‘Band of brothers’ reassembles with a new album and a show in Austin on September 16
By Jeff McCord
What happens when your band, who have been your family for over a decade, start competing with, um, real families?
That’s the dilemma faced by LA’s Local Natives. And it all came to a head in the middle of recording their fifth album, which would eventually be given the weighty title, Time Will Wait For No One.
In August of 2021, the band played their biggest hometown show ever at LA’s famed Greek Theater. It was an emotional time. Friends since they were teenagers, in a band that has seen only one lineup change in eighteen years, they’ve been a remarkably cohesive unit. Together much of the past decade, they were suddenly forging their own paths. Pulled apart, not only by the pandemic but by life. All of it. The good (marriages), the bad (miscarriages). Heavy stuff. So they came together for their first show in quite some time almost as strangers. Did they still make sense to each other anymore?
The show was a triumph, but even riding that high, the future still felt uncertain.
“We’d been a band for so many years.”
That’s guitarist and vocalist Ryan Hahn talking. He and bassist/vocalist Nik Ewing (who joined the band in 2011 – “The new guy,” jokes Ryan) are talking to me over Zoom, enjoying a rare and sunny off day in New York’s Central Park.
“I’ve known Taylor [Rice, guitars and vocals] since I was 13,” Ryan continues, “and it was the longest we’d been apart in so many years because we hadn’t been touring or making records. It just felt like we were living and breathing, being in this band together. We even lived together for a couple of years. It was just a strange time of everyone being apart, leading our own lives. A lot of it was getting back in the studio. Do we still know how to do this? How do we make music in the same room? A lot of the record you’re hearing us kind of finding our way back. We made so much music during this time. It was a slow start, but by the end, we were cranking out songs. So it was that was an interesting experience.”
One that almost didn’t happen. The slow start was frustrating. The Greek show showed they could still make music together, but creating a new album was another matter.
Nik recalls the show’s afterparty.
“We definitely thought there was a chance that was our last show. Ryan, I remember talking to you, and right after the show, friends and family were there, it was a big celebratory night. We sold it out. We hadn’t played a show in a long time, and I remember thinking, ‘Was that it?’ We didn’t really know. We were fracturing a lot. There’s was distance between us. We care so much about each other as brothers and as people. There was a reality where we could have just easily continued as a band and liked each other less, as coworkers or something like that. That’s a reality that could happen.”
“We know lots of bands like that,” says Ryan, laughing. “We’re just like, ‘Wow, how do you guys do it?’”
After the Greek show, there were lots of discussions among the five of them. And in the end, two things became clear. They probably all needed the long break. But they all needed Local Natives, too. So they got back to work.
“I do think it was a nice reminder of the connections that we have with each other.” Ryans says, “That sound we make that’s unique to us, that only the five of us together can do. And that connection with the people that came to the show, it was just a really nice reminder and it gave us a little momentum going into the studio.”
That unique sound was fully formed by the time of their 2009 debut Gorilla Manor, an almost baroque, thickly arranged soup swarming with strange beats and ethereal backing vocals.
“We were singing a lot of harmonies,” Ryan recalls. “We loved the Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills and Nash, but none of us had any theory background. So I think it kind of came off more punk rock, less polished. Then we were drawn to some ornate orchestral stuff. So it kind of all gets thrown in the hopper.”
For a band with three primary singers and songwriters, their work is a process.
“It’s definitely more democratic than any band that I’ve talked to,” Ryan admits. “A lot of times it’s myself, Taylor and Kelcey [Ayer, keyboards and vocals] bringing a song in various states of development to the band. What do you think of this? Nik’s our studio wizard, he can take the simplest little idea and expand upon it.”
“We’re pretty undefined in our roles once we get in the studio,” Nik continues. Ryan will write a drum beat and Kelcey will write a bass line, and I’ll write a piano melody. We’re just, the five of us, trying to figure out this song together in real time. We all have different ideas of what that song should be. From my point of view, I can look back and hear that, and see our tension in a good way. It’s not a song that just the one of us could make.”
It’s also a bit messy, which explains the band’s slim output of just five albums in fourteen years, and their slow start on Time Waits For No One. When I comment that it seems like they don’t work very fast, they both break out laughing.
“You’re right,” says Nik. “Because we all have an opinion.”
Produced by John Congleton (who has worked with Spoon and St. Vincent), the recording of the new album took place over seven different studios around the LA area. Kind of a lot?
“If we were some huge band,” Ryan says, “If this was the eighties or something, we probably would have stayed in one [studio] and made the most expensive record of all time. But I think logistically it made sense to hop around. Different studios suit different things. And it’s not every time you need some historic big room to get a big drum or live band sound. Sometimes you’re just cutting vocals in a little closet. It kind of kept it fresh and fun for us. I do think now we can hear it, different parts on the record. Different songs have like little different flavors and experiences.”
Different flavors on Time Waits For No One include the rocker “NYE”, inspired by Ryan watching the rest of his band play covers as his wedding band.
“It seems like the [songs] that resonate, that get the whole band, Nik and everyone excited are the ones that feel the most honest and vulnerable,” Ryan explains. “This record was like maybe our way of dealing with a lot of that head-on and just kind of deal with it in the music. One of the emotional centerpieces of the record is “Paradise”, which is very much about Kelcey’s experience over those couple of years. And then a song like “Hourglass”, me dealing with having someone in your life, a family member who you disagree with so wholeheartedly on something and yet, you love this person. A lot of it was like striving for connection in the face of a lot of this hardship.”
The music on Time is still carefully arranged, the familiar clash of downcast lyrics and soaring choruses. But there are also some new hints of tension and vitality. Now fully re-united, these friends are anxious to play this new music for their fans.
Included in their full slate of September dates is a stop at Stubb’s on 9/16. It’s a show they’re anticipating.
“Our drummer, Matt [Frazier], moved to Austin earlier this year,” Ryan says, “So it’ll be the hometown show for him. We’re excited to come see his new place. We’ve had such a history in Austin, obviously. We really got our start in 2009 at South by Southwest. And so for us, so much is tied to the city. We got our first booking agent, we got a UK label deal, and we flew over to the UK like after that. For us, it’s a really special place. So yeah, we’re psyched.”
After all the uncertainty, it’s not hard to see the palpable relief they feel being back in the surroundings of what was, for all of them, their first family.
Ryan sums it up.
“We were stepping off the carousel of everything we’d been doing for so long. And in a lot of ways it made us reconsider how we went about things and even how we made songs together. A lot of times there’s a bunch of cooks in the kitchen. And I think that requires taking care of not only our music skills but also our relationships as friends, you know? I’d still like to think we’re friends first and foremost. It was a lot of re-learning what we knew Local Natives to be, and what our strengths were. But also letting go of that and figuring out what new things could happen, new sounds, new ways of writing. Just trying to lessen the grip and roll with things more.”