By Melody LauFollowing the success of Local Natives' 2010 debut album, Gorilla Manor, the band entered a whirlwind two years of touring opportunities, each one bigger than the next. On top of transforming the rhythm and guitar-driven tracks off their debut album with a full orchestra at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles — a dream of singer-guitarist Taylor Rice's — they also became hand-picked openers for indie rock heavyweights the Arcade Fire and the National.
"They were super humble and welcoming," Rice says. "Those were some amazing tours and they have been very helpful."
So helpful, in fact, that when it came time for the band to find a producer for their new record, they enlisted the National's Aaron Dessner. A conversation that started out as a joke, Rice explains that when the band was running through potential producers, they returned to the idea of Dessner and hoped that their joking around had some seriousness to it.
"We were so uncomfortable with this idea of a relationship with a producer," Rice says, having had no prior experience with one before. "We're just not used to not being the control freaks."
After stints in Los Angeles and Montreal, the band moved into Dessner's home in Brooklyn to work on production. The result was Hummingbird, an album that distils the band's fervid energy into slicker product.
The band's signature harmonies have lost the battle-cry urgency heard on Gorilla Manor's "Sun Hands," but gained a strength and confidence that doesn't need to scream for your attention anymore. The infectiously layered rhythms that made its predecessor a success are still the driving force behind single, "Breakers," but the band aren't banging on everything and the kitchen sink in order to maximize its effect. On the surface, Hummingbird may sound more polished to listeners, but is actually distinctly less polished in Rice's opinion.
"One thing Aaron was really great at was being spontaneous," Rice says. "I'd do a take and I wouldn't think it was it, but he would tell me to let it go and that was really helpful for us."
Dessner's influence on the record is quite apparent, from the compacted percussion — something that dominated much of Gorilla Manor — to a few songs that bear some resemblance to the National's sombre charge, like the marching beat and piano intro on "Heavy Feet."
Rice doesn't necessarily see Hummingbird as a darker album, though, pointing out that moments of optimism shine through, but he does note the past couple of years as a time of change and an abundance of emotions that altered the subject matter of their songs.
Written after the departure of bassist Andy Hamm and the death of singer Kelcey Ayers' mother, the album "feels like an expansion both inwards and outwards," Rice says.
"When we perform them, they feel very joyful, but I guess it's not as jubilant," he continues. "I do think we feel closer now, as a group and a family, than we've ever felt. I think we're a joyous, happy band. We do have this very positive outlook, even in the face of relationships falling apart. We have that stability."