Through the turbulence induced by pain, heartbreak, and death of sophomore album Hummingbird, Local Natives have found themselves shedding the shell of that release to come upon Sunlit Youth – a record, in comparison, that is filled with idealistic hopes and messages of tolerance and harmonious co-existence. However, this insistence and promotion of joy is motivated by the many tragedies stemming from systemic discrimination and degradation of races, classes, and genders. ‘Mother Emanuel’ is a reaction toward the Charleston church massacre, ‘Masters’ is their solidarity with feminism, and of course, there’s the political anthem for young’uns, ‘Foundation of Youth’. JUICE speaks with Taylor Rice as he expounds on the themes of the album, pushing the boundaries of rock music, working with Nina Persson of The Cardigans, and his thoughts on Trump as a potential President.
Images Nathaniel Wood + Renata Raksha
We understand the band took the opportunity to play in Malaysia so you guys can record in Thailand. So, we take it that there wasn’t any studio time here?
Ha, that’s a good question. I’m sure you have some wonderful studios in Malaysia, but we had a connection with a studio in Thailand that we were able to live in. So, we could just live and breathe music only for ten days straight. If you know of any such studios in Malaysia, please send me their information.
“‘Indie Rock’, as it is quintessentially known, was boring and behind us.”
You guys were listening to genres that are atypical to your own music to help write some songs, such as wanting to write a D’Angelo song with ‘Coins’ for instance. Is that one of the ways to prompt the songwriting process?
It’s part of growing as a musician and as a band. There are no rules to stay in a genre for music. It’s great to be the quintessential punk band, but some of The Clash’s most interesting work is from Sandinista when they took on a major dub influence. ‘Indie Rock’ as it is quintessentially known, was boring and behind us, so this album is a rock album but with influences from electronic music, hip hop, r’n’b, ‘60s pop, and soul.
Despite having recorded the album all over the world, there are a few songs that reference Los Angeles. Why was there an intention to localise the content in a way?
LA is our hometown and we find it to be the most exciting place on the planet right now. So many creatives are moving into the city, and it felt like an environment of endless possibilities. Most of the record comes from that place of hope and experimentation, so LA crept in as a character throughout the record and a symbol for some of the themes.
“The optimism of this record is grounded in an acknowledgment of the chaotic and seriously dangerous world around us.”
‘Foundation of Youth’ and ‘Mother Emanuel’ are quite politically charged. Was it necessary to ground the overall optimism of the album with these serious subject matters?
Yes, definitely. The optimism of this record is grounded in an acknowledgment of the chaotic and seriously dangerous world around us. This isn’t a head in the sand optimism, it’s one that says race relations are hard in America, but we can move the needle and continue to push for equality. Or that there are political leaders trying to divide us with hate and fear mongering, but we can choose the path of compassion and grace for living together among those different than ourselves.
Seeing the current turbulent social and political climate in America and around the world, was there a lot of reflection that was done before writing Sunlit Youth? Was it difficult to not revert back to that dark, sombre tone of Hummingbird?
It was actually very natural for us. We came out of the darker cloud of our Hummingbird era to find ourselves full of the feeling that the world is something we can push on – and there will be an effect. Even though there is a lot of darkness and cynicism, I see a silver lining to it all. The Black Lives Matter movement has been so helpful to get a national conversation around the unfair killing of black people by authorities. It’s not a new thing – it’s just that the country is aware of it for the first time, which is the first step to start rolling those tragedies back. A theme of sexual equality, and the power in declaring myself a male feminist is mentioned in the record, and even though there are some horrific realities that have come to light recently, I think, again, we are on a path towards equality, even though there is so much work left to be done.
Did the extensive touring for Hummingbird help expel the darkness, so to speak, in order to make room for joy and idealism?
Absolutely. Hummingbird was a complete project of catharsis. It was dealing with the pain of death, separation, break-ups, isolationism – and playing those songs every night helped to ring that darker time out of our system.
‘Foundation of Youth’ has this “power to the youth” message. Being people who are more mature and in your 30s, what was the instance that gave you all the inspiration for that insight per se?
There’s this activist/feminist writer Rebecca Solnit who is a major inspiration and hero to me. She wrote a book called Hope in the Dark that explains that the path to freedom and liberty fought for by oppressed minority groups throughout the ages are never direct or obvious, but come about in winding, unexpected ways. When viewing how advancements in civil rights, LGBTQ equality, etcetera have made progress through that lens of history, it makes sense to try and fight for what you believe in against odds, against great entrenched power – even when it feels difficult or hard to achieve.
“[The song selection process] is like a huge political, Game of Thrones-esque battle of egos. I’m sort of kidding, but I’m also sort of not.”
Having written 50 songs for the album, how was the selection process? How was it trying to decant the efforts of each one of you guys in order to make a singular album that best represented the spirit you all had in mind?
It’s like a huge political, Game of Thrones-esque battle of egos. I’m sort of kidding, but I’m also sort of not. It’s certainly one of the more difficult aspects of being in a democratic band with multiple songwriters. Usually at least a large batch rise to the top, and then the battles begin.
One of our favourite songs on the album is ‘Dark Days’, which features Nina Persson of The Cardigans. How did that collaboration come about and did you guys write the song with her in mind?
‘Dark Days’ is a romantic, nostalgic song, and we knew we wanted to make it into a duet. Nina was the first person we thought about for it and it’s our pipe dream [for her] to sing it with us as Ryan and I are huge Cardigan fans and we thought her voice would be perfect for the song. I wrote to Nina out of the blue and told her about the song and why she’d be so great on it, and to our immense surprise, she wrote back right away that she loved it and would be happy to [sing on it]. We collaborated over FaceTime as she recorded at her own studio, where she lives in Sweden.
“I feel confident that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate and will win in November.”
Having spoken about ‘Foundation of Youth’, the time to vote in America is quite imminent. So, we’re wondering whether you guys have already voted? And what are your thoughts on the prospect of Trump being elected as President?
We all have voted absentee since we will be in the UK on election night. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in and around the White House last week while we were on tour in D.C., and I was surprised at how moved I was by the experience. It made me feel that our government isn’t a black box run on corruption, but is run by people who care so much about our country and the people in it. It made me feel tremendous respect for the Obamas and how they operate, as well as many Presidents past. It is very clear to me that Trump does not have the values worthy of the Presidency, and I think it would be a great tragedy to us as a nation and make me feel ashamed towards the rest of the world. I feel confident that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate and will win in November.
Sunlit Youth is released via Infectious Music/ Hostess Asia.