Return of the Natives
Local Natives spent much of the past few years on tour with bands from Arcade Fire to The National, taking time and space to develop. “The long run is very important to us,” frontman Taylor Rice tells JIM CARROLL
DID Local Natives ever stop touring? This writer saw them playing a show at SXSW in Austin, Texas in March 2009. For a number of years afterwards, it seemed as if the band were perpetually on the road in a tour bus with a tiger in their tank. They released a fine debut album, Gorilla Manor, but the touring was ceaseless.
“Well, it seemed like that to us too,” laughs frontman Taylor Rice.
The touring did eventually come to a halt so they could write and record their new album, Hummingbird, but Rice knows they did the dog with it.
“Tours just kept happening and we couldn’t say no,” he says. “We didn’t want to say no, to be fair. All these opportunities came along. We got the Arcade Fire tour, and then we got The National tour, all these incredible opportunities that you can’t turn down. We kept going.
“For example, we got offered a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which I consider to be the most amazing building in Los Angeles. They only ask one or two bands a year to play there with an orchestra and it’s a crazy honour. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was one of my dreams as a musician. We spent a few months working on orchestral versions of the songs for that show.”
Rice refers to Local Natives several times during the course of the interview as a “touring band” and to how fortunate the decade-old band have been in this regard. “It’s an incredible, unique experience. Touring bands like us are so lucky because we get to see dozens, if not hundreds, of bands play from all over the world at these festivals. You pick up ideas and influences being on the road and meeting friends and new friends and just travelling and seeing the world and all these cultures going by your bus window.”
You must have also developed as a band? “Oh, you notice new muscles alright at the end of a two-year tour,” says Rice. “We’ve been playing together over 10 years because we started when we were kids, when we were in high school. I think we’re lucky to have had that time. I see so many bands who get early success and things blow up and they just don’t have the time or space to develop and adjust. Luckily for us, we’ve had the time to do all that over the last decade.”
When the wheels on the tour bus did stop going round and round, the band turned their attentions to a new album. They set up a studio in Silverlake, the Los Angeles hipster ’hood they call home, and spent a year there writing and working on new songs.
When it came time to call on a producer, they plumped for an old touring pal, Aaron Dessner from The National. You might think that this connection came about from weeks on tour together, but Rice begs to differ.
“To be honest, we had never really thought of him as the one. I mean, when we were on tour with The National, we were talking about producers and I remember we talked about Aaron as a joke over drinks after a show one night.
“But when we got home, we began to think ‘what about actually working with Aaron?’ We contacted him and he came back and was hugely enthusiastic. He gets what we’re about. He’s in a working live band, he’s a guy we knew as a songwriter. He also knew and recognised and acknowledged that this was our record and saw we were incredibly precious about it.
“He was outside the fold but it didn’t feel like we were relinquishing control at all because he kind of became the fifth member of the band for the sessions. We learned a lot from him and his incredble guitar and amps collection.”
Local Natives are unlikely to see much of their Los Angeles homes in 2013 with more touring on the horizon. Rice says it’s all part of ensuring there’s a long run for the band.
“The long run is very important to us as a band. We’ve always had that mindset, we want to be a band who can tour and make records for a long time. We’ve been fortunate to date, especially going on tours with bands such as Arcade Fire and The National who’ve shown you can still be a band with long-run ambitions. Their perspective on things is quite interesting too. And you learn a lot from watching how bands at their level deal with things.”
So what’s their secret sauce? “The people themselves,” answers Rice. “I know there’s a lot of other reasons, but the people are so warm and humble and generous and welcoming and honest that I feel that has a large part to play in things. There’s no rock-star behaviour.”
But Rice knows that ensuring his band are around for the long term isn’t just about making nice to everyone they meet. It also involves a lot of hard work and, he notes, lucky breaks to make everything add up.
“I think a lot about how bands do it who haven’t been as lucky in terms of breaks as us. Even though we’ve been very fortunate with our first record, it was still very, very difficult to make everything work.
“You definitely don’t make enough money because of the internet, but the internet was huge in spreading awareness of us as a band and our music. That definitely has a value, even if it’s not a directly monetary one like someone going into a store and buying our record. You just have to work it out as best you can.”
* Local Natives play Whelan’s, Dublin, on February 11