Local Natives’ upcoming record Gorilla Manor is easily my favorite debut in a good long while. In fact, I’d say the only one to give them a run for their money is Cymbals Eat Guitars. I’ve been enjoying this record so much that I gave Local Natives’ Andy Hamm a call on the eve of their European tour to chat with him about it.
Local Natives :: the You Ain’t No Picasso Interview
YANP: So it feels like I’ve been following you guys forever, but you’ve actually been making music for around three years. Did you guys gradually build up to all the activity you’ve had in the past year and a half or was there a point where you decided to really throw yourselves into it?
Andy Hamm: For a long time we still had school and were working full time. I guess we weren’t taking it super serious. I dont’ know how to say it, we were just doing things for fun a lot of the time, not realizing that we really wanted to do it. We changed a lot of how we worked things in the band. So as we were writing, a lot of the stuff that ended up on Gorilla Manor we felt like we were sort of forming the sound, the writing process was changing where everybody in the band was sort of getting their hands in the writing. It was feeling like it was more of a group and then at the same time I think everybody was sort of in a spot where they could quit their jobs or drop out of school– I think everybody was just sort of ready to take that step, like “we should try to treat this as something we want to do for a long time.” That was about a year and a half ago, so after that is seemed like everything started clicking and feeling really good.
It wasn’t easy. I’d be lying if I said one day we decided “Let’s be a real band!” I think the fact that we were looking at everything with a microscope and we were really thinking this was something we could be proud of, something everybody was behind. Nobody was settling on anything and I think that sort of turned into what we have now, where everybody is really involved and its definitely a group. Fortunately, looking back now we had those few years of half-assing it and having fun with it and we’ve become good friends. So that way when were ready to start being really honest about everything it wasn’t really weird and we’re with each other all the time, its not like we hate each other or anything.
YANP: That’s pretty funny about quitting your job and everything. I just read Eugene Mirman’s “The Will to Whatevs” and his advice to young bands is “quit your job and throw yourselves into it. That’s what the Rolling Stones did… and a million other bands you’ve never heard of.”
YANP: It’s good that it worked out in this case.
Andy: Well, I guess I quit my job but I technically got fired. I really did like my job, and I’ve always had to work for everything. I didn’t have the money to quit, that was for sure. We started touring and then we got a two month tour– I think it was that first US Tour we did with the Union Line last year. And I went to my boss and said, “yeah I think I’m going to do this tour for a few months,” and he said, “I used to be a musician, I’ll try to keep you on.”
Then like four weeks into it I got this huge, long email where he said “I don’t know what I was thinking!” I was a West Coast sells rep for a high end fashion brand and he was like “you’re my only West Coast rep and I don’t know what I was thinking because you’ve been gone for a month. I’ve gotta let you go.” But, it was a bittersweet thing. It was awesome. I remember waking up the next day and instead of being like “fuck, what am I going to do? I’ve gotta pay my cell phone bill! And my rent!” I was just saying “fuck it. All I’m going to do today is write music and work on artwork.”
Continue reading the rest of the interview below.
YANP: That’s awesome. So are you responsible for any promo art or the cover or anything?
Andy: Um, I do a lot of the band’s artwork. Like I did the album artwork, the cover and all that type of stuff. Then Matt does some of it and Ryan does a little bit of it too.
YANP: That’s great! I remember going to your MySpace page in 2008 and as soon as I saw it I thought you were on a major label or something, because you had such cool artwork. So, it at least helped give the illusion of credibility way back in the day.
Andy: Of a major label? [laughs] Which is what we didn’t want.
YANP: Well I was like “somebody is backing these guys. They paid a good artist. It’s awesome.”
Andy: No, its cool. Thank you so much.
YANP: So, how much touring and recording had you guys done prior to last year’s SXSW, which is when I think a lot of people picked up on you all?
