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Local Natives: From high school rock band to selling out theaters

Local Natives released its third album,
Local Natives released its third album, "Sunlit Youth," on September 9.

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Right off of Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Silver Lake sits a tiny blue building in the middle of an abandoned lot. The building was unoccupied up until a few years ago, when the L.A. band Local Natives claimed it as its home.

The crowd outside of Local Natives' impromptu performance on top of its practice space in Silver Lake.
The crowd outside of Local Natives' impromptu performance on top of its practice space in Silver Lake.
James Kim/KPCC

Local Natives released its first album, “Gorilla Manor,” in 2010, but some of the members have been playing together for more than a decade. Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn went to the same high school in Orange County, while Kelcey Ayer lived right down the street. The three eventually came together to form the band Cavil At Rest. After years of playing basements and small concert venues in Los Angeles, the band reformed into what is now Local Natives.

The band recently released its third album, “Sunlit Youth,” and to celebrate the release, they performed a surprise show on the roof of the tiny blue building they now use as their practice space.

The Frame’s James Kim spoke with Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer about their high school beginnings, why they decided to play on a roof in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and their long journey to becoming a successful rock band.

Interview highlights

On how they found their practice space in Silver Lake:

Taylor: We had finished touring our first album, "Gorilla Manor," and we were looking for a place. We all lived around the area of Silver Lake and I saw this weird little building that was just sitting there. It was kind of empty and I was asking around. 

I got the landlord's email and convinced him to let us move into it and make it our rehearsal space. So we made our second record, "Hummingbird," in there, and that had been home base for us for about four years. 

Kelcey: We're trying to see how much use we can get out of this building. We're squeezing every drop that it's got left. We made a record in there and now we're going to play on top of it. 

On why they decided to play on their roof of their building off of Sunset Boulevard:  

Taylor: We released the song "Fountain of Youth." The chorus says, "We can do whatever we want," and that's not supposed to be in this bratty way. That's in this kind of empowered way. It's supposed to be this youth empowerment song. 

We just had this idea of, if we just wanted to do whatever we wanted, what would it be? I think it's just kind of in that spirit. Let's have an illegal show on the roof of our practice space on Sunset Boulevard. That sounds fun, so let's just do it. 

Kelcey: Getting older, we keep trying to reconnect with what got us excited about music in the first place, and I don't think you can get to this place without having those sort of ambitions really young. Because it's hard to get a band off the ground. 

On the high school beginnings of Local Natives:  

Taylor: We grew up just south of Los Angeles and we started high school in 2000. We also met Kelcey [Ayer]. 

Kelcey: I randomly was going to a high school down the street from Taylor [Rice] and Ryan [Hahn] and we got together. We got really lucky to have all been very involved in music very early on. 

Taylor: Yeah, we just lived to play those crazy house party shows and every now and then we would book whatever venue we could, but mostly we were just playing in cul-de-sacs and living rooms or basements. 

On the tough path of starting a rock band:

Kelcey: There's a lot of hardships. You're trying to write something that you really believe in and you really love. You try and basically beg promoters to let you play in their venues to little-to-no people. We did countless U.S. tours where we'd show up and play to 10 people. And then on the mic be like, "Hey, if anyone has a floor we could sleep on, we promise we're not really sketchy and we'll be really respectful." You can't really live that way forever. So thankfully things started going well.

Taylor:  There's kind of this — in my memory — this trickle that starts to happen where your email is going off on your phone. Every day there's some unbelievabl,e you couldn't even imagine, like, "We're going to go play Primavera Festival in Barcelona," or, "We got this offer to play on late night television." These things that just happen quickly. 

Honestly, even now we're not guaranteed to be able to get to do this forever. I think it's really important for us to remember that and remember that it is this crazy ephemeral gift that we get to make music and share it with people. 

Local Natives’ third album, “Sunlit Youth,” is out now. The band performs at the Greek Theatre on Sept. 16.

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