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Interview: Local Natives Talk About Their New Album 'Violet Street' & Visiting NZ

Interview: Local Natives Talk About Their New Album 'Violet Street' & Visiting NZ

Interview by Priya Sami / Wednesday 17th July, 2019 2:35PM

LA indie pop-rock crew Local Natives are in Aotearoa next week for a one-off headline show at Tāmaki Makaurau’s Tuning Fork. The quintet are touring the world, running on the high of releasing their lush and lovely LP Violet Street in April, and no doubt the buzz of selling out shows in Sydney and Melbourne. This will be their first ever New Zealand event – and a debut performance naturally warrants a proper introduction and interview! Local Natives vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kelcey Ayer recently had a freewheeling chinwag with Priya Sami (Trip Pony, The Sami Sisters, Dateline), covering such topics as prepping for shows with throat coat tea, black sand beaches, and the decision to loosen the creative reigns while recording their latest album…

Local Natives
Monday 22nd July - Tuning Fork, Auckland w/ Sophie Mashlan
Tickets on sale now via Ticketmaster

Priya Sami: So, Violet Street. Am I missing something? Is there a poem or a lyric? Is it a real street? What’s the dealio?

Kelcey Ayer: It is a real street. It’s basically the street that the studio is on, Shawn Everett’s studio, in downtown LA. We basically holed up in there for like almost a year to make this record.

A year?

With breaks, it wasn’t all the way through but it was basically all last year that we were at this place in downtown LA and it became our second home and that was the record basically, it was that room and that place.

What’s your process? It’s your... fourth album! How has your approach changed? Are you wanting to take more control? Or leave it up to other people?

We were the most out of control on this record. All of our previous records, we’d demo out songs ourselves in our rehearsal space and get everything exactly how we want it to be and then go into the studio and then re-record all of this stuff.

That you’ve already done? With very little changes?

Well they always kinda change a little bit. We were really used to wanting to really flesh out every idea, so that you’re not spending so much time in an expensive studio and not really knowing what to do. But this time we went “fuck it” and “we’ll come up with some skeletons of ideas”. We went to Mexico for a month and set up in this guy’s yoga studio and just jammed it and recorded on our iPhones, like “oh, that’s a cool bit of music, let’s play that again”. So we took all these iPhone recordings and bought them to Shawn…

Every day we’d just pick a song, talk about it and figure out a way to record it and it was pretty thrilling and adventurous and you didn't know what you were gonna end up with. But it felt like with the six of us, fucking around just creating stuff, we’d always end up at the end of the day with something pretty rad. That album is the most we’ve ever had a producer produce our album in the traditional sense. The closest we got was on Hummingbird, our second record. We had Aaron Dessner from The National produce that record with us, which was rad. With Shawn, we really gave up, totally gave the reins over to him... We had not had great experiences with producers before, except for I guess, Aaron.

It’s pretty hard though, you’re giving up your precious songs.

Well it's hard in many ways, because there’s five people in the band and we run it like a democracy and everyone had a vote. There’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen already and to add another one is really hard. We were three days into recording with Shawn and we hadn’t planned to do the record with him, we just booked some time, because we’d done a little bit of recording with him on Sunlit Youth, our third record. I think it was like three days in and we all huddled together and we were like “this is amazing, let’s have him produce and mix and engineer the whole record” and everyone was like “yeah, yeah, let’s do it” and it was the quickest decision we’ve ever made.

I think there’s this preconception that every day in the recording studio, there's this amazing thing and you’ve got this song and it’s all polished and done, but a lot of people don't realise the time that it takes to do stuff. I feel like there’s a lot of time where you've just going “let’s try this, let’s try this, let’s try this” and then never use any of it. Have you got anything that you tried and we’re like “yeah, fuck yeah” and then didn’t make it?

Basically, every part of a song, or even starting a song, Shawn would come up with a very unorthodox, crazy idea of how to do it and very quickly we learned that we should not resist and just say yes to every fucking wild, super confusing, crazy idea that he had because it always turned out amazing.

It becomes like an improv kind of thing.

Yeah totally. Everything we did with him, his crazy mind at the wheel, it always ended up being great. There was a lot of stuff that we recorded that was awesome but the song didn’t develop or something and we had to leave it on the cutting room floor. We’re going to try an resurrect some of those this year, get in the studio and…

Don't forget them!

