“I’m in LA. I’m in my studio at my house. Got really excited about something and I was just doing a little bit of recording before this interview,” Kelcey Ayer, songwriter, vocalist, and keyboardist for the band Local Natives greets me warmly over Zoom. Local Natives drummer, Matthew Frazier, joins shortly after and tells me, “I’m currently in Austin. The vibes are good, It’s a fun music town.” It’s this same distance from each other—coupled with growing into adulthood and a global pandemic—that tested their unity like never before and loomed the dissolution of the band. Through heartfelt conversations and perseverance, the five-member band emerged stronger, producing more music in this period of recording than perhaps ever before. With that, came their fifth studio album Time Will Wait For No One.
I’m not sure if anyone necessarily enjoys growing up once you’ve reached emerging adulthood. What seems glamorous and free in your youth begins to lose its appeal the moment you inevitably have to Google What exactly is tax? Where does it go? How much do I need to pay? But, getting old isn’t guaranteed for all and is ultimately a gift we often overlook. Time Will Wait For No One embraces the existential doubts that come with getting older: wishing you can run back the clock, say things you never got the chance to, and wondering if you’re wasting time and getting nowhere. In a backward way, it makes you face the sobering reality that our experiences are not necessarily unique and appreciate that we all feel pain and then we—you get it—and in between all that, the human condition is full of precious, delicate moments. Or at least that’s what I got from it, anyway.
Below, I chat with—self-described touchy-feely nerds—Kelcey and Matt, having the privilege of deep diving into their creative minds and personal experiences. Coming out of the other side of conflict and challenge, and stronger for it, they offer insights into the inspiration behind their latest album, rooting out toxic masculinity, and the re-emergence of the indie sleaze era.
What was the inspiration behind the album, reconnecting as a group post-pandemic? Were there any experiences that you were going through individually, or collectively, that influenced the creation of ‘Time Will Wait For No One’?
Kelcey: We’ve all been playing together before Local Natives even started because we were this band out of high school and college. We’ve basically been together, touring or recording every month of our lives until the pandemic. Getting cut off from each other and experiencing life in this really different way kind of sent us all spiraling. Everyone had their individual things going on in their lives. My wife and I were trying to start a family and suffered two pregnancy losses that were really devastating and hard to go through. The band is so good at communicating with each other and keeping each other on an even keel—I think, the way to keep a band together is to work on your relationships constantly—and we weren’t really able to do that over the pandemic. So, [it] started to fray a bit.
All these things led to a perfect storm where we almost broke up. It took a while and a lot of talking and getting together again to get back to a healthier place and once we were there, we wrote more music than we’d ever written before. That felt very triumphant and we feel like we’re on the other side of this, a much stronger band. That, basically, is the setting for making this record.
I understand that you’re a group of like-minded, grounded people and it keeps you motivated to make music together despite going through personal milestones at the occasional distance from each other. I recognize having conversations like that, with friends in general, can be challenging, but with the added layer of working together, I can’t imagine how complex that can be. How do you manage to stay unified? Do you have any rituals or traditions to maintain a positive working environment and friendship?
Matt: Like Kelsey was alluding to, it’s communication really. It’s the biggest key. As everyone was in the pandemic bubble and forced to be isolated from one another, we weren’t getting together regularly. Things were fraying and people were distant and not regularly checking in with one another. We’re in this weird family together, the five of us have been together for so long. It’s the most complicated and beautiful thing, this relationship. But so complicated. We’re all intertwined: best friends, creative partners, business partners, touring partners. It’s this crazy thing to navigate. At the end of the day, fostering the friendship and the thing that brought us together, the love for each other and music, is so important.
Even if we’re all in different places, we try to check in once a week. We spend time catching up and it’s not music or business all the time. I mean, music is a friendly thing that we discuss but what I’m getting at is that we just really try to make time for each other as friends and keep communication open.
For me, I’ve learned, in this band process, to be such a better communicator in other relationships because I love it so much and I want to keep it going. What I feel fortunate for, personally, is that we all have mutual respect for one another. We may not always agree on everything—we definitely don’t—but there’s always mutual respect and that goes a long way.
To go back to what Kelcey was saying, in the middle of the pandemic we reached a point like, shit, we don’t know if the band is going to continue. And it was the first time it had ever got to that point or felt that real, that we could potentially lose this thing that we’ve been building for so long. Everybody chose to turn toward each other, face it, do the hard work, have the hard conversations, and show up. To me, that willingness to show up and do the work is such a gift and what keeps us going. Not sure if that answers your question, went on a bit of a tangent there.
It definitely did. I want to acknowledge that it’s nice to hear of grown men having conversations like this. To hear a band of men working together, having disagreements, not taking them personally, and realizing something is worth fighting for when you could lose it. It’s a beautiful thing to hear, especially because I find it to be rarer—sorry.
Kelcey: Thank you. No apologies are necessary. I feel that is a problem and rooting out the toxic masculinity bullshit is something we love doing.
At the core, we’re all touchy, feely nerds who have figured out how to be able to talk to each other. We were on a film set at one point and there was this conversation of—the crews talking and stuff—loving working with female directors because there’s no bullshit, everyone is trying to achieve the same goal. Men have had a horrible rap forever, being these power-trippy, ego-driven, monsters and that reputation exists because that’s what it’s been. We’ve learned more and more that it takes a village to do any of this. We try to keep that vibe on tour, whoever we’re working with, and get as much female crew on the tour as we can get, trying to have that vibe on the bus.
