Local Natives on the National Circuit, Round 2 | Q&A

Sometime through early 2010, “Wide Eyes,” the lead single from Local Natives debut Gorilla Manor, started making rounds on college radio stations and blogs around the country. Then there were videos and write-ups from the band’s appearance at South by Southwest. Late that spring, Local Natives played their exalting “Sun Hands” to a packed audience during an afternoon Coachella set. The audience knows every word.

It’s infectious, of course, when three vocalists shout the chorus in harmony: “When I can’t feel with my sun hands/I promise not to lose her again.”

It’s those harmonies, the near instinctual stomping guitar solos, that rocketed Local Natives to the fore of the national indie rock consciousness. And they nail every harmony in their live performance.

In 2013, they followed-up and dialed-back from the fretful energy of Gorilla Manor with Hummingbird, a smoother, more spacious and confident record.

On Saturday, Local Natives play Maha Music Festival at Stinson Park in Omaha. Tickets are $50. Local Natives go on at 6:35 p.m.

We caught up with guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Hahn on the phone to talk about adjusting to the cycle of releasing music and touring, the joy of playing festivals and saying “yes” to every opportunity.

HN: Obviously you spent a lot of the four years between albums on tour, but how much of that time was writing and figuring out where you wanted to go next?

RH: Most of it was touring. We put it out at the end of 2009, and basically toured for two years straight. It was our first time doing all this, releasing an album and touring. Offers kept coming in to go places we’d never been before, so we kind of just said “yes” to everything. When we thought we were done, we got offers to do a tour with Arcade Fire and then an offer to play at the Concert Hall here in Los Angeles, which was like a show with an orchestra. We spent two months on that. It was just hard to say “no” and start focusing on writing again.

HN: When Arcade Fire asks you to come on tour, you have to have a pretty good excuse to say “no.”

RH: Right. There are a few bands that are on that list in your head. You get the call and it’s just like, “Yep, we’re going.”

HN: So what about now? Have things settled down again, do you have anything in the works?

RH: Yeah, we are working on some stuff. After Hummingbird we toured our asses off, we’re kind of in the thick of it, but we got better at writing on-the-go. I’m writing on my laptop a lot more. I know we all have a bunch of ideas and pieces of songs we’re ready to bring to the table. We’re trying to build a rehearsal space here in LA. I think we want to capture us in a room again and write with all five of us in a room. Once we start doing that, the songs will come together pretty quickly.

HN: After Gorilla Manor, there was sort of a lot of buzz, for lack of a better word. You guys were in this place poised to be the next big thing. A lot of times when that happens, the band puts out a follow-up and it just kind of flopped. Do you think the time you took helped you avoid that sophomore slump?

RH: It’s hard to have perspective on something you’re in, but we knew this time around that there’d be people paying attention. It gets in your head a little bit, but we all kind of realize we want to just do something different, not making the same types of songs. We’re so collaborative, I figure if we can write songs that each of us can get into, that’s all we can really do.

HN: If you guys are all happy with the songs you’re pushing, then what about the difference between Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird? Gorilla Manor has a sort of urgent anxiety to it, where Hummingbird seems more harmonious and tranquil. I would have guessed that one person probably drove that shift.

RH: I guess I don’t really know where that came from. We don’t have conversations about how the record will sound on some grand scale. But it’s really representative of where we were at the time. We spend so much time with each other that we have this collective experience.

We had some heavy things happen paired with all these amazing things. It’s us making sense of a lot of that. And musically, we wanted to experiment with different instruments and different arrangements, not feeling like we have to push a song to soaring, climactic heights, just to let a song breathe and explore the space. Not to say that’s what we’ll do next time around, but that’s where we were at.

HN: I’m sure it feels good to have that kind of freedom, to be relaxed enough not to make the same record again. So how is the touring cycle different the second time around?

RH: You try to prepare yourself. You start out with the best intentions like, “I’m going to be really healthy this time, I’m going to exercise and get some sleep.” Five weeks into it, you’re back into the same stuff. You’re getting sick and no one is sleeping. No one can write. It’s the nature of touring. We’re not at that level where you’re staying in the finest hotels and flying first class. Definitely still pretty grueling.

HN: Keeping up with that touring schedule seems kind of like a young man’s game. Do you ever feel like, since you’re young, you had better do it now because now might be the only time?

RH: We started out and we didn’t know anyone who talked about it negatively. Then you’d meet older bands and not understand their situation. Now we know people that have families, older bands. They’re smarter about it, I think. They know you can’t go out for two months and come home for three days and go out again. We’re still at the age where we can do it, so we’ve got to go for it.

HN: When you’re older, I wonder if it’s more like just part of the job.

RH: That thought process makes me sad, I don’t like thinking of it like that. I don’t like that word necessarily, it’s a personal thing. We put so much of our lives into it and it’s such a fun thing, but you have to find balance, that part of it is a job.

HN: You guys are building your own space right now?

RH: Yeah, I actually just pulled up to Taylor [Rice]’s house. We bought a bunch of sound-absorbing boards that you hang on the wall. Hopefully, it’ll make our space sound better. We found this warehouse with high ceilings. It’s going to be a fun room to play music in.

HN: When you guys play festivals, do you get much of a chance to hang out and see other bands on the bill?

RH: We were just at Outside Lands in San Francisco. We played on Saturday and kind of hung around on Sunday. We saw Lykke Li, really good. We got to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds up at a festival in Montreal. That was the highlight of my year.

HN: I know a lot of artists will fly in right before their set and then fly out right after.

RH: Yeah, we were kind of blown away by that. We were in Salt Lake City then flew to San Francisco. On our flight from L.A. to San Francisco , there were a bunch of bands from the festival. Arctic Monkeys was on our flight and I thought they’d probably play tomorrow, get in and chil, play tomorrow. Then I realized they were playing like three hours from then. So gnarly to just roll up, play your show and head out. That’s a pretty intense schedule.

HN: I would want to avoid that if I could.

RH: Yeah, we like to settle in, get the vibe of a place.