Interview: Matt Frazier of Local Natives

Local Natives

Drummer Matt Frazier talks about graduating to arenas as openers for Kings of Leon, the importance of percussion and melodies in crafting the Local Natives sound, and the next step in following up Hummingbird.

How’s the Kings of Leon tour going so far?

So far, so good. I think tonight is our fourth show. We had our own show in Las Vegas on Sunday night. But yeah, it’s been cool so far. It’s pretty crazy to play such large venues. We’re not really used to this level of touring, I guess, but it’s cool. The feedback’s been really good so far.

I was at the Forum show on Friday and thought it was a great, great show.

Nice. Thanks, man.

Would you say this is the biggest tour you’ve done so far?

Size-wise, this is probably the biggest tour we’ve done. We toured with Arcade Fire a couple years ago, but that was only like four shows. I don’t even think those shows were quite as big as most of these are. So yeah, I’d say so.

I know you have some festival experience playing to larger crowds and your style of music, with the big percussive elements and anthemic qualities, makes it easier to translate to bigger crowds. Do you have to change your approach a little bit when you’re playing these larger shows than when you’re playing in a 1,500-person club?

For these shows in particular, we’ve kind of noticed that obviously we’re the opening band and people don’t show up right on time. We’ve been shifting the song orders around a little bit. Songs we play earlier in the set in our own shows we’re tending to play a little later. We’re playing the songs that maybe will catch on a little quicker later in the set, so more people are hearing these songs. Does that make sense? It’s a shorter set, so we’re just figuring it out as we go.

It’s a little different than playing our own headline theater show, where we can play for an-hour-and-a-half and play every song off both albums almost. We don’t worry if there’s going to be a lull or that people are going to be bored or something. With these shorter sets, we play most of the upbeat stuff.

How did you get on this tour? Did Kings of Leon know who you were and wanted you on it? How did that work?

To be honest, I’m not 100 percent sure on this story. I know a couple guys in our band have crossed paths with one or two of the guys in their band. I think one of their guys might have liked our music, or something like that, and put out a good word. They offered up the tour a couple months ago. I think it was a little bit of that happened.

They’re one of the biggest mainstream rock bands out there right now. Has this perked your interest in pursuing more mainstream success, or are you content with where you’re at?

I wouldn’t say it’s making us rethink the book or anything like that. We’re definitely happy with how things are going for us. I don’t know. We never came into the band being like, All right, we’re going to be this grunge-down, indie band forever, or we’re going to be a mainstream band.

We’re just doing what we want to do, making the music we’re happy with and proud of. If that reaches to a larger audience, awesome. Like I said, we’re totally content with where we are now. Hopefully, it keeps going in a positive direction and we can keep this as our careers.

Part of that goes along with being such a hardworking touring band, and I read somewhere you did 188 shows last year alone. How does constantly being on the road play a factor in creating an identity for you?

For us, playing shows, I wouldn’t say it’s number one, but it’s definitely always been one of the most important things about our band, just honing our craft and trying to be the best live band we can possibly be. Having played hundreds of shows does help that.

When we first started, we were touring all across the country and playing for next to nobody. We kept playing shows, playing shows, and then slowly it started to grow. At least for us, it was really important to go through all those growing pains and see the growth happen. It makes stuff like this and these tours, I appreciate it even more looking back on all the other stuff.

I don’t think we’ll ever not be a constantly touring band. Obviously, we’re going to tone it back a little bit for now because we’re starting to work on the new record, but once that’s finished then I’m sure we’ll hit the road again for another 18 months or whatever.

Your last record, Hummingbird, is a little over a year old now. It got a lot of acclaim and was one of my favorites from last year as well. Looking back on that record now, are you still proud of that one?

Yeah, definitely. If we were to look at one of our records through a microscope, there would be a billion things we could change about all the stuff, but we’re definitely still very proud of it. It was a good direction for us. It was a good stepping stone into our third record. I’m happy with it.

One of the big calling cards of Local Natives is the percussive element and all the drumming. At what point during the songwriting process is that incorporated and you’re allowed to put your stamp on the song?

Each song is a different story. There have been songs, like on Hummingbird, “Wooly Mammoth,” for instance. That stemmed from me and Ryan jamming. He had a guitar riff and I came up with this busy thumping pattern. It kind of stemmed from that, and Ryan’s guitar part isn’t even in the finished version. Not to say that it stems from that drumbeat, but that was the basis for it, and then we went from there.