No! I couldn't.

The other thing is, because you guys are amazing singers and your harmonies are sick…

Thank you!

I sing too and I’m always listening to the melodies and the harmonies and I mostly write around that. I write around the melody and everything's got to fit that. In this process, did you feel like “oh fuck, how am I gonna fit this into what we’ve already created?”. Were you writing lyrics and vocal lines over what you’ve been messing with? Did you have to kind of mix that shit up?

Well, there’s three different songwriters in the band... me and Taylor and Ryan. I think Taylor and Ryan like to go melody first and I like to go lyrics first. I usually bend to their way of doing things but it’s mostly gibberish, melody singing. Sometimes the gibberish sounds cool so you can use it.

Any songs on the album that you really didn’t like through the recording process, but since you’ve been playing them live, you fucking love them again?

Oh, I like them all.

[sings] You love them aaaaall!

Yeah! I love them all! I guess it's been fun seeing what songs rise to the top. ‘Garden of Elysian’ ended up getting a really positive response live. It was one of the easiest ones to translate and it felt like such an immediately connected song to our audience and to our fans. It's been cool to see that song rise up. There’s been other songs that have been harder to pull off live like ‘Tap Dancer’ or ‘Someday Now’. We recorded all these Coke bottles…

Glass or plastic?

Glass, and put different amounts of water in there to tune them, so that’s like the clicky clacky tuned bell stuff that you hear on ‘Someday Now’. I tried to sample it and it’s super hard to keep on time because it’s moving in and out.

There’s a lot of reverb, a lot of delay in the drums especially. How do you translate that live and how is your poor drummer doing that shit?

He’s doing the best he can! I think that’s like a really fun challenge when you have this crazy thing that you made, to reproduce it live, it’s always a fun thing to figure out.

It’s a whole other ball game, like re-recording everything for a live audience.

Yeah totally!

Can you just tell me a little bit about the dirty bass in ‘Gulf Shores’ because I fucken love the dirty bass. It’s like yeeeeeah! Do you remember recording that?

It was a DX-7, I believe that Nick bought in. It’s like that Seinfeld bass. It’s totally that, but he just played it all crazy. A lot of the record, we were like “uh how did we even do that in the first place and how do we do it again?". We have no fucking idea.

The vocals in that, is that you guys pitched up or did you steal a kids choir? Did you walk down the road and find a church choir and record them on the street?

No, we didn't, that was just a crazy thing Shawn did. Everyday, Shawn would find some weird thing and weave it in and it would always be like “oh, that is rad” and everything moves so quickly and I honestly couldn’t tell you what that is. [laughs]

You guys are coming to New Zealand. You’re touring the album. How long do you guys tour? Do you have rules about it? How do you stay healthy and happy when you’re away from home?

I’ve found that drinking a little less, I like to drink beers and one million beers is not a good way to spend every day.

I was also thinking about the range that you guys sing, you hitting them high notes and I know for a fact that going out at night and drinking is not going to help your vocals.

I had to learn that the hard way. I did a lot of partying on the first record and then over time I’ve learned you have to chill. I live and die by my throat coat tea. I like that a lot. I warm up a lot. I'm the guy who sings the highest, so… I’ve gotten into a ritual that I like.

Is that you doing the sirens before the show? The [weeeEEEEeeeeoooOOOh]?

That is me. But you know about that. Are you gonna be at the show?

Yeah, I'm gonna be doing the sirens before hand. I'm in your band now.

Oh great!

You know what you’ve been missing? A female vocalist, that’s what you’ve been missing! I'm gonna hit the Mariah Carey notes and make all your Coke bottles explode.

Amazing! I can't believe you can do that, that’s incredible.

Have you been to New Zealand before?

Never! It’ll be our first time ever!

I’m really sorry, it’s winter and I can’t promise you it’ll be nice weather. We are quite nice, I guess. There’s trees. It’s very small but it does the trick…

Yeah! We’re all so excited, we’re gonna spend a couple of days after the show, just hanging out.

Oh awesome, there’s cool black sand beaches and the surf is terrifying so don't go in the water, but look at it.

That’s my favourite way to appreciate water. I don't even like to go in, I just like to look at it.



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Local Natives
Mon 22nd Jul 8:00pm
The Tuning Fork, Auckland