Local Natives seized us the first time we heard them on the eve of their performances at SXSW in 2009. This festival appearance, in addition to a stunning first record, Gorilla Manor, got the band signed to Frenchkiss and cemented them as the West Coast's version of Grizzly Bear, purveyors of a distinctive and worldly pop. The band should readily transcend all of this on sophomore release, Hummingbird. I traded some emails with singer Taylor Rice about the band's democratic nature, working with Aaron Dessner of the National, and tracing the band's roots to the living rooms of their teenage years. Our questions and his answers after the jump; Hummingbird is out tomorrow and can be found just about everywhere.
32ft/sec: Second albums always seem especially fraught. In what ways was the band inspired and maybe constrained by the success of Gorilla Manor?
Taylor Rice: We were so lucky to get to travel all over the world, and watch probably over 100 incredible bands over the last couple years. It's very inspiring to be constantly surrounded by a community of people who are passionate as musicians and performers. We always feel pressure to push ourselves musically, so we were constrained by not wanting to repeat things that we may have felt like worked on the last record. Two more obvious examples are how Kelcey played integrated beats with Matt all over Gorilla Manor, but plays pretty much no drums on Hummingbird, and how we intended to be selective and purposeful with vocal harmony.
32ft: What records were you listening to during the recording process, and what, if any, effect do you think this had on Hummingbird?
TR: We all sort of do this thing where we shut off the constant spigot of new music when we're recording. I was listening to most of Leonard Cohen's catalogue nonstop, I became very obsessed. I think his poetry and sense of story telling was an influence, in not being afraid to go to a dark place when its necessary.
32ft: We ask everyone this: If Local Natives is on a sinking cruise ship and there's only one life jacket left, who in the band gets it and why?
TR: We'd vote on it. Our band is intensely, nearly non functionally democratic. Something tells me this would be one our classic split decisions that would go on debated for a while.
32ft: Hummingbird reads like a love and loss record, a sort of "your twenties cast in sharp relief" album, are listeners to assume that the importance of the title (and the lyrical reference of a "dead hummingbird") lies in a notion of cross-pollination, or, as you guys put it, "Am I living enough/Am I loving enough?"?
TR: Listeners can assume whatever they hear, and that's actually important to me. It can be interesting, but sort of sad to find out your favorite love song was written about a dog. In any case, the symbolism in that song, "Colombia", comes from having an unexpected death in your family.
32ft: Exciting to work with Aaron Dessner obviously, but is it also a bit frustrating to hear people continue to emphasize the "National-ization" of your sound?
TR: Sort of, but it's also expected. We wrote and extensively demoed all the songs ourselves before we began working with Aaron, and knew that if we did work with him some critics might say that kind of thing (because the album was already darker than Gorilla Manor). To me it feels lazy, but I'm not a critic. (ed. note: This lazy critic made exactly this lazy comparison in my review of their record for PopMatters. So apologies, Taylor, and I guess I boxed us both in with this question.)
32ft: What is the one thing about Local Natives that most people don't know, that listeners should never forget?
TR: Hmmm, that is a difficult one....maybe that we've been playing music together since we were kids. On the last record people talked a lot about a sudden rise, but Ryan and I met Kelcey when we played our first show at my living room when we were 16. I think we're as much like brothers as non biologicals can be.