“We were really excited because we could watch and feel something happening” says Kelcey Ayer, on the buzz that has been orbiting Silver Lake’s Local Natives ever since their mini-triumph at SXSW earlier this year, in which the group’s nine performances transformed them from the hopeful unsigned to a success story ready to release their debut single.
Kelcey is one third of the singing trio at the core of the Californian five-piece’s distinctive indie-rock harmonies, a sound which has coined their vocal-band tag. He is sat in a London pub on the edge of Soho with the rest of Local Natives, who are four days into their first trip to the UK and full of wonder at their new found fame and friends in the UK. Kelsey continues with his explanation of the aftermath of SXSW: “A lot more people have taken more notice and we’ve seen it really grow, especially in the UK. A lot of people that really dug it over there came back and started spreading the word, you could hear us being played on the radio and our Myspace plays were going up. It was really overwhelming coming over here now and playing our first show in London at The Lexington, it was completely sold out, and all these people knew the songs and were freaking out.”
At this point, drummer Matt Frazier leans in to explain the mutual feeling of surprise that Local Natives experienced during that first London show, three days earlier, “It was crazy. It was such a weird strange feeling, coming to a place we’d never been before. Having it go that well was really flattering.”
The group, who consist of Matt, Kelcey, singers and guitarists Ryan Hahn and Taylor Rice and bassist Andy Hamm have been living in a house together in Los Angeles since December, 2008. Matt and Andy have been with the band for nearly three years, while Ryan, Taylor and Kelcey met in high school and have been playing together for six years.
In their early years, the band played in a different guise with the name Cavil At Rest. Andy offers an explanation as to the difference between Cavil At Rest and Local Natives: “To us it’s a night and day thing. There’s obviously going to be similarities for people who listen to both. For us it was not only a musical style that we thought was completely different from what we were doing before, but also mentally it was really the first time that we had decided to be a band full time and put our full energy into it, and really give it a shot.”
When it came to the important decision to move from one band to the next, it was Andy who came up with their name, Local Natives. “We needed a new name. We really wanted something that incorporated the feeling of the music that we were writing, while something that wasn’t too off-the -wall and everybody would say ‘what the hell did you just say?’. I actually hadn’t heard the term Local Natives before I think I’d seen it somewhere and thought that it conjured up visions of groups of people dancing around and all playing music together. That’s really the sort of community vibe that we try to put forth on stage, where everybody contributes.
Laughing, he describes the responses he got from other members of the band, “I really liked how it got a reaction, I remember when I first came into the room and I was like ‘I’ve got it, Local Natives!’ and a few of the guys were like, ‘Well that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! It’s super redundant. It’s two of the same word!’. It still was a reaction and I thought that was really cool.”
With three singers in a band of five, Local Natives do not have a front-man nor do they lack one, with their collaborative ethos and a harmony-led sound, a lead-man is not missed. Ryan explains the concept behind the approach to band and music structure. “Everything about this band is unique in the sense that it’s very democratic and collaborative, you know there’s not one songwriter so I think in that aspect there’s not really one front-man or centrepiece. I would feel confident of anyone in this band heading up anything with Local Natives.”
If there’s not one among you who takes a dominant or lead role over the others, what are the individual characters, and roles you have within the group?
Ryan: “Taylor’s the pretty one.”
As he gestures, Taylor smiles all animated in his role, and Ryan continues,
“Kelcey’s the insane one, Andy’s like the business man. Matt’s the nice guy. Everyone has their things that they do. Me, Matt and Andy do Graphic Design so we head up the artwork. It’s just whatever anyone can get their hands on and work on with the band. Everyone’s willing to help.”
So how do Local Natives feel about the bands their music has been compared to such as Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire?
As Kelcey expresses how flattered the band is that these groups are all ones that Local Natives like, he also says that due to the nature of their vocal sound it’s an easy comparison to make.
“It’s definitely a huge compliment because they’re obviously bands we listen to and like, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend all those bands.
“It’s expected, they hear us, we are a harmony band, we have three singers and they think ’Oh, Fleet Foxes’ but in many ways we’re a very different band.”
What about your own influences, and do you think these can be detected in your sound?
“I think we’re more inspired probably by the things we’ve been listening to in the last three or four years. I mean we all grew up, a lot of us metal kids in high school and grade schools. First songs you learned were Metallica songs, the first riffs on guitar were.”
Shrugging he searches for any detection of Metallica in Local Natives sound, and smiles, “I don’t know. Maybe a little bit?”
As the members of the band laugh together and share stories, there’s definitely an energy about them, it surfaces with a welcoming atmosphere that makes you want to join in on the action and it is this vibe that transpires when Local Natives play live. “We definitely make it a point to have our shows be an entertaining time”, says Taylor. “It’s great for us, we’re a band that’s very much a live band, there are studio bands and we love the studio, but I think all of us really gel when we are on stage. We love performing and putting on a really fun show”.
So when you are performing on stage is it better that you have a good time during the show, or that the crowd do?
“If we’re feeling good, that means we’re playing well and I think people feel good too, they can see the energy and it’s contagious.” says Kelcey before Andy elaborates further: “It sounds almost selfish, but it’s the exact opposite, if you go up there and you play for yourself then that actually is the best way to play it and people will see that and they will see the passion. That’s why we all try to go up there and literally, we try to play it like it’s the first time. I think that rubs off in the crowd.
“I know when I watch bands and I love it when they’re just into it and they couldn’t care less what’s going on around because they’re enveloped in what’s going on”.
On top success Local Natives experienced at SXSW, what else has been a memorable experience for the band, so far? “I feel like there’s been a lot of them lately”, answers Matt, “because we’re still such a small band so everything’s exciting and crazy. Getting in print magazines has been crazy and getting on blogs, but then playing The Bowery Ballroom, which is a venue in New York, is one of those things we’ve always heard about other bands playing and we just got to play there…it was incredible. All of that stuff was exciting we’re not disenchanted at all.”
With their debut UK single Sun Dance set for imminent release, a return to the UK for a live tour scheduled in September with European dates to follow that, it’s clear Local Natives have a lot to be excited by, and even more to look forward to.