Breaking Out: Local Natives
Jangly Afropop-influenced pranksters lose a food fight, win a famous fan
Local Natives keyboardist Ryan Hahn has something to confess about the strange jeers that kick off his eclectic indie-pop band’s earworm of a single, “Airplanes,” an otherwise bright slice of folksy melody and drumline effervescence. “We give him a hard time a lot,” explains Hahn, 24, referring to lead singer Kelcey Ayer, 25, who wrote the song. “When we started working on it, we thought it was gonna be this sentimental, Coldplay-ish thing.” So he and his bandmates would boo Ayer during practice, and even snuck into the studio to add their groans to the track. Hahn laughs: “Kelcey’s going to kill me for telling you that.”
By now, the Natives are used to each other’s jibes. The quintet’s playfully earnest debut, Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss), takes its name from the Orange County, California house that the band — which includes guitarist Taylor Rice, 24, bassist Andy Hamm, 29, and drummer Matt Frazier, 25 — moved into shortly after forming in 2007. (Rice, Hahn, and Ayer had previously played in the fizzily emotional Cavil at Rest.) Inside their suburban sanctuary, the musicians honed their mix of huge harmonies, hyperactive rhythms, African-influenced guitar interplay, and occasional discord — a taut sound that calls to mind both high-minded contemporaries Grizzly Bear and rootsier vets Crosby, Stills and Nash. Unfortunately, the boys’ departure from the house wasn’t quite so tidy.
“There was a food fight,” says Hahn, “and the mess got very out of hand. We didn’t get any of our deposit back when we left.” Presumably, the band, which has since relocated to Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, managed to recoup their losses. Released earlier this year, Gorilla Manor has sold more than 60,000 copies and helped Local Natives garner spots at the Bonnaroo and Reading and Leeds festivals.
But it was a May gig at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom that left the biggest impression. “I looked up while we were playing our version of Talking Heads’ ‘Warning Sign,’?” says Hahn, “and I saw David Byrne standing in the balcony and singing along. A friend said he was even singing to ‘Airplanes.’?” The boos, evidently, were worth it.WATCH: Local Natives, “World News”