2017 Artist Survey: Kelcey Ayer of Local Natives and Jaws of Love.

Ayer on Racism in America, Implanted Technology, Breakfast Cereal, Trump, #MeToo, and the Band's Most Disastrous Show

Jan 26, 2018 Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 15th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2017 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Kelcey Ayer. He is Local Natives vocalist, pianist, and one of the band's primary songwriters, but last fall he also released Tasha Sits Close to the Piano, his debut solo album under the name Jaws of Love. (the period at the end of the name is intentional). The album's title was suggested by Ayer's wife and named after their dog, Tasha. As Local Natives were getting ready to record Sunlit Youth (which came out in 2016 via Loma Vista and Infectious Music), Ayer laid down the initial tracks over the course of three days in the same Electro-Vox studio in Los Angeles that Local Natives recorded in. Engineer Michael Harris and mixer Cian Riordan were involved. Ayer later finished the album with Local Natives' drummer Matt Frazier.

For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the various sexual harassment and assault allegations, the "Me Too" movement, the chaotic first year of Donald Trump's presidency, the Charlottesville alt-right rally and racism in America, embarrassing moments, professional regrets, which Breakfast Club character they are most like, the end of the world, and much more. 

Top 10 Albums of 2017

I'll tell you my top 10 favorite albums, but I honestly can't say one is better than the other. They're all so different. So here they are in no particular order (as a Meyerowitz would say, "It's my protest").

Alvvays: AntisocialitesI'm not a rock-band type of person, but Alvvays made my favorite rock record for sure this year. It's effortless, cool, timeless, and it has songs. The songwriting is really strong.

Tyler, the Creator: Flower BoyI've always admired Tyler's weirdo swagger, but it feels like reigning it in a little was a great move. He still retains a lot of his character, but it's a more mature and confident record, less "look at me!" and more "I think this shit is awesome." I think he exposes some musical chops as well that are really impressive. It's just a really fun and engaging listen. 

Kelly Lee Owens: Kelly Lee OwensEver since I heard "CBM," I knew she was someone I wanted to keep on my radar, and her debut record totally lives up to what I'd hoped it would be. It's dark and atmospheric, but not overproduced, a really great balance. I like electronic music that focuses on key elements and doesn't go too overboard production-wise, kind of reminds me of Weval's debut record in 2016. 

The War on Drugs: A Deeper UnderstandingIt's the restaurant you can always depend on for making that one thing, they're the best at it, and they never disappoint. "Thinking of a Place" is in my top 5 songs of the year for sure.

Moses Sumney: AromanticismHere's the deal: Moses is a friend, and I'm so fucking over-the-moon elated that his debut record is this good, and that so many people love it so much. It's one of those things where you feel like there is magic and justice in the world. Not surprised though, Local Natives took him on his first national tour almost four years ago, and every night, everyone was like, "The fuck?! Who is that man??!" Now people know, and I'm giggling like a little girl. 

Phoebe Bridgers: Stranger in the AlpsI follow Phoebe on social media, and she's hilarious. I find a kinship through that; having a humorous half, and then a serious musical half. Maybe that's why I dug her record so much. Her songwriting style reminds me of Elliott Smith or Jeff Tweedy, but her wit shines through, giving her a unique voice in a singer/songwriter world that can feel overly saccharine at times.

Vince Staples: Big Fish TheoryVince Staples is and will be known as a pioneer in the artist community, and this record delivers on that. I have on good authority he shares the same love of Yeezus that I do, and he channels that dark energy in an awesome way on this record. 

Alex Cameron: Forced WitnessI'm not really into male bravado personalities, but for some reason, I'm really down with Alex Cameron. He feels like the '80s pop version of Kurt Vile, in the way that he says exactly what he's thinking, but maybe if Kurt Vile was more Rebel Without a Cause than Slackers. The production is unapologetically '80s, but as if they had a grab bag with all the best tones and ditched the worst. And that Angel Olsen duet is rad. 

Mount Kimbie: Love What SurvivesThis group encapsulates something I love about music: it can be anything it wants to be. They are genre-less in the best way, and here is another record that can't be pinned down. I love their use of real drums and organs as opposed to their more electronic roots, I think it really pushed their sound in an interesting direction. 

The National: Sleep Well BeastAs a man in a band who could hope for any success close to that of The National, coupled with them feeling like our big brothers, I root for them, but would also relish them crashing and burning on at least one fucking album. Sibling rivalry is like that. But alas, they are too good, and will continue to be a shining example of a band that works their asses off at making amazing records.

Shout out to these records I enjoyed as well!: 

The xx: I See You
Sampha: Process
Grizzly Bear: Painted Ruins
SZA: Ctrl
Perfume Genius: No Shape
Land of Talk: Life After Youth
Kendrick Lamar: DAMN.

What was the highlight of 2017 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point? 