Andy: Gee, that was in March of last year? Let’s see, we did our first US Tour in January, like a year from today. We did it with this band called the Union Line and Voxhaul Broadcast, who are out of LA and Union Line is from down South. And that was just literally that the drummer in the Union Line had some connections with booking, he had stuff from bands from little tours in the past. So we played shows with them, and he was like “hey, what if we did a US Tour? Neither of us have a label, there won’t be any promotion. There will probably be, you know, five people at each show. I can get us out there, I have a list of venues and stuff.” And we just said “screw it. Let’s do it and get out there.”
So we ended up doing all three bands in two vans, so we had half of Voxhaul Broadcast in our van and the other half in Union Line’s band. Yeah, I think we did like four weeks straight. That was the touring prior to South By, and we came back and did South By.
YANP: Talking about South By Southwest, I heard some rumor… urban legend… story that you guys played the tiniest show imaginable in a coffee house or something. But it wound up getting a guy who writes for NME, practically off the street to come in and see the show and write about you. Is that absolute urban legend or is there any truth to that? I was reading something online that said you were discovered by the british press that way.
Andy: I heard something like that too. Well, we played a shitload of shows, something like nine or 10 shows at South By. We did one show, which was a totally random show, at this tiny bar. We met a bunch of people, that was like our second or third show at South By. I think it was at an awkward time, like 7:30, so people were either eating dinner or getting ready to go to a show later, and it ended up getting super packed. Maybe that’s where it meant. I can’t tell you for fact if the NME guy was at that show, but…yeah.
YANP: So I sorta started passing you guys around to record labels that I knew, saying “hey, check these guys out.” And they were letting me know “There’s actually a long line to talk to these guys.” Were you surprised how “businessy” things got after spending so long hanging out, writing songs in your house?
Andy: Yeah….yeah it was a little weird after South By. It was exciting and really cool, but it was a lot of MySpace messages because nobody had our email, we hadn’t found management, we didn’t have anything and it was just us. So we were getting all these messages. We know labels just from listening to bands and stuff, but past that we didn’t know that much. We were talking to everybody. I feel like with my experience it was about the people, if you hit it off with the person it doesn’t really matter like, who they were. So we were just sort of doing that. We were hanging out with people and whoever we like…it was learning as we went.
YANP: Congratulations on the Frenchkiss signing. That’s an awesome label and a good fit for you guys. How did that come about? How did you meet them and agree on them?
Andy: They actually had seen us on that first US tour, believe it or not, when we went out. We played at Piano’s in New York, which was probably the best show in the tour and one of the guys from French kiss was at that show, so way back, and he sort of kept in touch with us. We always got along, but we made it clear that we weren’t ready to rush into anything, we were just keeping in touch and finally, a few months ago we just knew that out of everybody we just felt the most comfortable with Frenchkiss and it just sort of came together. It felt really smooth out of everybody else that we were talking to. Frenchkiss was sorta like “we just really like the music and want you guys to do whatever you want,” sort of thing. And that was what we wanted, do what we were doing and have someone kinda push us along and hopefully getting more people to hear what we’ve done.
YANP: Awesome! Was it weird at all, or fairly beneficial, having the album come out in the UK last November, and then the US now? Did it feel good just to get it out at all?
Andy: It was weird. [laughs] It was weird that we had done South By and we were getting a little more heat from the UK, which was cool, we embraced it, but we didn’t know anything about the UK, so it was hard for us. Someone was like, “Oh my god, BBC 1 started playing your song!” We were like, “ok, um, well what is radio? I never listen to radio. Cool. Awesome. I don’t care.” Then we realized that people listen to the radio in the UK and it was just weird stuff like that.
YANP: So let’s talk about the album. You said its a pretty collaborative writing process. Does everybody have a hand in pretty much every aspect?
Andy: Yeah, its like a song by song process. There’s definitely not a formula or like one person in the band that sorta writes all the songs. We sort of so a “well, hey I’ve got a mean chord progression and a few melodies that I’m bouncing around,” and we’ll sort of either just show it to somebody in front of the piano or send it out in a file on GarageBand and everyone will listen to it. And from there, it’s literally maybe three of us will go into the corner and sort of work out the chorus part or we’ll all be in the room together and work out the drum part and the rhythm and just sort of feel it out. Yeah, so its a somewhat tedious process because everybody is trying to get their opinion into it, but it usually turns out good. I would guess that is takes a little longer than most other bands. I’ve played in a few other bands and its never been like that.
