Local Natives on Playing a Talking Heads Song In Front of David Byrne and Staying Aware While on Tour

Some bands require creative tension or mercurial relationships to provide a spark. In our Local Natives Rough Mixes piece this week, we learned that this is not the case for these five So-Cal dudes. They're in a band because they like being around each other, and the music starts with that. In anticipation of their upcoming show at the Larimer Lounge, we spoke with the band's bassist and graphic designer, Golden, Colorado native Andy Hamm, about the lone cover song to make it on the band's debut album, playing that song in front of the song's creator, and keeping up with the outside world while on tour.

Westword (Jonathan Easley): You're closely identified with the borough of Silver Lake, how would you describe that scene?

Andy Hamm: Like New York or Austin or any big city, there are so many musicians and artists in the area. You get these certain parts where everyone groups together, and Silver Lake is one of those very artist-friendly parts of Los Angeles. There's always some art event or concert or social gathering going on, so it's treating us very well.

WW: You're getting a lot of attention nationally, but word is that you blew-up in the U.K. Did you sense that on your recent overseas tour?

AH: I don't know if we've really hit it big anywhere; we're still a very new band. The first place that we found people we were comfortable working with was in the U.K., so the record was released there last year. It was exposed to people overseas a lot earlier than in the U.S., where the album was just released in February.

WW: How did the cover of the Talking Heads song "Warning Signs" come about?

AH: We wanted to add a cover song to our set because we had some material that we weren't ready to play live yet. I was getting into the Talking Heads box set, and not only diving into the music a lot further, but also reading about how the band came about, how they lived together, what they represented and what they didn't represent.

They just seemed like a really good fit for our aesthetic, how we were out in the van and what we were going for musically. So when I came across "Warning Signs," something just clicked. So we started working together on the different parts, and it came together to a point where we knew we wanted to cover the song but we didn't want to do it verbatim, we wanted to put our own spin on it.

After we recorded "Warning Signs" we felt we had done that, so it ended up on the album, when that had never been the intention. We initially just wanted to cover a song by a band that we respected.

WW: You tweeted about what a surreal experience it was to play that song live at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, what made it so special?

AH: We had played the Bowery Ballroom before, but always as an opening act for some other bands. So we were all very surprised when we sold out our first show, and then to sell out the second show, it was...I don't know, we were all very taken aback by it.

After we had finished the set I was sitting at the top of the stairs collecting myself and David Byrne was suddenly walking up towards me. I was like, "Wow, hey David, thanks for coming to check us out," and he said he really enjoyed it. It was so weird how it went from picking out a song to cover, sitting in the studio pouring through the box set, to suddenly now, here's David Byrne taking time out of his day to come watch our live show. Overall it was a special night.

WW: Did you know he was there or had you met him before?

AH: No, never, not at all. That's why it felt like such a huge compliment that not only had he listened to our music, he took the time to ride his bike down to the show, watch the whole set and then come back and shake our hands.

WW: You all live together in the same house, does this lead to a constant collaborative approach to making music?

AH: We've been friends for a while, and we'd been making music together before Local Natives was ever born. But we all lived in different places, and our priorities were different. It was always this half and half thing -- some guys were finishing school and some guys were concentrating on their nine to five.

We just realized that if we were going to be a band together we needed to be around each other. We make our best music when we're constantly writing and constantly bouncing ideas off each other, so we all moved in together and hunkered down for a while, and the album came out of that experience.

WW: Your album art, website and blog have a unique visual feel. Do you do all of your own artwork and did you design it to say something about the music or the band?

AH: Yeah, it's all done by us. I think the album cover really embodied something that we were going through as a group, which, I guess, on the surface, is just our heads exploding. But it was more the idea of balancing our friendship with this passion for making music.

it's not really the easiest thing to mix those two. There's a lot of butting heads and trust issues and nervousness. I thought that the imagery conjured up the fun that we had producing these songs, while acknowledging that we were complicating things by taking this chance and putting this together.

WW: Your song "World News" is about the depressing state of current affairs, and I noticed that your touring schedule took you right through the apex of horrible events afflicting the U.S.; the flash floods in Tennessee, the gulf coast spill, and now New York City just after the bomb scare. Did any of these events shape your experiences while on tour?

AH: It hasn't been anything that's affected us directly; we haven't been stuck anywhere or had any friends that were a part of any of those horrible events. When you're on tour, you're in a bubble. You get in this robot mode of waking up, traveling, sound checking, performing, sleeping, and then waking up to do it again the next day.

It's good to go to the hotel room and turn on the tv and realize that there are all these really big things happening around the world, and some of them were happening very closely to us. You can get wrapped up in this cycle, so being aware brings you back down. It grounds you.

WW: Which one of you has that bitchin' moustache?

AH: That's Taylor Rice.

WW: Is there a name for that style of moustache?

AH: I have no idea what you call that.

Local Natives, 10 p.m. Friday, May 21, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $10, 303-291-1007 (Sold Out!).

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Jonathan Easley
Contact: Jonathan Easley