Q&A with Local Natives' Kelcey Ayer
Los Angeles-based Local Natives first blipped on the indie radar with the February release of its debut album, “Gorilla Manor,” which nabbed a “Best New Music” tag from the overseers at Pitchfork.
That blip has grown immense over a year’s worth of touring as the band endeared itself to clubs and small concert halls the country over, playing a personal brand of electric folk-rock that draws comparisons to nearly ever big-name indie act who’s ever flirted with the same: Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, take your pick.
Local Natives combines the strongest qualities of a lot of bands into a distinct sound that’s anchored by strong, heartfelt songwriting. The Daily recently caught up with singer/guitarist/keyboardist/percussionist Kelcey Ayer on the phone to talk about music blogging, the Talking Heads and the dreaded sophomore slump.
The Daily: Are you guys ready to debut in Oklahoma?
Kelcey Ayer: Yeah! It’s our first show in Oklahoma. It’s always awesome to play new places.
The Daily: I’m a really big Talking Heads fan, but I didn’t even realize its influence on you guys until somebody pointed out to me that “Warning Sign” on your record was a cover. Whose idea was it to do “Warning Sign,” and as a much younger band, how do you guys see David Byrne, since he’s kinda before your time?
KA: We recorded the record in two sessions, one in the summer of 2008 and one in 2009 and during that first time, Andy (Hamm, bassist for the band) had gotten me this box set, the Talking Heads Best of ... we’d been listening to Talking Heads more, particularly “More Songs About Buildings And Food.” We thought we had finished after that first chunk of songs, but we went back in for that second session to rewrite and re-work a few songs, and we thought, we want to do a cover song to play live.
We didn’t want to do something like “Once in a Lifetime” or one of the bigger-known songs like “Psycho Killer” or something. Andy suggested we do “Warning Sign” cause he loves the bass line because he’s a bass player (laughs). So we took it and worked with it and reshaped it with the sound we were going for with our other songs and it ended up sounding pretty different. Flash forward eight months later, we’re still playing it live a bunch.
The Talking Heads have been a newer influence because I wasn’t familiar with them before then and our producer was like, “Are you crazy? Are you out of your mind?” so I started to get into early-era, “Remain In Light” stuff.
The Daily: Have you guys tried to do any other cover songs?
KA: We tried to do “Transformer” by Gnarls Barkley. Yeah, we tried to slow it down, but I think we all sounded really stupid (laughs). Like, we slowed it down so we could half-rap, half-sing it. We did do a cover of a Television song called “Careful” for [music blog] Aquarium Drunkard. They do this series where they take a bunch of local bands and they cover a full album. They did Paul McCartney’s “Ram” and recently they did Television’s second album, “Adventure,” so that was one of the songs off there.
The Daily: Do you guys feel like there’s any kind of pressure to record your next record after all the success “Gorilla Manor” has enjoyed?
KA: If there’s any sort of pressure, it’s mainly just pressure from us. We don’t want to make a “Gorilla Manor, Part Two” and we want to push ourselves and we want to really see what we can do when all we have to worry about is playing music and not worry about anything else.
The Daily: Ariel Pink played an awesome show in Norman last month, but a lot of people came to see him just because he got a 9.0 Pitchfork review. Pitchfork gave you a “Best New Music” tag, so I was curious if you’ve noticed any such effect from that particular media outlet.
KA: Well, we’re all at the core of it — music fans and music blog readers. It’s always been like that and that’s what made it feel easier in the early days for us to approach blogs because it was on a peer-to-peer level. It was awesome because we’d tell them about our band and ... it would go straight to the fans and not to the PR company or whatever.
With that, you read “You Ain’t No Picasso” or “We All Want Someone To Shout For” or “Stereogum,” but we definitely read Pitchfork too and they’re a big force to reckon with in the indie-rock scene. [But] to accredit everything to them, I don’t think would be appropriate.
If you have something that you’re really passionate about and you tour and tour and tour, and then add good reviews, all these things add up to us playing this biggest tour we’ve ever done in our lives. The Pitchfork thing, we try not to make too big a deal out of it, you know? It’s just another blog that liked us; they just happen to be a behemoth. It worked out really well for us.
I think [the good review], combined with constant touring in the U.S. and all these other blogs that seem to really get behind us, I think that’s why the record’s gone so well and continued to go so well.
The Daily: What music blogs do you follow?
KA: We learned about a lot of new blogs when we were looking to blogs to go through [to market the record]. Daytrotter is a huge one for us — Sean (Moeller, Daytrotter’s editor) has become a really great friend of ours. I think they’re doing really amazing things there. Then, we’ve made great relationships with You Ain’t No Picasso and We All Want Someone to Shout For.
The Daily: Bloggers are the most dynamic means by which indie music is distributed nowadays. What’s it like to be a big part of that?
KA: I think we all agree that it’s totally beneficial to artists nowadays that these bloggers are so hungry for new music and so sick of Rolling Stone or Spin or whoever is churning out what’s “new” to listen to. [Bloggers] are on the forefront; they’re looking for the bands themselves and they’re breaking new ground.
It’s pretty awesome finding out about these great new bands that would’ve needed a lot more work five or 10 years ago to find out about. It’s pretty wonderful.
WHEN: Show 8 p.m.
» Today — Local Natives, The Love Language, Union Line
» Wednesday — The Mountain Goats, Wye Oak
» Nov. 10 — Dr. Dog, Here We Go Magic
TICKETS: $15, available at www.ticketstorm.com