Interview: Catching up with Local Natives’ Matt Frazier

Local Natives

Last night Local Natives wrapped their touring for 2010 with a show in London.  Today, like many Americans, they are flying home in time for our country’s biggest secular holiday.  The long flight will allow for reflection on the very exciting year they just had as they lay their heads on uncomfortable airplane seats for the long slog home.

From relative unknowns to selling out shows across the world, Local Natives have steadily gained fans while pounding the road in support of their debut album, Gorilla Manor.  I have not been shy with my love for Local Natives this year.  After missing them as openers for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros last year, I’ve seen them destroy both Larimer Lounge and Boulder’s Fox Theatre with their magnetic and soaring appeal.  They are without a doubt, one of the more engaging bands on the tour circuit today.

Last month I had the opportunity to chat with Local Natives’ drummer, Matt Frazier, as he and the band were approaching the US-Canada border on the way to play a show that night in Toronto.  We discussed how awed they remain when playing shows in front of appreciative audiences, some of their favorite shows, upcoming plans for new material and why Kelcey is the one they like to pick on.

Merry Swankster: So where are you guys?

Local Natives/Matt Frazier: Outside of Buffalo somewhere.  Making our way out to Toronto today.  Frantically trying to get there because we had some vehicle issues.  Our bus broke down and we had to transfer to another one.  It’s been a chaotic day so we’re running a little behind but it looks like we’re going to make it.

How’s the tour going?

We just played Asheville, NC a couple of days ago and we had two days off after that.  [The tour is] going great man.  It’s by far the best tour we’ve done yet.  We’re playing some really amazing venues that we’ve never gotten to play before so…yeah across the board it’s been really great.

I was at the show here in Boulder at the Fox and it was something.  Very intense.  The band has what I’ve referred to as the “Arcade Fire effect” with regards to the soaring elements of anthemic sound.  Being on stage, what’s it like from your perspective to hear that coming right back at you from the crowd?

It’s pretty amazing. Its really an indescribable feeling.  Its one of the things that’s made this tour so incredible is the fact that every one of those shows is bigger and bigger crowds – with playing the same songs from our first album.  But still people keep coming out and more and more people seem to be knowing the words.

Like I sad, its pretty indescribable.  It’s really an amazing feeling and it’s really exciting.  It’s why we’ve been doing this for so long its why we’ve been working at this thing.  Hoping that people will latch onto our music.  This thing we love doing and creating.  The fact that people are you know, like joining us in a way is really incredible.  Yeah, it’s great.

Gorilla Manor has been on steady rotation for me.  It’s one I keep going back to all year.  Solid record.  Congrats on all the success.  I mentioned how I described your sound, but how would you describe it?

This is always a difficult question.  It’s like…the current sound,.. who knows what it’s going to evolve into, not that we’re going to change it overnight on the next album.  But, it’s a very, you know, harmony driven, percussion-laden type of rock I guess.  I don’t know, it’s always a hard question for me to answer, but something along those lines.

Simply calling it rock and roll works too… You guys have dates finishing up in the states before heading to Europe with the tour wrapping up before Thanksgiving.  What’s next?

So for this year that’s it for shows.  The only thing we have planned for next year that’s definite is we’re doing a trip in January and February to Australia and Japan.  That will be like the final seal on this album cycle I think and we’ll have officially have stopped touring.  We’ll be able to take time off and go back into the studio and and start writing again and really spend time on the next record.

Have you been out of the country before?

Yeah we’ve been to Europe and the UK a couple of times in the past year.  Gradually bigger and bigger, longer and longer stints over there.  And we just actually did Japan over the summer for the first time.  Which was – we were there literally for six days and it was probably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had yet on this touring adventure.

Exciting.  You mentioned studio time after the Australia and Japan dates.  Do you guys have material already written, or stuff that already rehearsed?

There’s a couple of ideas in the works, but that’s all they are – ideas.  They are slowly trying to trickle out and more and more people will get involved.  We’re starting to work out a couple of little things here and there, but with the immense touring schedule we’ve had it’s been next to impossible to sit down and write together because of the way that we write.  I think some ideas will definitely come pretty close by the end of this tour.  I wouldn’t count on it until December and January when we have some time at home to come together and finish these ideas.

