The striking cover art for Hummingbird, the second album from harmonious L.A. indie rockers Local Natives, is more than just a neat Photoshop job. The picture, which features grinning co-vocalist Kelcey Ayer just barely climbing onto a ledge that’s seemingly falling into the sky, finds the band not so gracefully triumphing over adversity.
“We built this ramshackle rehearsal space,” explains guitarist Ryan Hahn, who snapped the pic (the sky was added later). “We wanted to get up on the roof, and Kelcey was having a tough time. Instead of helping him, I took the photo, but it fit the record. It’s that feeling of struggling, but you’re smiling because you know that sometimes there are things you have to go through.”
Between their 2009 debut, Gorilla Manor, and Hummingbird, which came out in January, Ayer lost his mother, and the band as a whole lost a founding member. The remaining quartet felt the best way to express these big, universal themes was to strip down their sound.
The boisterous singalongs and superfluous stomping that made Gorilla Manor so accessible have been toned down.
Hummingbird calmly undulates like ocean waves, with gut- punching three-part harmonies that forcefully pull like a strong undercurrent. The lyrics celebrate pulling one’s head back above water.
One of Hummingbird’s unexpected live hits is “Colombia,” a song Hahn says can silence a packed room. It’s sung by Ayer, and it includes a part where he calls out his mother’s name. “We wanted to take chances like that,” says Hahn. “That song was a moment where we decided it was time to put it all out there and see what happens.”
The response to these songs was immediate. A few hours after our interview, Local Natives are set to headline the Greek Theater in their hometown for the first time—a big deal for a band that used to hand out flyers there for their own shows at more modest digs nearby. Right now, they’re L.A.’s golden boys, but Hummingbird also has a Montreal connection.
“We recorded for two-and-a-half weeks at Mixart Studios,” Hahn says. “We did drums there—the louder parts and the live band stuff—because [producer Aaron Dessner’s] studio in New York was too small for the whole band to play at once. To play Montreal now, it feels like we’re coming home, in a way.” ■
Local Natives play with openers Wild Nothing and Seoul at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E.) on Friday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m., $26/$30
See our Music Team’s Pop Montreal picks here