Local Natives: Interview
Local Natives seem to find themselves perpetually at odds with the American cultural and political mood. During the Obama ‘hope and change’ years, they produced music that was intense and unashamedly emotional – carving new furrows into dark places.
Their latest offering, ‘Sunlit Youth’ finds the Californian five-piece in a reflectively positive place – presenting a stark and hopeful contrast to the dystopian nightmare that is Donald Trump. We caught up with the band.
Q. Your only UK tour date is at Liverpool’s Sound City, what can the fans expect to see from you?
Well now that we’re three albums in, it’s been easier to make a set that’s just fan favourites with no lulls in energy, so the shows have been awesome. I honestly think with the crew we have right now, we have the best live show we’ve ever had, so we’re pumped to bring that to Sound City.
Q. It’s been just over four years since you last performed in Liverpool – what are thoughts on coming back, your memories of the city?
I remember the first time we ever played Liverpool was on the NME Radar tour in 2009. It was us, Yes Giantess (RIP?), Golden Silvers (RIP), and Marina and the Diamonds. We felt really bad because Marina was super sick, and she had to run off stage in the middle of her set, mid-song as well, to puke. I hope she’s not sick anymore.
Q. Your new material seems to continue the optimism displayed on ‘Gorilla Manor’. Can you tell us a bit about the journey from ‘Hummingbird’ to ‘Sunlit Youth’ – both personally and musically?
'Hummingbird' was a tough period to go through, so once that was done, it felt like a weight had been lifted. 'Sunlit Youth' embraced that feeling of being free to move around and go wherever made us feel good, which I think is why the album tends to go to a lot of different places. We felt like we could go far into unknown territory, whether is was no guitars on a song, or something way more soulful, always knowing that we’d bring it back to something that feels like us once all five of us put our fingerprints on it.
Q. For ‘Sunlit Youth’, you recorded the album in studios all over the world – Malaysia and Nicaragua being notable examples. What prompted this decision and what impact did these differing cultural environments have on your sound and your approach to the album?
You never know how your surroundings are going to affect your music, so we just wanted to try and get outside of our practice space in LA as mush as we could to change up locations, limitations, and just our daily lives to see what unpredictable things would happen to the music.
Malaysia was circumstantial: we got an offer to play there, and since we had a hook-up through our UK Label at a Thailand studio, we hopped over there for two incredibly productive weeks of writing and recording. That was the end of 2014, and basically kicked off working on ‘Sunlit Youth’ in this amazing way, so after that we tried to go other places as well.
We took writing trips to Joshua Tree, uprooted our whole studio to a house in Ojai, and then when we thought the record was done, took one last swing at writing new songs at a small hotel in Nicaragua. Ryan had heard of it through friends, and they had a small studio for bands to work in, so it was perfect. We ended up writing 10 songs in 10 days, one of which made the record, another which we just released recently ‘I Saw You Close Your Eyes’. The others I’m sure will see the light of day at some point.
Q. In what ways has the progression of your sound impacted on your live performance?
We’ve had to brainstorm how to play a lot of the synth sounds and samples that we have on our latest record, but we’re lucky in that everyone can play every instrument, even just a little, so we can move around to different stations and figure out what works best for each song. Matt is triggering a bunch of stuff from his kit, but we don’t play to any tracks live. That’s important to us to stay off a grid as much as we can.
Q. The optimism in your new work is an antidote to much of the prevailing mood in America right now. If you were to sum up the Donald Trump phenomenon using just three songs what would they be?
I would have to say:
“Fuck Me”, Chief Keef
“Fuck You”, CeeLo Green
“Fuck The World”, 2Pac
Q. Coney’s Island Discs – what three things would Local Natives need on a stranded desert island?
I think you would get wildly varying answers if you asked each of us, so I’ll just answer for myself: Radiohead discography on a fully-charged iPod, headphones, and a spice rack for all the fish I’ll be cooking.
Q. Who else are you looking forward to seeing at Liverpool’s Sound City.
There are a ton of bands I’m not familiar with on the line-up, so I’m looking forward to an exploratory experience. There is nothing like discovering bands at festivals that you fall in love with. It’s like falling in love with the girl at the coffee shop, and have an amazing experience with each other, but you can have a bunch of different lovers, and no one gets mad! Gotta love festivals for that.
Sound City is at Clarence Dock, Liverpool, 25-28 May 2017. Tickets are available here.