I know some bands like to road test songs, but I can see how it can be difficult to write stuff and get it together while on a bus or a van.

Yeah, I mean…I’d love to eventually start road testing and maybe we’ll have a new song hashed out by the time we hit those Australia and Japan dates.  I’d love to throw something new into the mix.

Tell me about the song writing process.  Do you have a strategy for how Local Natives songs come to be?

The strategy is that we don’t have a strategy, if that makes sense.  It’s one or two guys, there’s no one set songwriter in the band….it’s a collaboration.  Certain songs may have stemmed from one person but when brought to the band it became something completely different.  I think the thing that is unique and is important for our songwriting process is that whether it took one week or it took 6 months to write, it’s something that not just one of us could come up with.  It’s only like a really unique take on the original idea.  So everyone is satisfied because everyone contributed something to it.  It’s an equal partnership and it’s important that we maintain that aspect of this band.

You mentioned the tour is going really well.  Does anything stick out?  Any favorite cities?

Yeah there’s two that pop into my mind.  First there’s Minneapolis where we had the pleasure of playing First Avenue which is a legendary venue.  Having the chance to play there is great, and I think it may have been the largest venue on this tour and it ended up selling out – which was unexpected for us in Minneapolis.  There was an unexplainable energy that night.  The reaction was great.

The other one I’m thinking was pretty recently when we played Atlanta.  Back on that tour, the same when we played [Denver’s] Larimer Lounge, we played Atlanta on that run.  We’ve never done Atlanta.  It was our first show there ever.  We played this venue called the Masquerade – maybe 400 or 500 people.  You know not having really knowing much about Georgia we didn’t know what to expect.  The crowd was just…overwhelmingly exciting.  It was just like, it was honestly like nothing that we could ever have imagined.  So this time around we kinda had high hopes and it was a little bit bigger venue.  It was pretty much like the last time but it increased by about three times the amount.  It was one of those things you walk away from amazed.

That’s awesome.  Thanks for sharing.  I know you are based in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, but where are you all actually from?

[Bassist] Andy [Hamm]’s from Colorado. The remaining four of us are from Southern California.  Two of the guys from Mission Viejo – which is southern Orange County.  Kelcey [Ayer] is from even further south in San Clemente.  I’m from the Inland Empire, a city called Chino Hills.  About an hour east of LA.  I grew up there and we all convened in Orange County where we lived for a bit.

Talk to me about that.  How did the band get together?

Well the three – Ryan, Taylor and Kelcey are the original three….in a way.  They grew up in neighboring cities and neighboring high schools and they’ve played together for a while.  It was about six years ago the current band lost their bass player and lost the drummer so they were looking for all these replacements. The band was very different then but still something they were passionate about.  They found Andy about 6 years ago through a mutual friend. Same with me, about 5 years ago I had a friend of mine who was in a band…

I had been in bands before since high school but nothing that really stuck.  I was always kinda knew that this is something i saw myself doing and wanted to make work somehow.  I had heard a little about these guys a friend of mine put me in touch with them.  We just hit it off I guess.  We all ended up playing together and hitting it off. It took us a little bit to catch a groove and understand each other as musicians and how to write and whatnot, but once we did, it all clicked.

It sure did.  You mentioned you have been playing the album to great success, and from what I remember I think you pretty much played the whole record at the show.  Are there other songs, unreleased material that you would inject into the shows?

There’s one that should bounce around this tour.  We did a cover for a blog called Aquarium Drunkard – and we’ve become really good friends with them and they’ve become very supportive of the band.  The guy Justin decided to do a compilation/tribute album to the band Television.  He basically took the entire album, Adventure, and had each of the 9 or 10 tracks covered by bands from Los Angeles.

