Neither native nor local, Kelcey Ayer of L.A.’s Local Natives chats to Rebekah Rennick about sticky beginnings
If given access to rewrite the definition of the word ‘delight’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, Otwo would simply put a link to Local Native’s video for their shiver-inducing tune ‘Who Knows, Who Cares’ shot through the echoing vestibule of a French side street.
It’s an oozing, delicious piece of auricular stimulation. This mesmerizing effect Local Natives have is one many bands attempt to capture, but chatting to keyboardist/percussionist Kelcey Ayer, one soon discovers that they’ve shared the same rocky start as many aspiring musicians.
Speaking about their debut appearance at SXSW, Ayer reflects on their wide-eyed, inexperienced, and manager-less past. “I was yelling at everybody to keep cutting up stickers to make demo CDs,” chuckles Ayer.
“I was like a slave driver. I think early on, we’d been trying to write music and be a band since high school, and between then and Local Natives starting, we learnt that if you’re going to get anywhere you can’t rely on anyone, you have to do everything yourself.”
These humble beginnings were certainly not without a nauseating sense of pressure. “It can be hard with brand new bands that haven’t had a lot of exposure. That’s a difficult thing because you’re not really prepared. Every mistake you’re making, or show you have in front of all these people who want you to be as good as huge rock stars; they want you to be perfect. It’s got to suck cause it’s almost set up for failure.”
Failure is certainly not something the L.A. quartet have succumbed to. Following their appearance at the Texan Cultural Festival, they soon began making ripples in the melting pot of talent that is Silver Lake.
This diverse and ebullient environment is tangible on their debut album Gorilla Manor, mirroring much of the feelings that were bubbling within themselves. Ayer openly admits that he feels most artists are affected somewhat by their surroundings.
“I think everyone’s environment seeps into their writing. I found that I wrote about driving a lot. I guess I don’t have a lot of me time so when I’m in the car it’s the only time I can actually reflect. I end up coming up with a lot of lyrics. That is one very specific way that environment effects who you are.”
Ayer concludes, yet with an earnest reproach, “It’s hard. In the past couple of years, I feel like I haven’t been able to spend hardly any time in LA, which is a shame. It’s difficult to say now; I feel my environment and where I’ve been has just been kind of on the road in a million different places. It almost gives you a lost feeling.”
Influenced by The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and predominantly by his folk-loving father, their unwavering penchant for layered harmonies is what makes Local Natives so organically elating.
Waves of crashing percussion, harmonies that have you gawping at their varicosity and lyrics that tug firmly on your consciousness are the elements that comprise this band. Yet, new album Hummingbird sees them exploring a darker aspect of life.
Hummingbird, Ayer explains, “is much more of a reflective record, about sustaining and trying to figure out what we’re trying to say as songwriters and what our next step is now that we’ve gotten our foot in the door.
“We just went through so many things, between records that must have dealt themselves to making a heavier record. We’re always going to be writing from a personal point of view, and whatever is going to happen to us is really going to dictate the tone of whatever records we make.”
While Gorilla Manor was the jovial, free-spirited toddler, Hummingbird is the emotional teenager with a heavy heart. The personal element reaching through their new tracks is also an addition, catalyzed by their own life experiences
“Personally I do enjoy when an artist lets people in, showing themselves more in a vulnerable state. A closer connection I can make with somebody is better for a million reasons. That’s a really beautiful thing and I’m definitely pro-sharing.”
This projection of personal entity is heard predominantly in track ‘Colombia’, a haunting track of questioning that squeezes your limbic system so ferociously that you will be reaching surreptitiously for those tissues and calling your mother just to ask how she’s doing.
With audience connection at the forefront of their performance criteria, Local Native’s growing repertoire and downright delightful demeanor make them irresistible once you’ve had a taste. Ayer conclusively assures that he is “very happy that we went through a lot shitty times and played a lot of shitty shows, before anyone actually gave a shit.” Either way, Otwo still wants to rewrite that definition.