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yan Hahn, Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer and Matt Frazier make up Local Natives, the trail-blazing indie rockers (or psych-folkers, depending on which frothing review you read) who first plotted their career at an Orange County high school. The band’s debut Gorilla Manor (2009) was famously named after the share house in which the guys first cut their musical teeth; after its release by Frenchkiss in the States, the group was compared to the likes of Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend. New album Hummingbird (released in January) still bats these influences around, while also expanding their sound with full but not frenetic choruses and haunting, lilting background vocals. “Especially when we’re writing, we all just kind of play whatever we’re inspired to work with at that moment,” Hahn says in his smooth Californian accent. “There are songs that I play drums on, and Kelcey plays guitar, or bass. We just switch often. It’s can’t have an ego about it, you know. We all just try to contribute what we can.” This democratic writing style also extends to their lyrics. “We try to keep [lyrics] as personal and from one perspective as possible. We always bounce ideas off each other and if there’s something that’s not clear, or if something is like, kind of cringeinducing, then we pick it up and iron it out that way. But oftentimes it is from just one person’s perspective.”

First single ‘Breakers’ was released in late 2012, and features a fantastic trilling guitar line that makes you think of marimbas (but played on clams!) and rising and falling background vocals, like a pod of singing whales. If it doesn’t seem like single material at first listen, that doesn’t bother the band at all. “It’s a weird thing selecting singles, for a band like us,” he says. “I guess we’re not really into that game. I think we’re just more concerned with making an album as a whole, just because that’s the way we tend to listen to music. We just want a collection of songs that we’re really proud of – and if a few can be played on the radio, then, cool.” Other standouts on Hummingbird include ‘Heavy Feet’, which features a tom-heavy drum pattern; as you listen to the album it becomes apparent that distinctive drums, and especially auxiliary percussion (like handclaps), are a big component of Local Natives’ sound. A tom or snare on all four beats of a bar, followed by total breaks in percussion while guitar or harmonies burst through unaccompanied, is part of that ‘afro’ style the group has also been linked to. “Matt’s our drummer but I love playing drums,” Hahn says. “When we write songs we’ll demo them out before we bring them to the other guys, a lot of the time. For me – for my songs at least – I like showing my drum ideas when I show the guys. I feel that’s just the nature of our band, being multi-instrumentalists.”

“It felt like we’d become professional musicians, a few years after the fact!” 12 :: BRAG :: 511 :: 06:05:13

Coming of Age By Zoe Radas

One of the tracks penned by Hahn is ‘Black Balloons’, which he describes as one of the “angrier” on the album. It’s a beautifully written lament with a driving hi-hat pattern and airy, slightly unusual harmonies. “That one came from a place of frustration, maybe with a person in my life,” Hahn says slowly. “A person that I just found to be…” he laughs, “…pretty loathsome. Just interacting with this person. When I was just toying around with the song, and toying around with the melody, those lyrics came to me really quickly.” The band scored a coup in lining up The National’s songsmith Aaron Dessner as the producer for Hummingbird; you can tell Hahn enjoys recounting the story of how the connection came about. “We were already writing quite a bit [for the album], and then we got this call from a booking agent, that The National was asking us to go on tour,” he says. “They’re one of those bands that we just couldn’t say no to. We went out and we had an awesome time; Aaron really went out of his way to welcome us. And we kind of just became buds.” Dessner put it out there that he’d like to work with the band on their album and they, of course, gladly accepted. “In a lot of ways, he definitely became an older brother type figure that we could be honest with. In the studio, we could be really upfront about ideas. It was just a really good working relationship,” Hahn says. Besides a wealth of production and songwriting experience, Dessner also brought a studio-worth of amazing equipment. Hahn’s at a loss to name some of the more exotic gear used to produce

sounds like the deep keyboard line on ‘Black Balloons’. “Honestly, I wish I could answer you, but we had so many keyboards! Aaron had vintage keyboards and awesome organs and stuff, and certain things we hadn’t even considered. So we had the song, we had instrumentation, and then it was like, OK, let’s plug a few of these in and see what happens if we layer a few of these.” As a tight knit group used to working on their own – Gorilla Manor was produced entirely within the group – Hahn admits that they were initially “sceptical” about bringing anyone else in, but that didn’t last long. “Our first record we basically did in a garage, and then this time we got to go to Montreal to a full professional studio, and [also to] Aaron’s place; he had some really quality gear. And it felt like in some ways we’d become professional musicians,” he laughs, adding, “...a few years after the fact.” Considering the band never stick to one instrument, it’s going to be interesting to see how they translate their recorded sound on a live stage. “Yeah, as we speak we’re trying to figure out how to play some of the songs live,” says Hahn. “There’s a kind of trade off. Last time [in Australia] we played Laneway and it was our first time playing in Australia, period. It was honestly – I guess it sounds like I’m just pandering to you – but it was just such a fun tour. And we’re really stoked to come back and play Australia again.” With: New Gods Where: The Metro Theatre When: Wednesday May 15

The Brag #511  

SYDNEY’S HOTTEST INDEPENDENT WEEKLY STREET PRESS Hitting the streets with the best music, culture and events, every Monday. This week: Local...

The Brag #511  

SYDNEY’S HOTTEST INDEPENDENT WEEKLY STREET PRESS Hitting the streets with the best music, culture and events, every Monday. This week: Local...