Local Natives: “It took us a minute to find our footing again”

Sometimes an act needs to stop, take stock and find a new spark. With their latest album, ‘Time Will Wait For No One’, LOCAL NATIVES are a band refreshed. Read our latest Dork Playlist cover feature now.

Words: Sam Taylor.
Photos: Christina Choi, Zac Farro.

Five albums deep, and Local Natives know a thing or two about getting through a tough spot. Their new record, ‘Time Will Wait For No One’ was created during a particularly difficult period for the group and very nearly saw them hanging up their band hats after more than a decade of intense creativity together. Now on the other side, they have an album that shines with both vulnerability and resilience. Ryan Hahn and Nik Ewing reflect on the band’s creative process, the personal experiences that shaped their music, and the challenges they faced along the way.

Hi guys, how’s it going? What are you up to today?
Ryan: Hey, Dork, I’m feeling good; the sun is finally out again here in LA. I just made some coffee, actually, a cup of our LN collab coffee we made with this awesome local coffee shop called Kumquat. Shameless plug. I’m totally biased, but it’s great. Gonna work on some music here at the house for a bit and then head to Taylor’s birthday party this afternoon.

You guys are about to release a new album, congratulations – how are you feeling about it at the moment? What’s the vibe in camp?
Ryan: Thank you! It’s exciting and strange. We didn’t plan on this much time passing between our last full album and this new one. It’s not for not making music. We’ve actually made a lot of it, individually and as a band. We’ve lived with some of these songs for a while now, so now I’m stoked for people finally hear them and for them to take on a different life of their own. The vibe in the camp is great. The band text thread is full of funny memes; we’re feeling good. Even more so than with past albums, it feels like a new era for us as bandmates.

When did you begin working on the record, was there a defined starting point? What was your headspace like at the time?
Ryan: We first went into the studio to record with John Congleton back in April 2021. It’s a little harder to define when we start writing a new album; I try to more or less be writing all the time. But I will say when we started recording, it definitely felt like the least prepared we’d ever been to go into the studio. We had a lot of song seedlings and rough sketches but nothing 100% ready to go. I think we all hoped we’d just find it in the studio, and it would immediately click back together. The truth is that it took us a minute to find our footing again. One of the first things we worked on was a demo called ‘Transistor’ (not a 311 cover) that I thought would be a slam dunk for us, and it sort of just fizzled out in the studio. Thankfully a few weeks later, things were flowing much better, and I ended up salvaging a part from it to write a new song called ‘Just Before the Morning’.

You’ve described the last few years as a period of metamorphosis for you all; how is that reflected in the album’s sound?
Ryan: Like everyone else, the last few years were bizarre and difficult for all the obvious reasons. What was strange for our band is how inseparable and intertwined our 5 lives had been for over a decade. We’d gone from living in the same house to touring relentlessly and never really slowing down. The album cycles defined our lives. I think, in some ways, the time apart may have been healthy for us. Some of us were getting married and becoming fathers. I started producing and writing for other artists. Kelc and Nik put out solo albums. When we got back together, I think we were able to bring these new individual experiences into LN. We’re much more confident in the studio environment than we’ve ever been, and we’re letting each other take chances and try things that, in the past, we might’ve shied away from. I think the first song on the album almost acts as a summary of our experience. It starts with the sound of me, Taylor and Kelcey singing in harmony around one mic and one guitar literally outside in the backyard of the studio. It’s imperfect, and you can hear the sound of cars going by. The lyric “time will wait for no one, but I’ll wait for you” sort of defines everything. Then it’s almost like a call and response as the full band comes in in full fidelity, repeating it all almost like a mantra.