For most of the songs one of the guys will have a semi-fleshed out basic song structure and melody, and then we’ll work in small pairs or small groups. It will grow more and more, and eventually we’ll be jamming as a full band and working on all the rhythms and stuff. There’s no rhyme or reason to our writing process. It’s whatever works, goes.

You have three main songwriters in the band and I’ve read you try to be as democratic as possible with everything you do. How does that all fit together and you’re able to make it work?

Like you said, there’s three guys that songs will stem from. We all realize and know that, at the end of the day, any of our finished Local Natives songs couldn’t have come from just one of the guys. It’s always very much a product of everybody and everybody puts in a 110 percent in the band, whether it’s in the songwriting or whether it’s in artwork. Staying equal partners and doing things that way seems to make the most sense for us.

On the live shows Kelsey will sometimes play percussion on some of the songs. How does that tie in with what you do and how do you make that work together?

That was something we started doing while we were writing Gorilla Manor. Kelsey originally started as a drummer when he was real young, so he has that rhythmic quality to him and inclination.

I remember we were working on a song. It probably didn’t even make Gorilla Manor, but we were working on this rhythm. He had these toms set up and we were coming up with this syncopated beat that really not just one person could play. Not that it became a thing, but especially on the first record it became a big part of it. Creating unique rhythms with two people, rather than just one guy, is something we are really fond of.

Looking at your two records, what would you say is the song that has the most intricate drumming part for you?

I’d probably say “Wooly Mammoth” is definitely up there. Even “Bowery,” actually, the last song on the last record. The latter part of that song I came up this pretty intricate break-beat type thing that finishes out the album. It was definitely one of the more intricate things I’ve come up with.

In addition to the percussion, one of the other things that stands out about you guys is the harmonies that you do and are able to replicate live. Can you talk about how you come up with those and how they are woven into the songwriting?

That’s another thing that became a really important part of this band, especially making the first record. Ryan, Taylor and Kelsey have known each other longer than I’ve known any of them combined. They went to high school together and were singing together, and have been longtime friends and musician partners and whatnot. They mesh really well vocally, especially.

As we were writing more and more songs, and as more people put their hand in the ring for wanting to sing, they started working on harmonies. Like I said, they mesh really well together, and they’ve been doing it for so long, it just became an integral part of the band.

I think they were a little more present on the first record. On the second record we tried to dial them back. Not get rid of the harmonies, or anything like that, but maybe use them a little more tastefully and not put them on every part on every song kind of thing. I think it’ll always be something that’s important to this band and a part of this band.

You mentioned you’ve started work on the third record. How far along are you on that process and what are you hoping to accomplish this time around?

We’re definitely still very bare bones, barely even started. We finished touring at the end of last year and took a month or two off for the holidays and split off. In the past few weeks before this tour started, we started to get back in our practice space and jamming and stuff.

There’s some little seeds of ideas bouncing around, but nothing fully fleshed out or anything like that. I think when this tour ends we’ll really hit it hard and hopefully spend most of the summer holed up, cranking stuff out.

Sonically, we’ll see what happens. We definitely want to keep pushing ourselves and trying new things. It’s a little too soon to tell, but we’ll see.

You recorded Hummingbird in Brooklyn. Is that something you’d like to do again, or would you like to record back home in L.A.?

I don’t know. We’re not sure yet. It all depends on how the songwriting process goes, and if we end up working with a producer again or we end up doing it ourselves. There’s a lot of variables up in the air.

It was nice to get out of our element and be somewhere else and be influenced by a different place, which was cool. I could definitely see us doing that again. Maybe not Brooklyn, maybe somewhere else more secluded, but we’ll see.

You worked as a graphic designer before the band took off. Are you still able to use those skills with Local Natives?

Yeah, definitely. I did the packaging for Hummingbird. It’s still something that very much comes in handy with our band with us being so collaborative. Ryan has a history in advertising and design, and our new bass player, Nik, also has a background in graphic design. So we have now three guys that are the art department in the band, per se.

It’s nice because we’re capable of doing this ourselves. It saves us money and hassle in a way, because we’re all pretty hands on and opinionated. So, it works out.