From the campus of Michigan State University

Impact Chats With... LOCAL NATIVES

5/10/2010 at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor

Nick Van Huis: I know Gorilla Manor was named after the house you guys lived in. How did the experience of living in that house influence the album?

Ryan: I think it definitely shaped the way that we write songs together. I’ve come to find that we are very weird, in that we are so collaborative. I think a lot of bands are centered around one guy who just writes all of the songs and tells everyone what to do. But we would wake up on Saturday morning or whatever and literally just get together in the main room of the house and just write songs together around a piano and two acoustic guitars and we did a lot of the songs that way just hours and hours on end of everyone just putting in their ideas and shaping the song that way.

Taylor: Not only was it that but it was also the very act of moving in together marked a time when everyone agreed to make the band a number one pursuit. And part of that was Ryan and I were in school a couple of the guys had full time jobs and we decided to put everything behind pursuing our passion for music and being in a band together. There was a lot of solidarity in the group at that time and I remember it as a time when it was so intense because we were really excited to be following our dreams, but at the same time we literally didn’t know where money was going to come from for next month’s rent and food. And it was just the classic starving artist situation that was really exhilarating but really trying. And I think that was also important and that kind of shaped the urgency we all had and how driven we were at that time.

NV: You guys mentioned the collaborative process, how cohesive is the process itself?

Ryan: There’s not any set parameters like, “this is what’s gonna happen with the song.” We’re still kind of figuring it out but for the most part someone will bring an idea, whether it’s just a guitar line or a vocal melody, or even like a whole demo. And it would unexpectedly go a million different ways that I think the person who brought it to the table could never have anticipated. I think that’s what’s so exciting about being in this band. Yeah, it is cohesive but it’s not stagnant, you never know what’s gonna happen to it.

NV: Do you guys get into any fights?

Taylor: We’ve never had a fight. We’re like the perfect couple that you get so angry at because they’re so in love. They’re always smiling at each other and never fighting. That’s not true. That’s not true at all. It’s funny because I was gonna say it’s not cohesive. As Ryan said, it is in terms that we do work together really well, but there’s not a lot of uniformity and the thing about our songs is there’s a lot of really positive tension in the song writing process because someone brings a song to the table and I can be sure that if I bring in a song it’ll be flipped on its head and changed around and turn in ways that I didn’t expect, probably 5 or 6 times before we finally land. And so, there is a lot of tension in the writing process. It does take us a long time to write things out because we hash things out so much together, but I think as Ryan was also eluding to that’s what makes our band unique in it’s approach to writing.

NV: All the songs on the record sound like Local Native songs, but certain songs have different personalities. Does that reflect the personalities in the band?

Ryan: Yeah, I think about a song like “Who Knows Who Cares” versus a song like “Wide Eyes” that were brought by different people but like I think you said they all have elements that make them Local Native songs. Wouldn’t you say? (Taylor laughs) We agree.

NV: So you guys right now are getting a lot of positive praise and comparisons for example, being called the "West Coast Grizzly Bear." How do you feel about al those comparisons?

Taylor: I think they’re very flattering and I think with any new band they get compared to somebody and I think as an artist there’s always some part of them that hates that. Like, “What the heck? I don’t sound like that band,” and that’s a very natural reaction but at the same time people need something to at least put it in a ballpark. And I think I do have to say the bands we’ve been compared to, we’re huge fans of and we respect very much and we’re very lucky in that aspect. It’s just sometimes when it goes over the line when people say, “These guys sound just like Grizzly Bear or just like whoever” and if you listen to our album we don’t really sound like any of those bands. And so it can get lazy and that can be annoying from the artist’s perspective, but I think it’s been positive the way the media has compared others with us.

Ryan: I think when people have a certain perception or whatever they may say they sound like whatever band I really feel like our live shows is one of those things that shifts peoples perceptions of us because our record sounds a certain way and I like our record, but I really feel like live is where we’re in our element. I just like hearing people say, “Now that I’ve seen you live, I don’t feel that it’s fair to say it’s just this or that”.

Taylor: Our set tends to be a little more energetic and kind of raucous than it seems on the album.

NV: I know you guys work on your artwork together, and it’s a little out there. What’s the inspiration behind that?

Ryan: It depends on each little thing— there’s a different inspiration behind it. I think as far as the album artwork goes, Andy was the one that came up with the concept and came up with the artwork. When he explained it to me I thought it was really cool because at the time we were all just band 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, just constantly immersed in this world of focus and not eating well and not sleeping and trying to juggle all these responsibilities and whatnot. It really did feel like our heads were going to explode at times and I think in almost this weird way he sort of embodied that. And like you said, it is kinda grotesque and weird but at the same time there’s this beauty in it and as far as the album artwork I feel like it kind of encapsulated the vibe and the feeling we were all going through at the time.

