Removing The Monkey Suit

30 January 2013 | 6:00 am | Tony McMahon

"It would have felt really dishonest to just try and recreate that album because we’ve grown so much as a band and, you know, we just wanted to push ourselves to do something new and interesting."

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Few independent debut albums in recent times have generated interest or success like that associated with California psych/folk outfit Local Natives' 2009 Gorilla Manor. Perhaps it was the catchy yet otherworldly rhythms of the record, its unforgettable hooks, or its assured yet fresh songwriting. Either way, few debuts in this writer's recall have spoken so eloquently and so loudly the words every new band want to hear: namely, 'look out for this lot'. So, it is with great anticipation and not a little fanboy nervousness that Inpress speaks to guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Ryan Hahn about the band's long awaited follow up, Hummingbird, and its first single, Breakers.

“I think we saw Breakers as a nice bridge between the first album and this one,” says Hahn. “There's a bit of familiarity about it, but it also shows people that we are going in new directions and trying new things. That way, it excited us in that it was a bit of a taste of our new stuff, but it also reflected the old album as well.”

Talking of which, this willingness to go out on a limb, no pun intended, is perhaps testament to what it was that made Gorilla Manor so cool in the first place. Thinking about a second album, many a band might have decided to cash in and make Gorilla Manor 2, but Hahn indicates that there was never much chance of this.

“That would have actually been quite difficult. It would have felt really dishonest to just try and recreate that album because we've grown so much as a band and, you know, we just wanted to push ourselves to do something new and interesting. It's just a more exciting way to work. The new record is reflective very much of where we're at: it's still us, it's very collaborative, we're just really excited about where we ended up.”

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It's rumoured that Local Natives made a purpose built studio to record Hummingbird, and this has been seen by some commentators as something of a Phil Spector-like indulgence, though Inpress would suggest it has more to do with Local Natives' dedication to their art. Anyway, Hahn says that the truth of the matter is a slightly different story. “In a way we did, but I think that's too kind a term for it,” he clarifies. “I dunno, we had a rehearsal spot. We kind of demoed out the whole record there. When it came time to record it, though, we went to some proper studios in Brooklyn and Montreal.”

Hummingbird was co-produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, who Hahn praises very highly. What was it specifically about Dessner that Hahn felt worked so well? It seems that it had to do with what sounds like a heady combination of freedom and experience.

“We just loved his songs and we're huge fans of The National. Then we toured with them last year and we just really hit it off. We were talking about our new songs and saying we needed a producer and everything just kind of clicked. He was so passionate about us and about making the songs work and we just couldn't be happier with how things worked out. He was like a nice kind of outside perspective. He always respected the songwriting, but he understood what it was like to have been in a band for a lot longer than we'd been. He also added a real air of spontaneity to the recording. When we started, you know, we had everything written and we thought in a way that it was just a matter of going into the studio and laying it down. With Aaron, he left a lot of things for us to work out in the actual studio. In a way it scared us, but it was just such fun to have that improvisational quality to a lot of the songs.”