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In the following years, Hamm and Frazier joined up with the guys to form Cavil At Rest, a jangle-pop band that earned a measure of notice on cable-music channels. But the timing wasn’t exactly right for that band. Rice runs down their former extracurricular activities: “At the time, I was in school at UCLA, [Hahn] was at Pepperdine, Kels was in school, Andy was working in the fashion industry in LA, and Matt was doing full-time graphic design at OC Weekly.”
“Everybody in the band was like, ‘Should I do the band or not?’” Hamm interjects. “We were one foot in, one foot out, and that came across in our music. We were only giving 50 percent.”
“Nothing really jelled until we moved into that house,” Rice continues. “We hunkered down and literally wrote 12 hours a day, five days a week.”
In that house, they began to redefine their sound and vision, closing the door on the Cavil At Rest moniker and beginning the Local Natives era. Frazier and Rice shared the master bedroom, Ayers lived in an added-on room with no outlets or heat that was separated from Hahn’s room only by a sliding glass door and a sheet.
“It was so cold in there,” Ayers says and laughs.
The close quarters gave them little space, but the distance from LA’s bustling music scene did them well.
“We secluded ourselves [in Orange County],” Rice says. “It wasn’t like we were feeding off of some scene, so I think it was good that we weren’t in LA yet because we needed that incubation period.”
They recorded the album in West LA and began booking gigs in Echo Park and Silver Lake. In 2008, the frequent commute began to wear on them, and they decided to leave their simian lair—and OC—behind.
“OC only really has Detroit Bar, and we weren’t playing Chain Reaction anymore,” Hahn says. “It was hard to have to drive up from Orange to play the Silverlake Lounge or Spaceland. We were like, ‘This is where it’s at; this is where we should be for these opportunities.’ It just made sense.”
Local Natives landed a Silverlake Lounge residency in their first week in LA and followed up with a Spaceland residency. At SXSW in 2009, they played nine shows in four days and debuted their new name and sound to the global audience gathered in Austin. The international exposure helped them land a U.K. tour, which helped them find a home for the self-financed Gorilla Manor. In December, the album come out in the U.K. on Infectious Records; it debuted in the States in February with the help of Frenchkiss Records.
“We started doing stuff in the U.K. and overseas, and we’ve had a lot of opportunities,” Ayer says. “As far as band milestones, this [upcoming] Coachella performance will be where it really hits us.”
“When I moved to California from Colorado, Coachella was the first thing you heard of—it’s huge,” Hamm continues. “I didn’t think we would ever play it, but when they asked us, I was like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”
From the outside, this rise seems nothing less than meteoric. But for these longtime friends, the sacrifice and rebirth, the close quarters and endless touring, this monster has been a long time in the making.
Local Natives perform at Coachella, Empire Polo Field, 81-800 Ave. 51, Indio; coachella.com. April 18. See website for full lineup. Three-day pass, $272, plus fees.
This article appeared in print as "Going Natives: Hot and getting hotter, Orange County expats Local Natives chill out before their day in the blazing Indio sun."