MUSIC | Local Natives’ Andy Hamm: They belong in small clubs, but they’re coming to First Ave


Local Natives are on a quick ascent. The LA-based band opened for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros at the Varsity Theater last November, before returning to Minneapolis this May to headline a sweaty sold-out show at the 400 Bar. On October 1st they’ll make the leap to the First Avenue Mainroom in support of their debut album Gorilla Manor.

Some bands fizzle after a Pitchfork “best new music” coronation, but talking to bassist Andy Hamm made me even more confident these guys are in it for the long haul. He called me from the road in Europe to discuss the summer festival circuit, working with music video directors, and how the band’s collaboration extends beyond those tight three-part harmonies.

According to MySpace, you guys are playing the Open Air Festival in Zurich tomorrow. Are you in Europe now?
Yes. We’re at a gas station filling up on horrible food.

You’ve been hitting the festival scene hard this summer. What’s been your favorite festival to play?
They each have their own sort of energy and experience. I can’t think of one festival that
has stood out as “the one.” Glastonbury was super overwhelming. You’re surrounded by dozens of bands and trying to see a lot of them, and take part in other things going on. Smaller festivals have a more relaxed atmosphere, which allows you to go on little adventures, meet people, and explore the town.

So it sounds like you check out other bands when you can?
For me that’s the best thing about playing festivals; so many bands. We’ve been on the road so much, I don’t get the chance to see live music, which has always been something I liked to do at home. The festivals give us a chance to see live music.

Which bands have you enjoyed seeing most this summer?
I’ve really really been enjoying Beach House’s latest record, and was finally able to see them about a week ago. The National have been putting on really solid shows. I’ve been listening to Totally Fucked a lot, and just got the chance to see them, which was great because we’ve been just missing each other by a day or so on the road this summer.

Gorilla Manor was released in Europe before it was releases here in North America, and it seems like you had a big fan base over there even before the US release. What’s the difference between playing for European and American audiences?
It feels about the same now. We had some steam in the UK before the album was released in the US, but we’d booked a tour run ourselves before then, and had picked up a fan base [in the US] before it came out.

Yeah, it seemed as soon as the record came out everyone was buzzing about it.
We were surprised by how quickly it picked up, but we had had an EP floating around for awhile.

I’ve read in a couple places that everything you do is a complete collaboration, from song writing to album artwork. Is this true, and how do you manage that?
It is true. It was something that happened naturally. We’ve known each other a lot longer than Local Natives ever existed. Over time we’ve tried out different styles, and in the end we found what worked best was everyone contributing to the writing and other components. We started doing everything ourselves…putting our twist on it and being a hands-on band. When we formed Local Natives we decided we wanted to do things in-house.

Is it hard to do so much yourselves?
It is a constant struggle between wanting control of all aspects and how much of that you can actually manage. But we’ve kinda found through experience, when you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.

Matthew Lessner directed the video for “World News.” Did you collaborate with him on that?
Videos have always been something we’ve had difficulty with. “Airplanes” we had no hand in at all. It was a trust-the-label thing. With “World News,” we brainstormed on the idea together with Lessner. I think it pleased everyone in the band a lot more and was definitely the band’s vision. We’ve got a couple more in the works now.

How are you doing the new videos?
We’re doing both the videos on our own with a couple directors we found ourselves. Originally the UK label hired someone to direct, but it wasn’t meshing with what we wanted or our vision. There’s a guy who plays in another band in LA who directs. We called him up and said we’d brainstorm ideas together, and he’d execute our vision. And we found another director after seeing some work of hers we liked.

Have you been writing on the road?
We haven’t been doing much writing on the road-just a little bit here or there. It’s hard to get everyone in a room together. When we have a little time we usually go off and do something by ourselves, since the five of us are with each other all the time otherwise.

You all lived together in the same house when you recorded the first album. Will you be living together again when you make the new record?
Everyone is super anxious and excited to write the new record, which we’ll probably start doing in January. I know we need to be in close proximity to do it, but we haven’t figured that out yet if that means living together or not.

Yesterday you tweeted that you “miss playing small sweaty clubs,” which made me laugh, because when you were at the 400 Bar here in May, the place was an absolute sauna…the walls were falling off and your monitors went out halfway through the set.
We’ve played in so many small, sweaty clubs and bars. That’s what we were doing at the start, before any of the big shows or festivals. I think we feel a certain comfort zone in places with super low ceiling and sound problems. There’s an excitement and attraction for us. It keeps us on our toes and reminds us we’re a brand new band and we should feel fortunate to be where we are. It’s always good to be in the small clubs…where we probably belong as a new band.