We were given the song “Careful” and we kinda did what we did with the Talking Heads cover (“Warning Signs”) and had our own take on it and made it something completely different from what it was before.  We had that quote-un-quote written for months now but we never played it live.  We were hoping to incorporate it into some of the shows.  I think we played it twice now?  Once or twice at a couple of the shows.  Yeah, it’s gone over well.  We are hoping to start playing it more but like I said we haven’t really played it much so it’s one of those we have to keep practicing.

Speaking of “Warning Signs”, that is a truly unique take as a cover in that it honors the original but simultaneously becomes a ‘Local Natives’ song by showcasing clearly the stamp of your sound.  Something that got my brain racing at the Boulder show is how it blended it so well with the rest of the set.  The crowd was eating it up.  I thought about how many people knew it as a Talking Heads song.  I suppose you expose people who may not been exposed otherwise to a new band which – for me, is always interesting and always a good thing.

Yeah definitely.  I think that’s the beauty of doing a cover song.  At first it was never really anything we intended on, like adding to the album or playing it as much as we do now.  But like you said its been kinda like our own thing.  I think it’s great that for younger kids, or whoever really, they may have heard the artist but it may be more reason for them to go home and pick out that song, on that actual album, which is an amazing album and obviously an influence on us.  I think that is cool that in a different way we can spread new or old music.

Completely agree.  I can see some of the younger fans giving that kind of feedback to a proud older brother or parent.

Switching gears, I read that the booing at the start of “Airplanes” had something to do with the rest of the band thinking the piano line was cheesy.  Is that at all accurate?

Uh..yeah.  It’s one of those things that probably nobody will ever fully understand because of stupid inside jokes and mannerisms, but it was essentially along those lines.  Where for some reason Kelcey – being the brunt of a lot of jokes [laughter] we like to pick on him – but in a loving way you know?  He brought this line to the table, and I think that – we didn’t actually think it was some cheesy type of thing, but we joked around and would boo every time we practiced the song.  It’s like this silly thing and we ended up for some reason recording it in the studio.  They bounced around the idea to keep it for the record and at first we were like, there’s no way we’re going to keep this in and somehow it stayed and it stuck.  Its one of those inside jokes that makes zero sense to anyone.

Good trivia anyway. When it was played live, the crowd booed.  Is that something you see from show to show?

Occasionally yeah.  Its one of those things….it’s a weird, another weird expression that people have been giving us live.  I never thought I’d say that I’d be so excited to hear people boo our songs.  Obviously they know the track and are excited. They know the music and I think that is awesome that people do that.

I can imagine, actually I can’t imagine but I can hear what you’re saying.

“Airplanes” is a killer.  I dove into it heavily this year.  From my perspective it seems written with loss in mind, a grandparent perhaps.  After recently becoming a new father, I now hear that song a bit differently.  I have kind of a sad take on it, but I imagine if me or my wife were to die while my daughter was too young to remember, I could hear her expressing similar thoughts.  At the Boulder show when it was played it got me good.  It was one of those magical moments in music where you just need to take it all it in.

I can totally relate.  You just get lost in something and it becomes this whole other thing when you see it in person.  I think that’s amazing that you say that, that’s one of those songs on the album that I think, even though Kelcey wrote the lyrics for it, it’s really become important for all of us.  It’s really amazing to see,… how people have been able to so easily relate to it in so many different ways and make it their own.  I think it’s important for a song to have that quality.  That it is not so far removed from somebody that they can’t really understand it, but that they can take it in and it becomes their own thing and they can interpret it in their own way.  That’s really awesome for you, wow. Thanks for sharing.

It’s something consistent with a lot of the lyrics.  Painting pictures and telling stories.  Your guy’s stuff is pretty straightforward but it’s the simplicity that provides the beauty of the words.  And it’s also fun to sing along.

Good luck crossing the border.

We’re hoping its not a 2 hour ordeal.

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Local Natives will be taking a break for the remainder of the year.  Their next show will be a New Years Eve concert in Tokyo.  A few additional dates in Japan and Australia will follow before returning to the states later in the winter.

Previously: Local Natives, Live @ Fox Theatre, Boulder 9.29.2010