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Going Native

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By Randi Schmelzer, Photos by David Black

Published Jul 1, 2011 8:00 AM


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L.A.'s Local Natives have been rest-less.

"We've been on the road for pretty much two years," explains lead vocalist-guitarist Taylor Rice '08, ever since the band stormed onto the new-music radar with nine rave-review performances at 2009's South by Southwest Music Conference.

With appearances at tastemaker-filled music festivals Coachella and Bonnaroo, the band quickly built on initial buzz. Their wide-appeal, jangly, guitar-driven songs with multi-part harmonies and evocative lyrics captured media attention from Pitchfork to NPR; in fact, "World News," from Local Natives’ debut, Gorilla Manor, was named one of the best songs of 2010 by the listeners of NPR's All Songs Considered.

The Los Angeles Times' music blog Pop & Hiss noted that the band once all lived together "in a tottering house" — Gorilla Manor — and "they take the cabin fever qualities of band life and use it as a compelling starting point for writing and arranging."

Since then, Local Natives has gone global: From Austin to Berlin, Barcelona to Portland, the band's energetic, charismatic, must-dance live shows have earned fans everywhere — and left all of them longing for more.

Soon, that's what they'll get. Local Natives — in addition to Rice, Kelcey Ayer (keyboards, percussion), Ryan Hahn (guitar) and Matt Frazier (drums) — has settled in Silver Lake, L.A.'s urban-arty eastside neighborhood, to focus full-time on a follow-up to Gorilla Manor.

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Photo credit: David Hall

In its early stages, Rice says, there's no telling where the new album will go. The band's songwriting process is "very collaborative," built on trust and believing that "in the end, we create something that none of us could have done on our own," Rice explains. "We're just excited to really push ourselves into new territory [and] try a lot of new ideas and concepts."

Local Natives displayed this commitment to artistic evolution earlier this year, when they played a sold-out show at Walt Disney Concert Hall — accompanied by a 23-piece orchestra. The Feb. 26 performance was the realization of a dream for Rice, the kernel of which formed in one of his last classes before graduating from UCLA.

When the class, an architecture course, made a pilgrimage to the Frank Gehry-designed home of the L.A. Philharmonic, Rice "just fell in love" with the 2,265-seat venue mecca. "It literally took my breath away," he recalls. "I said, 'If I could ever just perform here, that would be my ultimate dream.'"

Two-and-a-half years later, Local Natives received an invitation to perform from Disney Hall bookers, one of only a few extended annually to nonclassical artists.

With just two months to prepare, Local Natives crafted new arrangements and original orchestration for the songs on Gorilla Manor — all amid a tour of Japan and Australia.

"We were writing string arrangements in airports," Rice says. But the hard work paid off. "It was the most amazing show I ever played."

And though Rice concedes it's unusual to fulfill one's life dream so early, he's not worried about running short on ambition.

"I'd love to do an orchestra tour. Love to play the Hollywood Bowl," he says. "But the main accomplishment all of us [in the band] want to achieve is to keep playing music together."

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