I appreciate what you’re saying and I think it’s an important conversation to have. This needs to be happening more and hopefully, we can set a good example.
Was there a song off the new album that collectively you were most excited for people to hear?
Matt: It’s probably different for each person in the band, I imagine. That’s pretty standard, with it being such a democratic process. Everyone has their own tastes and what they’re drawn to. If you had all five of us, you’d probably get five different answers. Did you have one, Kelce?
Kelcey: It’s a funny question because there are songs that are not even on this record that have yet to be heard. I was just listening to a batch of stuff yesterday. [During] this recording period, we’ve made more songs than we’ve ever made before. [In] most album periods, we come away with a few B sides but, we basically had a double album that we split in half. I’m excited for that some of that stuff. For me, “Paradise” was a song I brought to the table and I’d been working on that since 2018. That song has had a really long history for me and the response has been great and I’ve been touched by what people have been sharing with me about it.
A thought just occurred to me since Matt is a drummer and Kelcey is a songwriter and vocalist. Lately, I’ve been attuned to how people tend to gravitate toward lyrics or melody. I find everyone has different answers. I’m curious to know if you find that your instrumentation is aligned with what you are more drawn to.
Matt: I would say that’s somewhat accurate! I grew up drumming and rhythm is the first thing I hear in music. You know, not being a lyricist myself, and being in a band with three amazing lyricists, I do appreciate good lyrics and I know it’s a valuable thing, and grateful that I’m in a band with guys that care and write good lyrics. On a personal level, that’s never been my strong suit. Over time, you find what you’re drawn to and, I guess, best at. For me, it’s always been drums and arrangement. I do probably get more drawn to music on a sonic level first, and lyrics tend to be, not secondary, but the attachment comes later. I listen to a lot of instrumental and ambient stuff.
Kelcey: And as one of three songwriters in Local Natives, and having to argue lyrics over every second of my life, I appreciate so much, Matt, for not caring as much about the lyrics and being cool and easygoing.
Matt: It’s not that I don’t care! There’s a trust. We’ve always trusted each other but on this record, we leveled up on trust and letting people shine in their own ways. I trust that you are going to write great lyrics and I don’t need to get there and be like, hmm, actually…
Kelcey: For sure. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen in a lot of different ways. With lyrics, I’m very grateful to Ryan [Hahn] and Taylor [Rice]. We work on each other’s lyrics and nerd out and deep dive. It’s nice that Nik [Ewing] and Matt are the canaries in the cold mine because if a lyric is really bad or cheesy and they mention it, it means something.
I need a melody to deliver whatever the message is but I will get pretty annoyed. That’s a tough sell to me. It can be hard to like something if there are some real duds in the lyric booklet.
How do you find a balance between your individual artistic expression and the collective identity of Local Natives? Or do you find you’re all rather aligned?
Kelcey: I’ve had a solo project called Jaws of Love. since 2017. For me, personally, it’s something I think about a lot because I do have these two huge things in my life artistically. As a songwriter in Local Natives, I can usually figure out what songs make sense for five people in a band, and which are more malleable to fit in that mold. And what songs are a little more eccentric, harder to pin down, probably slower and weirder to be in my Jaws of Love. camp. Nik does solo stuff as well. Ryan’s been working on stuff for a while. Everyone feels comfortable at this point with having other outlets and knowing we can compartmentalize these different projects. Matt, you’ve been drumming on other people’s stuff.
Matt: We have become more comfortable with side projects. For a long time, the band had tunnel vision. In a way, that helped us find our footing and work hard. But we found it important to have other projects and work with other people too. Not that we were ever against that but there was a nervousness when it started to happen. It’s important for everyone to have that. For me, I’ve made weird electronic, experimental shit on my own and produced stuff here and there. Just opening up to that has, for me, helped bring freshness to the band.
I’m going to wrap this up with a long-winded personal anecdote and follow it up with a question. My older sister had introduced me to Local Natives and ‘Gorilla Manor’, and I was still navigating what my personal music taste was. I have this distinct memory of starting my first day of high school and listening to “Airplanes” on repeat. That whole album became a big player in my music library. Since then, I somehow ended up getting into the music industry and being here with you now. That said, I love the term for that era in music and culture “indie sleaze” and I look back on it fondly. I find the trend cycle now is revisiting this era. Have you recognized that and any significant differences in the culture since your 2010 album?
Kelcey: That’s awesome that you were listening to it in high school. Does that make you cool or a nerd? I feel it’s hard to pin down where things are at and what is popular right now. The older I get, it’s a thing that I’m trying to hold on to and get glimpses of. It does feel like guitars are happening again more, which I think is exciting because we’ve always played guitars and we’re a band. We like that. I don’t know, I think that if the indie sleaze is coming back, that’s good for us—we’re as sleazy as they get!
Matt: It does feel like it’s shifted in the last couple of years. We’ve definitely noticed that. Any festival lineup is an interesting indicator of where things are at. More bands are popping up again, we’ve noticed that. We’re a band so that’s obviously exciting to us.
Local Natives are hitting the road to celebrate the release of their fifth studio album, Time Will Wait For No One. Join them in a city near you:
Vogue Theatre — Vancouver, BC.
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