Indie Mixtape 20: Local Natives Really Love Thom Yorke

For their new EP Sour Lemons, Local Natives took a more free-flowing approach to the songwriting process than they have on previous efforts. The result is four tracks that feel simultaneously refined and effortless, which is a perfect mindset for approaching Local Natives music. The highlight of EP comes in the form of “Lemon,” a duet with Sharon Van Etten that revels in the discomfort of being out of touch with time and the people you love.

To celebrate the new album, vocalist Kelcey Ayer sat down to talk 311, Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, and Legally Blonde in the latest Indie Mixtape 20 Q&A.

What are four words you would use to describe your music?

Use ears. Biden 2020.

It’s 2050 and the world hasn’t ended and people are still listening to your music. How would you like it to be remembered?

Honestly this question triggers something I’ve struggled with in my career up until now, and that’s finding validation in what people think of our music, especially critics. Yes of course I want our band to be revered in the leagues of artists we’ve looked up to with such reverence, Radiohead, Bowie and the like… what artist doesn’t want that? (Also, if they say they don’t, that’s ADORABLE.) But that’s not up to me, and spending energy on how our music is perceived against those standards just doesn’t serve me anything but corrosive jealousy and unnecessary pain. It’s taken me a while to understand something so seemingly obvious but I think finally I may have: music is subjective. I’ve met people who think Radiohead is garbage, and yet these people still walk the earth without something horrible happening to them and they’re happy and everything is fine. Some people think Rascal Flatts is their Radiohead. WTF. All that matters is how something affects you, and no one can take that away. So my answer is that if anyone cares at all, if anyone is still moved in any way in 30 years from now, I’ll be a happy man.

What’s your favorite city in the world to perform in?

I’ve had so many amazing experiences in so many cities that I truly hate this question. Every single city has had a rad coffee shop that helped me start my day, a crowd who paid for tickets and showed up and cared, and countless other discoveries I’ve treasured over the years. I’d rather just say my least favorite city to play in: Cambridge. We played Cambridge in 2013, and while the town and campus was beautiful, the audience was a total snooze-fest and it was awful. Finally we know why: Cambridge Analytica.

Who’s the person who has most inspired your work, and why?

Thom Yorke. In my generation there is no one who even comes close to me in regards to their commitment to artistry over commercialism while making truly affecting and arresting music through Radiohead or his solo work. If there was a Venn diagram of everything I love about music, the feeling of euphoria, the commanding rhythms of a pulsing piano, the energy of really loud underwater beat, the “artists who don’t give a f*ck about art” attitude, on and on, the part that’s in the middle that they all have in common is him. What can I say, my ears have backs and he is their back-scratcher.

Where did you eat the best meal of your life?

Once in 2013 while in Rome, our tour manager really wanted to see the Vatican, but we didn’t have a lot of time before the show for dinner, and if I didn’t get food ASAP I’d have to wait until after to eat (eating too close to the show runs the risk of throwing up on everyone, which obviously is, um, “not the vibe”). We did a radio interview so close to the Vatican that I felt bad to bail on him, so we made a compromise: I’d stop at some random place for food and I’d eat while he sped through an audio tour. We found a small deli where I grabbed a bag of buffalo mozzarella, a small baguette, and some prosciutto. We got there and he ran inside as I sat on the Vatican steps and started eating. I was in shock. Imagine the best bread and prosciutto you’ve ever had, and then there was the mozzarella. I can’t even describe how good this cheese was. Imagine eating an orgasm. That’s how good it was.

So this is my answer whenever I’m asked this and I love it for two reasons. One: because I’ll never be able to find that deli again, so it’s this memory I’ll always treasure knowing it’s one I can never experience again, so I feel no need to relive it. I can just enjoy it. And two: it made me truly appreciate single ingredients. Whereas before I’d have a zillion things in a meal, but after I realized that truly amazing meals can consist of just a few high-quality things.

What album do you know every word to?