The Jaws of Love. Brooklyn show at the Park Church Co-op was as high of a point as I could ask for. The set had gotten all its kinks out at that point, the venue was breathtakingly beautiful, the audience gave so much energy even though they were seated, and there was a baby grand piano to the side of the audience, ready for a perfect encore moment. It was as if God himself was like, "Hey Kelcey, good news, and it's a two-parter: I exist, and here is everything you need for the most perfect show ever, knock em' dead." All we had to do was not fuck it up. And we didn't! Mark and I played one of our best shows, my voice held up, stupid banter jokes landed, and I sang Fleetwood Mac's "Sara" on a piano by myself in a reverb-soaked church. It really was one of my favorite shows I've ever played.

Thankfully, nothing too bad has happened in Local Natives, Jaws of Love., or just in my life personally that would be characterized as low, but I felt very low for my fellow human beings after Charlottesville and Las Vegas. So many things need to change.

2017 saw sexual harassment and assault allegations against many men in the music industry, film industry, journalism, politics, and elsewhere (including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Mondanile of Ducktails and Real Estate, Brand New's Jesse Lacey, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, Democratic Senator Al Franken, and others). Why do you think the floodgates opened in 2017 and do you think any meaningful change will come from it or will sexual harassment and assaults continue to be prevalent in certain industries?

I'd say this happening now has a lot to do with having such a misogynistic president. Taking such a huge step backwards with Trump has ironically rooted up many issues that need to be addressed for the better, gender inequality and sexual harassment being big ones. And so when Weinstein fell, a man that possibly felt as powerful as a Trump, I think it sent a signal that no one is above being held accountable, so the dominos just started falling. I hope that meaningful change will come from this, but it's going to take a lot of work, starting with believing women. Until we can change that, little will change.

It has been said that 2016 was the year your favorite artist died, and, because of the litany of sex scandals, 2017 is the year that your favorite artist became dead to you. Which artist did you stop being a fan of this year? Which public person would you be most devastated to learn had a history of abusive or predatory behavior? 

Al Franken was a really tough one to see go down, because in this political climate, we need all the heroes we can get, and he was one for a long time. I think he's an example of someone you might think did not do anything as horrible as Moore or Weinstein, but we have a lot of making up to do for literally hundreds of years of doing nothing. There will be some men who maybe don't deserve to be treated the same as others, but the damage to their lives is microscopic compared to the millions of women's lives who have been devastated by sexual assault.

Should we be able to separate an artist's work from his or her actions? Or should an artist's negative behaviors completely negate the quality of his or her work? 

I think that's a personal decision that everyone must make. But regardless, it affects how you think of that person for sure. Scandal always gets in the way of an artist's work, for better or worse. The more famous you are, the more you're affected by public opinion.

The first year of the Trump administration has been chaotic to say the least. What has President Donald Trump done so far that most concerns or angers you? Is there anything President Trump has done, proposed, or said that you actually agree with? Why do you think his base continues to support him?

I am beside myself with Trump. It's like when someone says so many insanely offensive things in a row and you don't know what to address first. My biggest gripes are his lukewarm attitude towards the KKK and racism in America, his stance on DACA, him diminishing the role of the EPA, his helping defund Planned Parenthood, the list goes on and on. I can't say I've agreed with anything he's said, no. And I think his base still supports him because they like him as a person, not because what he says or does.

Many predicted President Donald Trump wouldn't last long in the White House and yet he's still there. At this point how hopeful are you that he'll be impeached? Barring that, how optimistic are you that he won't win reelection? And although it's still very early, is there already a potential candidate you would most like to see run for president in 2020?

I don't know what it takes to be impeached, because it seems like there have been a lot of things he's done to become impeached and he hasn't been yet, so I'll be very surprised if that happens. And as long as we don't have as polarizing an opponent as Hillary, then he definitely won't win. Lightning can't strike twice, it was a miracle he was elected in the first place, and with the outrage he's caused, I guarantee we'll have a better voter turnout from youths and Democrats in 2020 than we did [in 2016].

The alt-right/neo-Nazi/KKK rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the ensuing violence, and President Trump's reluctance to condemn such hate groups further showed that racism is alive and well in America. What concrete steps can we take to improve race relations in America and the world at large?

I wrote a lengthy post on Facebook about Charlottesville after it happened, and about racism in general, including a bunch of links to some videos and articles that have helped reshape my understanding of it all. For a long time, I wondered why I couldn't join in and say the n-word like a lot of black artists I listened to, but I now know why. That word is a symbol of something black people can have that everyone else can't, because they live their entire lives with things they can't have because they're black. As a white male, my privilege gives me immeasurable benefits over people of color, and if white people truly want to be allies to POC's, we need to unlearn our racist upbringings. We were not born racist, but our TV shows and parents and our entire culture has led us there. Not every white person is a Nazi, but every white person has benefitted from racism, and is slightly racist in some way. I think a great concrete step is for white people to talk to other white people about their racism, explore it, and uproot it. It's uncomfortable, but if we can't at least do that to help, then we don't care.