You’ve said that halfway through making the album, you played a show at the Greek in LA and were on the verge of collapse. Was there one specific thing you took out of it that allowed you to move forward?
Ryan: Yeah, that was a really bizarre experience. We were finally back together, playing our first show after our longest time away. We were playing a sold-out show at one of our favourite venues in the world. And yet there was such a complicated, heavy feeling in the air. We’d rented a rehearsal space for a few days to get us and our crew ready, but we spent almost half the time around a table outside having intense, emotional conversations. A couple of us had this feeling that it could be our last show. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, what I took away from it was gratitude for my bandmates. It was a realisation that together we make a sound that only the 5 of us can make together. If one of wasn’t there, it would change the sound fundamentally. For all the difficulties and push and pull of making music with bandmates, there is something deeply rewarding about sharing the experience together.

Did you hit upon any unexpected challenges during the album’s creation otherwise?
Nik: The entire album creation process was an unexpected challenge. We were struggling. Every song was laboured over for months. We collectively were having a rough time, which obviously bled into the creating process. Ironically, we weren’t struggling creatively. There was an outpour of so much music and songs.

“Even more so than with past albums, it feels like a new era for us as bandmates”

Ryan Hahn

You’ve just released ‘Paradise’, which sounds like an immensely personal song – what are you hoping listeners will take away from it?
Nik: ‘Paradise’ deals with the reckoning after intense loss. The person in the song brings flowers over to someone’s house to help console them while they’re going through a disastrous event that’s still occurring. Kelcey and his wife suffered two losses while trying to have a baby over the last couple of years. At the same time, California was being ravaged by wildfires, on top of everything else happening in the world the past years. It felt like the world was coming apart. This song definitely helped him process that pain.
It’s always up to listeners to take what they want from our music. We’ve written songs about breakups, and then a fan will tell us they walked down the aisle to it. So maybe ‘Paradise’ will help others process their pain or maybe something entirely different.

It’s obviously quite a cathartic track – does putting something so important emotionally out there for others to hear feel like a release, or does it come with an extra pressure?
Nik: No pressure at all, just a cathartic release. We’re all incredibly proud of this song, which we laboured over for so long, creating a few different versions of it until we all felt the catharsis in the song. Most songs we released have been completely done for a very long time, so it’s almost always a relief to finally share it with others.

Does the album deal with many difficult subjects?
Nik: ‘TWWFNO’ was made in a pretty dark Local Natives time. We thought we might not continue as a band at a certain point in making this album. A lot of individual and collective depression, isolation and then, obviously the immense loss Kelcey experienced. All of that obviously bleeds into the music we made, as it’s always quite personal. A lyric like “There’s so much I want to tell you” can take on an entirely different meaning from when it was written to when we’re feeling disconnected from each other mid-album creation.

One of the earlier singles, ‘NYE’, came from a tradition of the rest of the group providing wedding band duties whenever a member gets married. What sort of stuff do you play when that happens? Do you have any favourites? Will we ever get to hear that take on ‘Someday’ by The Strokes?
Nik: Haha, I doubt it. It was just a bad bar version of the song. However, it was also Local Natives minus Ryan, with Jonathan Wilson taking his place.
The tradition started at my wedding. I picked songs I wanted the other dudes to play, along with a bunch of the other musician friends/guests of my wedding, hopping on and off for different songs. I remember Marvin Gaye, All My Life by K-Ci and JoJo and I Want You Back by Jackson 5 were played at my wedding. ‘Let’s Dance’ by Bowie was another wedding song I requested that was so fun that we started playing it on our Sunlit Youth World Tour. We then played Taylor’s wedding with Amy Winehouse and Talking Heads songs. Then Ryan requested ‘Sweetest Thing’ by U2, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Someday’. I wish I could remember all the songs from each wedding. There has to be drunken videos of them somewhere.

Where have you been looking for creative inspiration, in general, lately? Is there anything you’ve been returning to?
Nik: We were finishing up LP6 in the studio, and the Coachella livestreams were happening. Ryan and I stopped everything we were doing to watch Jai Paul’s set. I also ride for Frank’s Coachella set. ■

Local Natives’ album’ Time Will Wait For No One’ is out 7th July. Follow Dork Playlist on Spotify here.