LJWorld.com weblogs Sound Check
Local Natives to bring raw nature of 'Hummingbird' to sold-out Granada
It should come as no surprise that it’s easier to write music when no one is watching.
At least, that was one of the obstacles Local Natives faced in the three years since their debut release, says vocalist/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer. First album “Gorilla Manor” exuded the free-spirited eagerness of a band fresh out of college and more than ready to fulfill their music dreams.
“We were a band just finishing college, and you definitely don’t have the expectation of anything happening,” Ayer says. “You just want to make a good record. And so we made that and everything went really well for us. It was amazing.”
It went so well it landed them touring gigs with the likes of Arcade Fire and the National (National member Aaron Dessner produced their second album).
For round two, things have drastically changed. Members— Taylor Rice, Ayer, Ryan Hahn, Matt Frazier and Nik Ewing —of the Los Angeles five-piece are no longer scrambling to find odd jobs on Craigslist to fund their music endeavors (their first album was self-funded), and the stakes have been raised.
“Second record, it’s totally a different experience,” Ayer says. “You know people are going to hear it. It’s a total different world of what feeds you from there.”
A heartbreaking split with bassist Andy Hamm in 2011, the dynamic of how the four remaining members wrote music for their second album, “Hummingbird,” changed drastically. It’s evident on this retrospective, nostalgic and in some cases, heavy collection of genuinely painful experiences.
“We dug deeper, I think,” Ayer says. “Or had to deal with some darker [stuff] on this record than the first one.”
Hamm’s leaving wasn’t the only heartbreak the band went through. The album title came from a breathtaking song written by Ayer, “Colombia,” about losing his mother during the summer 2012, amidst the beginning stages of writing the album.
“The day after [she passed], a hummingbird flew into this window trying to get in,” Ayer says. “We were on this patio and my aunt grabbed it, and we were all kind of stunned by this little frail bird that was just trying to go somewhere.”
“Columbia” — named for her native country — is chilling, the swell of Ayer’s lonely voice, syncopated bass and pacing piano leaving one hollow as he addresses his mother by name near the end, in hopes that she understand how much he loves her.
Ayer expresses his immense gratitude for his mother in that moment of the bird sighting: “A hummingbird crashed right in front of me and I understood all you did for us.”
With all of the personal issues they had to work through on this album (relationship and health problems), using Ayer’s incident to symbolize a grander representation of how much this particular record meant to them seemed fitting.
“So this idea of a hummingbird representing something personal to me seemed like a really fitting title encompassing a whole record feeling very personal to everyone,” Ayer says.
And touring the cathartic album for about a year and half now has finally helped them put the issues to rest, he says.
“We’re always thinking about the album as this therapeutic process helping us get over or get through these issues that we had to get through,” Ayer says. “It’s definitely very cathartic for me. The cool thing I think about playing these songs live is just that we can get them off our chest every night and get through them.”
“Hummingbird” was recorded entirely in Brooklyn (Dessner’s home studio space), without the financial strain they felt at the beginning of their career. Leaving Los Angeles to live in one space where they could work together consistently was the move they needed to make to wrap up loose ends.
“It was just time that we needed away from friends and family and people we knew, just to really focus on finishing the record, because finishing was definitely very difficult for us just given the nature of the material,” Ayer says. “We really felt the weight of what a second record is and we just wanted it to be as good as we can make it.”
They are satisfied with their current happenings, but still on “the chase” for bigger and better.
“I guess we just keep setting these goals and trying to be ambitious and balance the line between being content with what you have and being hungry for what you want,” he says.
Local Natives will play a sold-out Granada, 1020 Massachusetts St., at 7 p.m. Friday. Prepare to get caught up in the raw and palpable energy.
“It’s definitely very raucous,” Ayer says. “We tend to really get into the moment live and try to lose ourselves. The more we try to do that, the audience tries to do that. On our best shows, we get everyone to lose themselves in the things that we’re doing.”