Even if I wasn’t in love with the band’s debut album, Gorilla Manor, I would still give Local Natives points for punctuality. This may just as easily be a compliment to the PR company, but I was told I had a phone interview for around 12:30 p.m. on the day of the show. I was getting hunkered down in my apartment for an experience akin to waiting for the cable guy, when the clock hit 12:30 and my phone rang.
I’ve had experiences waiting much longer periods of time to interview much less talented musicians (no hints, except that the offender’s debut album’s title is a Shakespeare reference and they are from the same state as the Detroit Pistons), so I was happy to answer the phone and hear guitarist Ryan Hahn on the other end. After working our way through a bad connection, we had an interesting time discussing food fights and where he sees his band in… 40 years. The band drove into town hours later and played a free in-store performance at Waterloo Records and a soldout show at Antone’s. You can see photos from both sets here.
Gorilla Manor was the nickname given to the house you guys shared. Is the band still living together in Gorilla Manor?
Ryan: There’s me and Matt, but the other guys are moving out. We pretty much live in the van now. But when we get back, the other guys are going to be moving out.
What kind of shenanigans have gone down in Gorilla Manor?
Ryan: One that sticks out the most is that we had a food fight. It sounds pretty juvenile, but it was just one of those moments: We had spent hours and hours working in the practice space and it was just one of the moments where we could cut loose.
Did living in close quarters affect the writing process for the album?
Ryan: Yeah, definitely. That was the hope in doing so. We were like, “Let’s take the band more seriously; let’s all move in so almost every waking moment would be devoted to the band.” Someone would pick up an acoustic guitar and start playing a riff they’d been working on and the walls were so thin at the house that someone would hear it and say “I like that” and then we would go over to this little piano we had and work on the song. It was really conducive to writing.
Lyrics like “My king I’m humble before you/I bow” and “Could it ever be on Earth as it is in Heaven?” have a very spiritual tinge to them. What role does spirituality and religion play in the band members’ lives?
Ryan: I don’t know if there’s an overt religious thing going on, except maybe the way that music tends to bring out those feelings and emotions. Those are just images I think everyone has ever thought about in their life. I don’t think there’s any religious overtones to our music.
Were you brought up in a religious atmosphere?
Ryan: Taylor, Kelsey and I were. Taylor and I met in junior high and that was a very big part of our upbringing, that conservative and Christian upbringing.
How was your SXSW experience?
Ryan: It was crazy. Especially because we had done SXSW the year before. Most of those shows (in 2009), only a few people were showing up. This time blew our minds. The response was crazy. It was just cool to see “Here’s what a year’s difference will make.”
What was your favorite show you played at SXSW and why?
Ryan: I think we would all agree that we played a show at Cedar Street for Filter Magazine. Because it was kind of a small space, it actually ended up sounding really good. There were a lot of people there; we played between Dr. Dog and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. We had a lot of fun.
I know you were all uber-busy, but did you get to experience any Austin culture while in town?
Ryan: We were really busy and we had been to Austin before. The most “Austin” thing we did was go to this taco stand because it looked like all the locals were around. That was really cool.
While playing in Cavil at Rest (precursor to Local Natives), you played some of the same songs as in Local Natives, right?
Ryan: I would hope so. We were always very serious about the music and the band, but I think it was about the focusing. “Sun Hands” was a song for us that we kind of rallied behind. Local Natives’ music was based a lot around that similar style. It’s interesting playing that song because it’s three years old but it’s still really cool to see the crowd’s reaction to that song.
Does it ever get tiring playing those same songs over and over again?
Ryan: No, not yet. For us, every show is a little bit different, and that keeps it interesting. It keeps it fun for us. But come back in a year and I’ll probably be saying I can’t wait to play the new stuff.
Your debut album has been getting plenty of positive press (including a glowing review from Red River Noise). Do the band members pay much attention to that? Do you ever Google your band name to gauge the public’s “Local Natives pulse?”
Ryan: We all keep up on that stuff. Its more like when I go home my dad, who surprises me because he even knows how to Google stuff, but he let’s me know. It’s cool to see.
Included on Gorilla Manor is a Talking Heads cover. How did that come about?
Ryan: We were going to do it for one or two shows we had at Silverlake for a residency, and we decided to do a lesser-known Talking Heads song and see if we could make it our own. Over the next few months it became a staple in the setlist and it just felt right to put it on the album.
If you could follow the career path of any classic pop/rock band who would it be and why? Would you still want to be playing music when you’re 60 like the Rolling Stones?
Ryan: I actually would like that. I know it seems kind of silly to be like that. Our goal is to just keep making music together. That sounds simple but that’s the goal. I know that sounds absurd to look that far in advance. But we want to remain relevant.
What is a Local Native?
Ryan: I don’t know, man. We didn’t put too much thought into it. We just liked the images it brought to mind and that it was playfully redundant.
Local Natives is currently touring the U.S. until June, when they head to Europe. Find out when the band will be in a city near you on MySpace.