The first album I ever knew inside and out was 311’s 311, also known as their Blue Album. They were my first love and I’ll always have a soft spot for them.

What was the best concert you’ve ever attended?

In 2011 I saw Thom Yorke’s newly assembled Atoms For Peace band play at Coachella before they recorded their debut record. They played Yorke’s 2006 solo album Eraser as a band and to hear that album come to life with Flea losing his shit and everyone so in-sync, it was mind-blowing. Have I mentioned yet that I like Thom Yorke?

What is the best outfit for performing and why?

Black shirt and black pants. I just think the more you can not think about your outfit the more you can focus on the show. Some people are empowered by really loud awesome clothes, which I envy, but I find the simpler the better, especially in a band where you’re supposed to come together as one.

Who’s your favorite person to follow on Twitter and/or Instagram?

Let’s just be honest, Phoebe Bridgers is the best thing on Twitter, that’s just a fact. And as far as Insta, I’ve found so much joy in discovering Jordan Firstman and all his “impressions” of things, I highly recommend spending some time with him.

What’s your most frequently played song in the van on tour?

Probably “Go Back” by Tony Allen feat. Damon Albarn. It just ticks off all the boxes for what we look for in our driving music: groove, energy, rad beats, a touch of darkness, and most importantly, Damon Albarn.

What’s the last thing you Googled?

Can you activate active dry yeast with lactose-free milk? I was making Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls and thought maybe I f*cked it up using the wrong milk for that part. Yeast acting correctly is everything in baking, so it was a pretty high-stakes google. I learned nothing. Rolls came out great. It was all for nothing (giant smiley-face emoji).

What album makes for the perfect gift?

Portishead’s Third on vinyl. Also works great for sorting out who your real friends are.

Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever crashed while on tour?

The night before our first ever show in NYC we were in Philly and needed a place to crash, and the cook at the venue said we could go to his place. We were on tour with two other bands and the guy said that he had room for everyone, so we were extremely grateful. The only catch was that he had to make one stop on his way home. We all proceeded to go with him to a bar where he drank for two hours, grabbed a to-go six-pack of PBR tallboys, and we finally headed to his place at 2am. He had a decent sized apartment, but with 15 of us, there basically wasn’t a spot on the floor without a grimy musician on it. As we got into our sleeping bags, he went to put something on the record player, then sits in a chair staring out the window as the record starts playing. It was a murder mystery. He stayed up until sunrise drinking every last one of those tallboys listening to this thing, only for his nurse girlfriend to come home at 6am from an all-night shift, see nothing but dirty 20-year-olds and freak the fuck out. Basically we got next to no sleep but still had an amazing show, it’s called being 20.

What artists keep you from flipping the channel on the radio?

I’m thinking of who I even like getting played on the radio still, and I’d probably say Drake. He consistently is on and it’s consistently the most interesting thing on top 40. My one and only moment of actually stopping everything I was doing and turning up the volume was the first time I heard “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, a true miracle of a song.

What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you?

I actually just broke my favorite red Stax coffee mug I got in Memphis in 2014, and my wife went through multiple hoops to buy a new one for me. I’m not sure if that is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me, but she definitely is the nicest person to me in my life.

What’s one piece of advice you’d go back in time to give to your 18-year-old self?

Have WAY more sex.

What’s the last show you went to?

My wife and I saw Andy Shauf here in LA and he was great. He writes amazing songs and creates tangible stories you can live in. He was reserved and chill and they played the songs exactly how they are on record, and I love when you can rely on an artist like that.

What movie can you not resist watching when it’s on TV?

Legally Blonde. That movie is fucking amazing, and if you don’t like it then you’re heartless.

What would you cook if Obama were coming to your house for dinner?

I’d make fresh guacamole to go with my famous tater-tot tacos with homemade corn tortillas. I’d also try and get him drunk so he could tell me if aliens exist or not. I mean, we both would get drunk. I wanna get drunk with Obama. God I miss Obama.

Sour Lemons is out now. Listen on Spotify and Apple Music.

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