YANP: Whats the earliest song you wrote on Gorilla Manor? What’s the stretch of time between songs?
Andy: The oldest one on the album, believe it or not, is “Sun Hands.”
Andy: That song is like, probably two or three years old.
YANP: Wow. I would have guessed that it would have been one of the newest ones.
Andy: Yeah, we’ve had that song forever. When I first joined the band I think that was probably the third song that we worked on together. It was the only song out of everything we had that we actually made it to the album. We put it on the album not really thinking too much and it was Phil, this guy who manages us said “what is this song, “Sun Hands?” We just said it was an old one and to forget about it. Then he said, “No, I really like it. You guys should play it more and try to push it and blah, blah.” And it seems like a lot of people have been liking that track from what little we’ve got.
YANP: Yeah, I was actually gonna ask about that one with the collaborative song writing. It seems like there are kinda three sections to that song, culminating in the riff that kicks in sort of towards the third of it. Is that the result of all the collaboration or more of just how the song happened to go?
Andy: Yeah, I think some of that comes from writing it so long ago and still learning about each other as song writers and that song turned out to be a little bit longer and has this sort of randomness to it that we didn’t know when we made it. I think it was just sort of everyone had these different parts and we wanted to incorporate them all into the song. It worked out and I love playing that one. We usually always play that one at the end because it has that distortion part. The distortion part is what the bass is doing the entire song with overdrive guitar sort of matching it to give it that heavier side to it.
YANP: I’ll close with a cliché question. I was listening to the album– I had to shovel the back walk of the record store the other day and decided to listen to the whole thing, start to finish. Its so weird that its such a collaborative album because it seems to be pretty united thematically. It seems like it was written with a pretty strong one person voice. Except, the old cliché “better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” – it seems “Airplanes” would say “no” to that and “Sun Hands” seems to point out “yes” and I was just wondering what was your take if the album had an opinion?
Andy: You mean if there was like one underlying thing that the album would support?
YANP: Yeah, well basically “Airplanes” just seems to be afraid of letting go even though it seems that song is about someone you’ve never met and “Sun Hands” seems to be a lot more ok with it and accepting, which I’m chalking up to the difference in writers I suppose. But yeah, if you had to weigh in on “better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”…who are you sided with?
Andy: Well yeah. Everyone wants to love. I mean you can’t help it. You love stuff and…I’d say the album itself, a lot of it is based on experiences that we’ve each had individually and not on purpose but I think that a lot of the songs are about traveling and learning new things and that’s what everyone was going through when we were writing the songs.
YANP: I was trying to avoid asking if either of those were based on personal things, but yeah I’ll go ahead and ask. “Airplanes” seems to be about somebody that the person has never met, and just thinks that they would be a good soul mate with. Is that based on anyone in particular?
Andy: “Airplanes”– Kelcy actually wrote the lyrics to that one– and that’s actually about his dead grandfather. And it’s how he sort of learned– his grandfather died when he was too young to remember him. He would hear all these really awesome stories about his grandfather through his dad. His dad was a pilot and his dad’s dad was a pilot, so that why we called it “Airplanes.” It was just sort of a reminiscent story about how Kelsey wished he actually sat down and met this man that he hears so much about.
YANP: Wow, that’s beautiful. First listen through I thought, “yeah, this is about a girl, whatever.” But then I paid attention to the lyrics and thought “yeah, this is absolutely not about a girl.”
Andy: [laughs] Yeah, a lot of people say “yeah, tell us about the girl in that “I want you back song.” And we’re just like, “oh, you didn’t listen too closely,” but that’s fine. Anything that has the lyric “I want you back” and people automatically think about a relationship with a girl.