Los Angeles indie rockers Local Natives haven't let success affect their soaring, emotionally resonant music


Pardon the insensitivity, but since indie rock broke big in the early 2000s, many careers have mirrored the trajectory of Malaysia Air Flight No. 370: lift off, soar for a short time, vanish off the face of the planet.

Not so with Los Angeles quartet Local Natives, a band whose musical style is easily describable — soaring, Afro-pop-influenced, anthemic, harmonious — but whose ambitions far exceed most acts working in a similar vein. Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn and Matt Frazier (joined on tour by bassist Nik Ewing), most of whom have performed together since high school, can easily sell out medium-sized clubs on the road and even more sizable venues in L.A. (They even performed with the L.A. Philharmonic in 2011 at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.)

But since the beginning of their career, Local Natives have also thrived in high-profile opening spots, warming up arena crowds for heavyweights like Arcade Fire, The National and, earlier this spring, Kings of Leon. "It's always cool to open for a band that's doing so well," Ayer, who plays keyboards and sings, told Folio Weekly on a day off in March. "But the set list is cut in half for opening slots. It's almost a little bit like a festival, where we have to prove ourselves. That's a fun position to be in, but I actually think headlining shows are easier. We have so much love on our side — the audience is there for us and we're there for them."

That emotional answer provides the first hint at what has kept Local Natives going since the band formed in 2008. Across two full-length albums, the band's music has maintained its immediate, gloriously-shouting-right-in-your-ear edge. Its 2009 debut Gorilla Manor was hailed as an upbeat slice of indie pop heaven, but the record's first big hit, "Airplanes," was a pleading tribute to the memory of Ayer's grandfather. Meanwhile, 2013's critically acclaimed Hummingbird centered on the poignant "Columbia," which wrestled with the death of Ayer's mother.

Yet Ayer says the next album, still in its incubation stage, will be different — even as it honors the band's trademark warmth. "A lot of stuff I've been personally working on is in a better place than [Hummingbird], which was difficult to make for a lot of reasons," he explains. "It's hard to say what [the third album] will sound like, but I wouldn't be surprised if it feels a lot more electronic. I want to try a lot of things this time around that I might not have had the intuition to try the first or second time. But the right components are still there: It's still us sharing ourselves [with] and baring ourselves to people that works in a good way."

Such intimacy is rare in today's musical world, yet it explains so much of Local Natives' success. While thousands of musical careers have crashed and burned over the past 10 years, these longtime friends are still making coherent, heartfelt music in a legitimately egalitarian way, while emerging relatively unscathed from the indie-rock hype machine, which has bestowed countless awards (including NME's hardest-working band of 2013) on them.

"For us, everything feels the same as it's always felt," Ayer says. "We've been busy nonstop since 2008 — and even before that we were in a band out of high school, struggling through college when we wanted something to happen. So when Local Natives started picking up, it didn't feel like an overnight thing to us. Our first album came out in 2009. We toured throughout that year and 2010. We spent two months working with the L.A. Philharmonic to start 2011. We went to Mexico and on tour with Arcade Fire. We worked on the second album from summer of 2011 to summer of 2012. We toured hard in 2013. And now I'm talking to you."

Florida fans will surely be thrilled that the band is opening such a conversation in the Sunshine State, where they haven't played since 2010. "Because of routing, we always end up not going to Florida," Ayer says. "Anytime we post stuff on Twitter or Instagram, there are at least three comments fervently begging us to ‘Come to Florida!' So we're pumped to finally be able to get down there." o

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