Sometimes it takes a decade-plus to remember what you’ve had all along. For Los Angeles-based rock ‘n’ roll band, Local Natives, ideas of friendship and the importance of familial bonds have been the manna on which the group has subsisted ever since its early days. And they remain important sources of nourishment. But sometimes people have to be reminded of the bounty at their fingertips. Sometimes through the work and during the successes, it’s tantamount to remember what the group has had since the very beginning. The foundation is just as important as the top floor, of course. That’s what the members of Local Natives have re-experienced recently while producing the band’s new exultant EP, Sour Lemon, set for release on October 23rd.
“I do think more and more we just realize the value of our relationships with each other,” says singer-songwriter, Ryan Hahn. “Maybe that’s something we’ve had to learn over the years being together. We feel a sense of gratitude to even be making music this long.”
The joy and freedom that comes from making art and indulging in one’s own creativity is the light that shines through the band’s new four-song EP. The tracks, which had been written at various times over the group’s recent history, were recorded without a formal record or release in mind. They were made just for the sake of making music during a time between arduous tours. But because there was no hard deadline or even release date for the quartet of tracks, the band felt a certain unfettered sensibility in the studio that it hadn’t in sometime.
“We’d just finished a long run of touring,” Hahn says. “If I’m being honest, it was pretty difficult at times. Maybe we were glad to be home between tours and we had this feeling of, ‘Alright, we’re not making a record here. We’re making music. Let’s have fun.’”
The band recorded the four tracks at Sunset Sound studios in L.A., which has a long and prestigious history of clients, from The Doors to Whitney Houston to Tom Petty. The historic energy during the sessions permeated the effort from the group, which has traditionally over the years spent just about as much time on the road – and away from the City of Angles – as humanly feasible. The band connects with its fans on the road, of course. But it connected with itself back in L.A. at The Village Studios, getting the songs down – some of which were written years prior – before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the globe.
“Sometimes it feels like songwriting is like solving a puzzle,” Hahn says. “It kind of felt that way with these four songs. When you’re making a record, you can spend a lot of time on the tracks. But since we were just recording these, there was no pressure. It’s a nice way to do it.”
From the start, the members of Local Natives agreed that the band should involve a one-for-all-and-all-for-one mentality. As such, there is no one singer, no one centerpiece, to the five-piece band. For the new EP, three members wrote tracks, including Hahn and vocalists Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer. Local Natives also includes in its rhythm section drummer Matt Frazier and bassist Nik Ewing.
“Early on, we realized that we all wanted to sing,” Hahn says. “We all had a desire to call the shots. So, we thought the best way to deal with that was to let everyone do everything. It falls onto everyone to carry the weight, the responsibility. If we were to succeed, we all had to be involved and feel ownership of the band.”
Hahn co-founded Local Natives in high school. It was the culmination of a childhood obsessed with music. Hahn grew up in a military family that would regularly move around (including a stint in Singapore) but in each home, he found his ear gravitating to the radio. In middle school, he picked up the trombone but in high school, Hahn picked up the guitar and became more and more interested in songwriting. His parents were encouraging. The band’s first gig was at Rice’s dad’s house (a hole was left in a living room wall). Even early on, Hahn and the other members were dedicated from the start.
“We had tunnel vision,” he says. “We really wanted to do it so much so that when we decided to go to college, we all wanted to stay close to keep the band going.”
The group’s new EP is bright, clear-eyed and thorough even despite its short length. It’s rich with harmonies and sticky choruses. “Future Lover” is a rousing romp, a drinking song even. “Lemon,” which features the talented vocalist, Sharon Van Etten, is a sweet track about finding beauty in domesticity.
“Being in quarantine now, it feels like that song has a different meaning,” Hahn says.
In a time of great uncertainty, Local Natives has created a record that succeeds. In a world that seems to change by the day, and often not in hopeful ways, the group has kept to its bond, its core, it’s sense of friendship and family, in order to make something valuable. The album uplifts and challenges as it breathes new life into the often fretting, fractured the world.
“So much about modern life is constant distractions,” Hahn says, “constantly thinking about what happened before, what’s going to happen? Making music, for me, is a chance to be completely lost in the present. That’s very – that’s when I feel most alive.”