Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Coachella '17 preview: Local Natives

photo: Brian Sheffield
The band, which was one of my highlights of Coachella 1, also returns for the second weekend of the festival and has their own headlining show April 19 at the Fox Theater in Pomona. 

A Coachella booking is a feather in any young band’s cap.

Even more so when the members grew up in Southern California. Local Natives, whose festival debut was inside the Gobi Tent in 2010, were thrilled about their initial opportunity to play there.

“It was our first big hometown festival and the first time we’d ever performed in front of probably 5,000 people,” recalled singer/guitarist Taylor Rice, in a recent phone interview.

“The show felt as though it was over in about five minutes. It was a really insane experience; so memorable and awesome. That one really knocked us off our feet.”

Three years later, the indie rock quintet returned to Indio with two acclaimed CDs under their belts and a much larger following. Those performances, held on the Outdoor Theater on consecutive Fridays, came “just before sunset and were perfect,” Rice said. It was also a super special moment for the band. One of the very top highlights of our career.”

Known for crafting luxurious soundscapes with yearning vocals, Local Natives formed in the late 2000s and are based in Silver Lake. Impressive third album “Sunlit Youth” came out last year.

Partially written in far-flung locales around the world (Thailand, Malaysia, Nicaragua), it has a more buoyant vibe than usual, thanks to some free-flowing harmonies, prominent synth sounds and a little modern R&B (the D’Angelo-inspired “Coins,” sung by co-vocalist/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer).

Los Angeles “sort of became a character throughout the record,” said Rice. The forward-looking lyrics have a reflective tone. “There’s a big optimism about life and the future.”

One example is the politically-tinged drama of “Fountain of Youth,” which emphasizes taking action on issues you believe in. Although penned before the presidential election, the theme is about how “it’s always the younger generation that ends up having the best ideas and are the ones best able to push us forward and progress.”

Summery standout track “Dark Days,” features guest vocals from The Cardigans’ Nina Persson. “There’s a youthful, almost childish aspect to the song’s lyrics. For both myself and [guitarist] Ryan [Hahn], she has one of the smoothest, most amazing, nostalgia-inducing voices ever. We’re really big fans.”

Her addition to the album “was a complete shot in the dark.” The Local Natives front man simply asked in an email, sent the song and got the go-ahead. “There was no connection,” noted Rice. “It was a good lesson: you’ve got to ask for your dream.”

Another recently fulfilled goal was Local Natives’ excellent cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” done as a Spotify “Music Happens Here” exclusive in LA’s The Village studio where the original classic was made.

“As a California harmony band, they definitely seeped into our psyches over the years,” noted Rice. After being approached, the guys “jumped at the chance” to do it. Only problem was Spotify sought Lindsey Buckingham’s approval just to be above board and the Mac man refused.

“Somebody sent him “Dark Days,” which is pretty Fleetwood Mac inspired. Then he heard it and we got the thumbs up.

“There were definitely some moments where I thought, ‘this is pretty awesome.’”

So is Local Natives’ new rocking orchestral tune “I Saw You Close Your Eyes,” which will play if you access and do not actually look at the computer.

Similar to a Snapchat filter or programs that use overlays and read what your facial features are doing, “we thought it was such a perfect idea to go with the song and a fun way to premiere it for fans.”


1. Bjork (2007)
“She is in my top 3, all-time most influential artists. That was the first time I’d ever seen her perform. It was just incredible. I was floored. Her voice was so beautiful and huge, but subtle. And so much energy! She was all over the stage. Really incredible.”

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (2013)
“That was also my first [Cave experience]. It was the most inspiring live show I’ve seen in the last five years. It really got to me. Every time I see a show, I think about my own show - what I can take and bring to it. It’s where your mind goes. Nick Cave spent half the show in the audience, screaming in these kids’ faces. It was so unbelievably intense. Shortly after I saw them play at Coachella, I went into the audience for the first time.” 

A version of my story first appeared in the Press Enterprise, OC Register and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

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