Local Natives Take a Big Step Forward With a Homecoming Show

A nap before the show, perhaps?
A nap before the show, perhaps?
Brian Sheffield

When Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn and Matt Frazier first moved into their Silver Lake house to record Local Natives' debut album Gorilla Manor, the idea that'd they could one day be prepping for a headlining show at the Greek Theatre just a few miles up the road felt about as likely as winning the Lotto. As one might expect, it still feels that way, even though they're barely 24 hours away from doing it.

"I don't think any of us expected to play there," Hahn admits. "It's definitely one of those places that just seemed out of reach."

Five years and two albums since they relocated to LA from their native Mission Viejo, Local Natives will walk out on stage at the historic Hollywood amphitheater unleashing their salvo of air-tight vocal harmonies along with the saccharine concoction of layered guitar, polyrhythms and foot stomping that made them famous. With the release of their well-received 2013 sophomore effort Hummingbird at their back, a homecoming show for OC and LA fans is certainly in order.

"It's definitely an incredible kind of milestone for us," Hahn says of Friday's gig that includes dream poppers Wild Nothing as the opener.

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It will not only be a milestone for the band, but also a personal one for Hahn, who has never even stepped foot inside the Greek.

Soon enough, Hahn will be able to say he has performed at two of the most distinguished venues in Southern California after playing the Walt Disney Concert Hall with members of the L.A. Philharmonic almost two years ago.

But at this point, Local Natives aren't new to large crowds like the one it can expect at the Greek. The quartet that's now touring with bassist Nik Ewing has hit just about every big U.S. festival this year, whether it's been performing during sunset at Coachella, a first-time showing at Bonnaroo or a Saturday afternoon slot at Lollapalooza. Along the way, opening slots for indie giants like Arcade Fire and The National have been an added perk of their recent success. The latter of the two ultimately sparked an opportunity to work with Aaron Dessner on Hummingbird.

 

"We're all pretty proud of the amount of work we've put into this [record]." says Hahn, who maneuvers between guitar, keyboards and mandolin while sharing vocal duties with Rice (guitar, bass) and Ayer (keyboards, guitar, percussion). Frazier (drums), meanwhile, is the only full-time member who doesn't sing.

The recent success Local Natives has garnered, however, hasn't come without heartache.

A little more than a year after releasing Gorilla Manor, the band chose to part ways with bassist Andy Hamm -- a decision that wasn't easy to make. A few months later, more turmoil surfaced when Ayer's mother abruptly passed away.

"All these things were going incredibly well on one hand, but there were also a lot of heavier things we were going through," Hahn explains. "I think we had to navigate that emotionally."

Hummingbird, subsequently, offered Local Natives a way to channel those emotions and at the same time, take an entirely new approach to its songwriting process.

"I think it would have been dishonest for us to try to write anything other than what we were going through," Hahn continues. "For us, the record feels very cathartic."

Yet, as much as Local Natives didn't want to repeat itself sonically, learning how to play Hummingbird for the masses would create its own complications; because when it met Dessner in his Brooklyn studio last year to begin recording, the foursome wasn't concerned with how the album would translate to a live setting.

"All we could really do is write a record that we were proud of," Hahn says. "We wanted to feel like we were digging deeper and expanding ourselves -- trying new things musically, but also being more direct and personal."

But when it came time to tour again, the close-knit band was left trying to recreate much of the 11-track LP from scratch.

"Those are the most volatile discussions we have where the ugliest fights break out," Hahn confesses. "When you play a song live, it's a different experience."

Whatever creative differences there have been, they haven't comprised the friendship that Rice, Ayer and Hahn have shared since they met at Tesoro High School over a decade ago and their chemistry, much like their harmonies, only show improvement with time.

"We've definitely grown as musicians, and I think subtlety has become a powerful thing," Hahn says. "We're feeling more comfortable letting the music speak."

Local Natives play tomorrow night at the Greek Theatre at 8 p.m. For full show details click here.

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