Local Natives

Off the Beaten Path

Nov 15, 2016 Photography by David Studarus (for Under the Radar) Issue #58 - The Protest Issue
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"We had gone through quite a bit of darkness." That's how Local Natives guitarist Taylor Rice describes the writing of the band's 2013 album Hummingbird. The mood was largely dour, as the band members were going through difficult times in their lives, resulting in what Rice calls a "very cathartic record."

However, things have been more upbeat of late. The band's five membersRice, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, Matt Frazier, and Nik Ewingare all now in their 30s. Besides feeling more mature, they've enjoyed a great deal more optimism individually and collectively.

Now the band is releasing their third and most ambitious album to date, Sunlit Youth. Taking control of one's lives is a theme of the album, says Ayer, who plays keyboards.

"You come into the world and feel like you have to figure it out and fit in. But you also have control over your own personal world and have some influence over the world at large," he explains. "You have the power to influence and create. You don't have to follow a guideline that had been set out before. The only rule is that this is exciting and fun to you."

That freedom extends to the album's title. Rice says that the title Sunlit Youth "symbolizes that the world is being remade over and over."

"The people that get to change it are actually the younger generation that keeps coming forward every time," he continues. "I think it's a scary time and there's a lot of pessimism but there's also a reason to be optimistic and a reason to be hopeful and we've had victories as a society either as the U.S. or globally. You see people wanting to be open and more inclusive and have more respect for other cultures."

After two albums, the band wanted to shake things up with how they write. They wanted to be bolder and try new things. To do so, they fully utilized the songwriting capabilities of the band's three songwritersHahn, Rice, and Ayer. They ended up with about 50 songs to choose from by the time they went into the studio.

"Ryan, Kelcey, and I would all write and produce songs out on our own a lot more this time, instead of jamming in the room together," Rice says. "That resulted in us writing way, way more material. It was freer to just follow the energy and magic when something feels good."

Rice adds that "because the band has all those writers, breaking up the old routine can push you to think of new ideas and new ways to make the songs come together."  

For example, the album's opening track "Villainy" is a sonic departure for the band as it's the first song written without guitars. Instead it features synths and electronic rhythms. Ayer says it gave them "bravery to go to other places."

A big part of that were the lyrics. So much so that Rice says they would go on "writing trips that were focused on lyrics." While most of the record was written in LA, the band went on trips to Thailand, Nicaragua, Joshua Tree National Park, and Hahn's family's home.

"I think we thrive when we can be in one spot for a longer period of time where we can live and breathe the music and getting to work on something we're really excited about," Ayer says. "If you're in the same room for hours it can get stale. Constantly switching it around led to us writing some of our best stuff."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's August/September/October 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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