Taylor: And the only thing I’ll add is you know we do everything that has to do with the artwork ourselves whether it’s a tour poster or it’s a 7 inch or the album artwork. And that’s very important to us because it is another extension of who we are as a band and so we do spend a lot of time on it and go over it back and forth.

NV: A lot is written about your 2009 appearances at SXSW, what was that experience like?

Taylor: Our first SXSW was in March. We did nine shows and we kind of made the majority of the record, and we made it ourselves, and it was self-funded and everything. We went out there just hoping to play for as may people as possible. We didn’t have very many connections; we had some kind of leads and then a couple weeks before the festival. All these shows just rolled into our laps and some of them were put on blogs that were friends of ours, some of them were just recommendations, some of them had just seen us at shows, so we got this official showcase at the same show as Grizzly Bear so just crazy stuff kept coming in. We played these shows and what we found, very interestingly, was that everyone that was showing up at our concerts more and more each time had English accents and they were all from abroad and because of that festival we got a lot of attention overseas. We ended up going over there and ended up releasing our record first in the U.K. as a result of that festival. So that was certainly a turning point for us, especially internationally.

NV: Were there any major differences between the 2009 and 2010 SXSWs?

Ryan: Yeah (laughs). I think just by the sheer scope of the shows. We did the same number of shows, but the level to which each show had suddenly risen was like night and day. We played a show in 2009 in a bicycle shop.

Taylor: On the third floor, no stage, no PA system. And it was packed with 30 people there.

Ryan: I think the smallest show was like a few hundred people at this year’s SXSW. And it was crazy just to see people singing along.

Taylor: That was the other difference. It was really crazy.

Ryan: People were on our side. 2009 was all about people being like “What’s going on here?” This year people were kind of rooting for us in a way. It was really, really cool.

NV: Why did you choose “Warning Sign” as the Talking Heads cover for your album?

Ryan: That was Andy right?

Taylor: Yeah, Andy brought that song to our attention and we were looking for a cover song just at the time to add to our live set. We had no intention of putting any kind of cover song on our album. He brought the song to the table and we thought “Yeah, let’s give this one a stab!” The Talking Heads are great and this could be really cool and it was just a couple practices and we hashed out this version really quickly and one thing became the next. It became a staple of our live set that we played every show and all of a sudden it seemed like maybe it would be really awesome to put on the album. It was kind of this natural evolution of changing the song so much that it seemed okay for us to put it on the album. It was actually really crazy, we had just played in New York a couple days ago and we had heard a little bit before that finally David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) had heard our version of “Warning Sign.” Of course we were terrified completely of any kind of reaction and word on the street was that he enjoyed it. We invited him out to the Bowery Show and he ended up coming to the Bowery Ballroom show. He checked out the show and we got to meet him and everything and that was this amazing thing— meeting your hero, and the sigh of relief that you didn’t desecrate something that was really important to you. So that was really nice and a kind of full circle thing for us last week.

NV: Your original band was called Cavil At Rest. What was the transition from that band to Local Natives like?

Taylor: Ryan made that name up when we were sophomores in high school. We’ve been playing together since 8th grade. It’s funny you didn’t know how to pronounce it because that was a problem for us for like 7 years.

Ryan: I think it was more of a long evolution. It was just a long time coming. I mean, we’ve been doing it for a long time and growing and maturing and I think we were writing better and better songs and figuring out what worked for us. By the time the album was to be recorded, it was like, “This album has nothing to do with what we were doing in high school when we first called ourselves Cavil at Rest.” It was like “This was a new band.” It was kind of a name change and this name change afforded us a clean slate where we could be a new band to a lot of people, whereas we had already had this chemistry where we had been playing together and writing songs together for a long time. There was this new energy behind it because we were Local Natives. We were this new band.

Taylor: I’ll say that I don’t think it was a gradual evolution as much as a “punctuated equilibrium”.

Ryan: Wow.

Taylor: Is that alright that I busted that out?

Ryan: I don’t know man, that’s crazy. Punctuated equilibrium?

Taylor: Yeah, you remember that from science class studying evolution, right? Punctuated equilibrium is the theory that there are intense periods that in a very small amount of time there is a lot of evolution.

Ryan: Okay, that’s fair.

Taylor: Anyways, when we moved in together in those months leading up to the recording of the album was a very transformative time period for us. We were really just able to hone in and find our grooves and things really coalesced in a way for us. It was just that extra step of saying the band is everything that led us to be able to make those final changes that were so important to us in the end.