dynamic in terms of arrangements and experimenting with tones. We really stretched ourselves to say, “Okay, we’ve got this idea, let’s lay it down, let’s loop it and blast it through our speakers.” Maybe the bass-through we would just loop, jump on different instruments and jam on. The songs came together in a different way, there was a little bit more of an orchestration to it.
KAPLAN: I remember hearing that “Airplanes” was a very personal song about one of the grandfather of one of the band members. “Breakers” is your newest single. Is that as deeply personal as “Airplanes” was?
RICE: Well, “Airplanes” was about Kelcey’s grandfather, who died before she really got to know him. On this record, there is a similar subject matter because there was an unexpected death in the family, [but] that song isn’t “Breakers.” “Airplanes” is more about those moments when you feel at odds with your mind and your body. You realize that they’re two separate entities, and that’s sort of the struggle of trying to bring those two back into alignment: the idea of talking yourself through certain things or those anxieties.
KAPLAN: You guys are about to go on tour when your album drops. Do you know who you’ll be playing with?
RICE: We still don’t know. This whole week, we shot our music video for “Breakers,” actually. We’ve had so much trouble with music videos, so we were like, “Ah, let’s just do it ourselves.” We did it with my friend who is this amazing director. We’ve literally been going 24/7 for a week working on this video. We keep not deciding on who is going to be playing with us. So, we don’t know. I’m sorry!
KAPLAN: Can you tell me what this music video is going to be about?
RICE: Yeah, I can. I’m really excited about it. It’s kind of these vignettes that encapsulate the mood of the song. It’s not necessarily narrative driven, but I think it captures the emotional place of the song. There are all of these images of falling. I fell down all of these staircases in the video, and all of these hills. It was super intense. The shots we got from that are really amazing. I feel really good about it—it captures the emotion of what we’re conveying. That’s always the goal for a video, and it’s really, really hard to do.
KAPLAN: Did you get a lot of bruises?
RICE: I couldn’t walk for two days. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been super aggressive on the soccer field, enjoyed jumping over things—all that stuff. It was a nice outlet back to my childhood.
KAPLAN: It’s always nice to feel like a kid again. Are people going to see a new sound coming from you guys, or is it very similar to Gorilla Manor?
RICE: I think that people will know that it’s Local Natives when they listen to it, so there definitely is some consistency. I do feel like we took a bunch of major leaps forward that do make it sound like a very different band. I think we’re in a really different place now than we were when we made Gorilla Manor. Another example, tone-wise, of how we wanted to expand our palette, [is] that the rhythm section is made completely of drum samples. There’s no live drum to it. That’s not something you could find on the first record; we didn’t have guitar effects, sampling or anything like that. The tone will be a little bit different, but I think people will know that it’s us. Probably.