In the midst of a considerably tense time in America, Local Natives brought some optimism to New York last week.
The band played two shows at Terminal 5, the final stops on the North American leg of the tour to promote their third studio album, Sunlit Youth. Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, Matt Frazier, and Nik Ewing are soon headed to the UK to continue touring, but Ayer, the keyboardist and vocalist, took some time to chat with Brooklyn Magazine before leaving American soil.
“Honestly, this just feels like the beginning,” Ayer said on the day of the final U.S. show. “Usually we’ll tour for a year and a half or two years on one record. We’re hoping to tour a little less next year so we’ll have some gaps to start writing the next record a little earlier.”
Ayer, Rice and Hahn write all the music themselves, and took a slightly different approach to the most recent album than its predecessors, 2010’s Gorilla Manor and 2013’s Hummingbird.
“We wrote the first two records basically like five guys in a room,” he said. “We’re really proud of those records, but I think it might not have been the best way to produce that material. With five guys in a room, an idea has to be insanely good for everyone to jump on it immediately. Usually a couple hold out and the idea falls flat.
“I feel like any idea with a little room to grow could be something awesome, you just need someone to believe in it,” he continued.
For Sunlit Youth, the songwriters each took to their own computers before comparing ideas all at once—which Ayer says resulted in 50 songs to choose from for the album (while previous albums had resulted in, maybe, 15 or 20 to choose from).
The creative process isn’t the only thing different on Sunlit Youth. Local Natives fans quickly noticed how much more upbeat the new album is than 2013’s Hummingbird.
“Early on we wanted to just have more conversations about how we were feeling,” Ayer said. “Just getting to 30—because we’re all around that age—I think it’s just an inherently reflective time. You’re for sure not a kid anymore, and if there was any time for you to start acting like an adult it’d be right now.
“That ended up being reflected nicely in the title of the album, because it felt like we were looking back and looking forward.”
Sounds heavy, but Sunlit Youth somehow made this inevitable 30-something self-reflection an optimistic experience—the album is arguably the most danceable, synth heavy of the band’s three.
Listeners can’t help but notice the political and social commentary on the album, either.
“That just kind of came with being a little older, being a little bit more comfortable in our own skin,” Ayer said.
“It dawned on us that it would be a good idea to use this platform for what we care about, and it turned into, ‘it would feel irresponsible if we didn’t,’ especially with everything going on.”
In one particularly striking line on “Fountains of Youth,” Rice sings “I’ve been waiting so long, Mrs. President.” The song was written last April, before Hillary Clinton was the official Democratic nominee for President, but Ayer says it’s taken on a totally different meaning over the past few months.
“The ‘Mrs. President’ line is pretty interesting—we were trying to talk a lot on this album about feminism,” he said. “We just feel like gender equality is a big deal—it’s one of those things that should not be an issue, but it is. And that line in “Fountain of Youth” refers more to the president of anything—the matriarchy, female CEOs, you know?”
Ayer says they made a conscious effort to avoid being political in the past, but with Sunlit Youth, have embraced its greater platform to discuss those social and political issues.
“I can see how everyone wants to have a good time and no one wants to talk about some really heavy stuff,” he said. “But I think it just came to a point where if maybe someone disagrees with us, there’s some way they can use that to question their thinking.”
For example, at a recent show a fan yelled “Benghazi!” as Rice sang the ‘Mrs. President’ line, and the band turned it into a conversation after the show.
“Nick and Taylor went outside to talk with her, to have an open discussion,” Ayer said. “Because that just never happens—it’s typically just a shouting match and everyone’s preaching to the choir. Its hard.”
Sunlit Youth’s theme of moving forward while applying lessons from the past has seemingly translated into everyday life for the members of Local Natives. Ayer called it a conclusion of sorts, though their musical career is far from over.
“I’m big into movies and arcs,” Ayer said in closing, when asked about their plans for another album in the future.
“It feels like Gorilla Manor was the beginning of the movie, and Hummingbird was the tough shit that everyone had to go through, and Sunlit Youth feels like the end of the movie,” he added. “Now it feels like we can do something totally different, so we’ll see what that means.”
Photos by Nathaniel Wood and Bryan Sheffield