2017 saw several music festivals cancelled due to low ticket sales (not to mention the Fyre Festival debacle in the Bahamas). Are there too many music festivals right now?

I have always had trouble with music festivals. It's an excellent way to sample some music and watch something you've never seen before, but it's also not an intimate and quality way to watch your favorite band. And with the high volume of festivals now, audiences are saving up to buy that one festival ticket and not seeing acts when they come to town due to financial stress. I'd love to see fewer festivals so the ecosystem of live shows is better balanced. Both experiences are really amazing, but one has started to cancel out the other.

Which Breakfast Club character are you most like and why? 

I think I'd be the Lucky Charms guy, because he seems like he's got a lot of energy and is always on the run to protect what's his. I've got a lot of respect for that. Count Chocula has all his priorities turned around. He should be obsessed with blood, not chocolate. That's the breakfast club you were talking about right?

What's the most embarrassing (or funniest) thing that's happened to you in front of your band mates (or on stage)?

On Local Natives' first record, we were in Toronto, and at the top of the show, I loudly and warmly addressed the crowd with, "Hello Vancouver!" A third of the crowd booed, a third of the crowd cheered, and a third of the crowd was super confused. Realizing immediately what I'd done, I lie down, put my head in my hands, and stayed there for a good 30 seconds (in my mind, at that time, that was how I thought best to apologize). The other guys still make fun of me for that.

Would you be open to having your phone and other technology implanted into your body in the future?

Yeah I mean, if some implanted technology could make me learn stuff in five seconds like in The Matrix, I'd be open to that. Our bodies are basically organic computers already, so if something goes wrong, there will be a genius bar at the doctor. And don't even tell me that your phone isn't attached to your hand already. We're all going to do it, and if you don't want to, I'm sure there will be hippy, all-organic communities where people are 100% humans. They'll be the new Amish. And then, actual Amish people will look really weird.

If you could time travel what advice would you give to your childhood or teenage self?

Have more sex. Be safe and respectful, but have way, way more sex.

A 2017 Wall Street Journal article pointed out that music critics have been giving less and less full on negative reviews of late. In the era of streaming when almost any album can be easily accessed, do you still find value in music criticism and have music critics gotten too soft?

I haven't read that article, but I'm happy to hear that there are less negative reviews being written. I think music criticism is still one of the more compelling avenues in which we discover music, but it should be one in a bunch of avenues for healthy music discovery. It's funny, I love to talk about music that moves me, but arguing with people about why something is not good is so exhausting. Music is music because it can't be expressed in words, so you can't be talked into liking something. You either like it or you don't.

Tell us about your worst/most disastrous show as a performer. And what about your best show?

One of our first shows as Local Natives was at Silverlake Lounge back at the end of 2008, and we'd just done this panel in front of some industry people so there were a lot of people coming to the show, giving it higher stakes than any show we had done prior. I was still young though and didn't know how to take care of myself, so after partying and smoking and drinking for a weekend of crappy shows, I realized my voice was fucked. After a few songs, my keyboard amp went out, and so did one of the other guy's guitar amps. Then, for the grand finale of shit-show-ness, I forgot the words to I think our only song that was out at the time ("Airplanes"). I got in the van and cried by myself, feeling like such an idiot and a failure. It was a huge learning experience that things will always go wrong during the show, but you can't sweat it or else the whole show would tank. Now when I forget a lyric, the crowd chimes in, or Taylor does, I laugh, and it's the best part of the show. Funny how that goes.

CHVRCHES and Tegan and Sara are appearing in the new The Archies comic book series as themselves, interacting with Archie and his friends. Which comic book would you like to guest star in?

I don't read comic books, so I can't really help you there. But I'd love to be on Bob's Burgers. That show is so genius and weird and improv-feeling, and being a fan of comedy, with so many amazing comedians having guest-starred on it, that would be the dream.

Which band, album, film, or TV show that was generally disliked by critics do you genuinely like and find yourself defending to friends?

I think it actually did alright with critics, but I will always defend Gilmore Girls. I usually have to convince men that it's an amazing show, which I think is a testament to women being the smarter sex. It was way ahead of it's time, because now there are so many great shows that can't be pinned down to just a comedy or just a drama, and GG was just like that, only on the CW in 2000. If it was on Amazon in 2015, I think it might have been viewed differently. But no show has made me laugh or cry more. And don't worry about those "La-La" musical cues, you get used to them after a while (seems to be the hardest barrier for people).

www.jawsoflove.com

www.facebook.com/jawsoflove/

www.thelocalnatives.com

 

 

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