Five-piece indie-rock-meets-electro-pop band Local Natives has been making waves since their major label debut back in 2009. Expanding their sound and growing closer as artists, the Southern California outlet continues to combine creative lyricism with smooth production.
The band takes the Majestic stage on Wednesday, April 5 at 8 p.m. The Badger Herald had the chance to sit down with Local Natives’ own Ryan Hahn, to discuss the band’s origins, their latest album Sunlit Youth and new music.
The Badger Herald: Can you tell me a little bit about Local Natives? How did you guys start?
Ryan Hahn: We’ve been together for a pretty long time. We all grew up in Southern California. I met Taylor [Rice] when I was in junior high school, and we started calling ourselves Local Natives right before we recorded our first record. I think that was back in 2008-09. We’ve got multiple songwriters and multiple singers. I think because of that, we have sort of a different sound. I’m trying to think of where we got our name — I think it just matched the vibe of what we wanted at the time.
BH: How have you guys evolved as artists musically and by being in the industry for a while now?
RH: First off, we have toured almost nonstop since we released our first album. I think because of that we’ve become, first and foremost, a live band. We play off that energy a lot and [that has] made its way into how we write songs. Personally, as friends [and] how we relate has grown stronger. I think because of our strong connection as friends, we’ve been able to weather the storm and the insanity. We’ve also written songs in new ways. We used to just write [with us] five guys in a living room space and with the instruments we had in hand. That’s changed to kind of really anything and anywhere: on a laptop, on an airplane or just two people working on a song in a hotel room. It’s just kind of opened up the types of songs we write.
BH: I’ve been obsessed with “Coins” ever since the record came out a few months ago. Can you talk about Sunlit Youth and how you approached this album differently than your two previous studio records? What kind of themes and sounds were you trying to evoke with this album?
RH: I think a lot of times there’s this reactionary feeling between what we’ve done before and what we want to do now. It’s like, ‘Okay, maybe this song is going to have no guitars: just a bass line and a drum beat — let’s see what you can do with that.’ It’s just like these little almost-writers challenges. Specifically with “Coins,” [it happened] the day after D’Angelo’s Black Messiah album came out; I guess I was on such a D’Angelo kick. [“Coins”] was almost me trying to write a D’Angelo song, not necessarily even a tribute from Local Natives, but it was like the spirit of doing something we wouldn’t [have] otherwise done in the past. It just felt like we were doing something different and new.
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BH: You’ve covered a lot of artists like Beyoncé and Kanye in the past. How influential are other artists on your own personal projects and what are some of your inspirations?
RH: We’re a band who listens to a lot of different music, and I do think it is constantly changing. Our palette of influences is a lot different, in some ways, than what we were listening to when we made our first record. Not to say it is a direct line from what we’re listening to, to what we make, but I do feel like as much as we travel and as much as we’ve gotten to hear new sounds and new bands and new artists, it kind of opens you up to experiment. For us, if it feels right, it feels right; and if it feels forced, it feels forced. That’s going to decide whether the song is not only Local Natives, but if it’s going to make the record or not. We’ve been listening to a lot of Jon Hopkins, a lot of Bonobo and even Aphex Twin to a certain extent; just all over the map. Production-wise, I guess we’ve gotten really into a lot of hip-hop, especially stuff that is sample-based like Madlib and even some early Kanye stuff. It’s just realizing that a song can be recorded in like a hundred different places and times. At times, it’s like making a musical collage and I think hip-hop is really good at doing that, having a bunch of different people collaborate on a track, coming from a lot of different sources.
BH: I was just on your guys’ Twitter today and saw that you covered “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac recently. I read that you guys actually recorded the track in the same studio that Fleetwood Mac originally recorded it. What was that process like?
RH: Usually with all of our covers, it’s just us choosing a song we really like or even just on a whim, but on this one, Spotify came to us and asked us to cover that song. The whole concept [was] ‘We want you to record it in the same studio they recorded it in’ and [its] actually the same studio they built solely to make that record. They had that much money at the time to be like ‘Alright, let’s build our own crazy studio in Santa Monica.’ It was kind of a trip. It was pretty quick; we did it in one afternoon.
BH: Tell me about your new track “I Saw You Close Your Eyes.”
RH: That’s another one that came from this desire to almost make a hip-hop track. For us, the beat is relatively simple but it started out with a bunch of chopped up samples, and that string line was originally kind of a sample. We were actually in Nicaragua at the end of 2015 and that was the initial stem of the song: just one afternoon of working in this little, tiny studio in the jungle. It felt almost like a James Bond soundtrack. It just kind of had this bounce to it. The words came together relatively quickly for us; usually it takes a while for us to nail it down. In almost a freestyle sort of way, we threw it down on the demo and the concept started developing. I don’t know if you know of the phrase “Chekhov’s gun” — it’s like when people are writing plays. It’s a trope that if there’s a gun on a wall in the first act, by the third act it has to go off. I hadn’t really heard of it myself, but I was overhearing a conversation where people were talking about it earlier that day. It’s sort of an impending, sinister feeling, especially with everything that’s going on in our country. It felt like there was a lot of darkness happening and feeling that no one was taking responsibility for it. A lot of our leaders weren’t really taking the necessary route to hopefully fix a lot of these situations.
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BH: Is this track hinting at future projects or did you feel like it was especially the right time to release this track?
RH: We’ve been wanting to put it out for a while actually. It’d be great if the song felt like it was from a time in the past and we could see things have gotten solved, but it does feel like it is even more relevant I guess every day now. It definitely wasn’t ‘We’re releasing it on this day for this reason,’ but we wanted to put it out as soon as we could because we were stoked about it.
BH: What has it been like touring Sunlit Youth and what has it been like seeing the fans react to this record live?
RH: It’s been really cool in the sense that the songs on this record translated very quickly live. I think it took a minute with Hummingbird to get our footing on tour and to get those versions of those songs to work in the live context. It just felt like right away these songs translated like we had been playing them for a long time. People are very quickly singing along. It’s been really cool to see it come alive in that way and we toured it pretty hard last year. We had a minute to recharge at home, and on this tour specifically, we are rejuvenated to be back on tour again. We’ve been trying new songs we haven’t played from the record and pulling out old ones.
BH: What’s next for you guys? Do you have any immediate plans for the future or are you just living day by day with the tour?
RH: We’re really trying to turn a new leaf as far as being productive on tour. We have a bunch of new songs — we might put out another one in the near future, but we’re just kind of writing and collaborating with a lot of people. Whether that becomes a new album or just a single, we just want to stay productive as much as we can. We’ll see how they get released, but we’re just going to stay active with writing.