A bus full of teenage girls in torn shorts and tank tops seem desperately misinformed: it’s August in San Francisco, 58ºF and cloudy. “I’m like a die hard,” one girl says. She’s riffing on the Arctic Monkeys. Talk shifts to Kanye. “He’s so dramatic,” another opines. They keep their hearts open, without sleeves to wear them on.
At the second stop the bus pulls to the curb and kneels. Union Square. Downtown. A wave of passengers enter to maximum capacity. Bodies huddle, the bus quiets, and talk turns more to whispers. We ride in hushed near-silence up the hill on Fulton, then begin our descent to Golden Gate Park. At 25th, everyone exits in a hurry: music is in the air.
The polo field’s socked in and a breeze blows chill, but up north, at the peak of the grounds — Hellman Hollow — a few bits of blue sky poke through. Throughout the day, the sun does a slow creep, and by 1:45 p.m., it beats out the clouds and the whole park is bathed in sunshine. For now, the teens dressed right. More of their cronies, some scantily, some more appropriately equipped, pour through the gates like water through a dam. The place starts to swell. By mid-afternoon, the grass is bursting with life.
If nothing else, music festivals are about a balance of excess and restraint — an overwhelming amount of music, alcohol, food, bodies, and sound, counterpointed by the need (at times) to focus, be in the moment, absorb. It’s the paradox of tens of thousands people gathering together to listen to something that’s singularly important to them. Their song. Their favorite band. Despite the surface troubles of taking individual messages to the masses, it somehow works; music boosted from high-voltage speakers reaches you and there’s connection, listener to tune. It’s raw. It’s real. And it draws you in.
The day stays sunny, as if the sky itself wants to be a part of the fun. There’s local flavor on display: food, beer, wine. Gen-Y hipster girls put flowers in their hair. Charcuterie is cut from cured pork. Wine is sipped from clear plastic glasses. And onstage the musicians sing their tunes like minstrels of old. They pull, like pied pipers, the audience stage-ward, and the enchanted come in droves; they listen to their song, the ancient way to share stories, experiences, life.
We were there. We heard them sing, and we talked shop about their song.
Reverb and slick hooks make Local Natives sound familiar, like some common rock lullaby (oxymoron withstanding) we all shared as kids. Taylor Rice, the band’s frontman (and a former schoolmate of mine), gave an honest, humble look at the band’s wild travels, the timing of his stage dives, and the band’s electric live energy.
GEAR PATROL A decade ago we were in high school, and now you guys are rockstars. How’d you do that?
Taylor Rice Well, obviously you know we’ve been doing this since we were kids, and we just kept doing it through college. And then once we graduated, we said, “This is it, we want to do this, this is our dream, let’s go for it.” So we moved in together and made our first record, Gorilla Manor, and then we’ve been doing it full time since then.
GP.And that was a bit of a self-produced album, right?
TR. Yeah, we made it with Raymond Richards in LA, but we very much toured with these songs and we’d written them all in our rehearsal space and, yeah, pretty much had the album as it was as we went into the studio.
GP.What’s that album’s experience like against your latest album?
TR. Hummingbird was a very different process. It was much more “experiment and record as we went along”. We didn’t tour the songs as much because we were kind of just writing them in the studio. It has limitations and also strengths. The arrangements [on Hummingbird] are really lush and orchestrated and there’s a lot more going on. For this next record we’re moving into a larger studio space so that we can kind of play all these songs as a full band live.
GP.You guys done touring for a while?
Yeah, we just have a few festivals going on, but we’re pretty much at home full time, writing.
GP.Live, you are electric. Like, lots of energy. How do you tap into that?
TR. It’s pretty automatic. I guess I’d say we’re more of a live band. We toured a lot before Local Natives even started and, last year, we were the most touring band in the world. We love playing live. We love playing together. There’s just nothing more fun and awesome than playing a show in front of people. It comes really easy for us. It’s kind of like a drug; we really long for it. When you come off tour, you have this big comedown of not having that.
GP.And the stage dives planned? Or impromptu?
TR. It’s impromptu. It doesn’t happen every time. You just kind of see how the show’s feeling.
GP.Some people (like me) like normalcy and a set schedule.
TR. That’s true. And everything is around the show is really hard. But the show — the hour and half is the best part of the day. All the travel and things around it can get hard, but being on stage is the thing that fuels us to keep doing it.
GP.And how do you come down after a show? How do you settle — or do you ride the wave?
TR. For me, you kind of flit in and out of it. It feels very normal at this point because we’ve done it so much. It is a strange thing, and when you don’t tour for long you realize how weird it is, but usually, when we’re in tour mode, it just feels very normal.
GP. As you guys have risen up the ranks, do you feel yourselves changing?
TR. The thing that’s changed is the lifestyle is super weird and kind of out of the box, and not a lot of people can relate to it. As far as the rest of it: no. Everybody’s still just the normal junior high, high school kid I’ve known forever.
GP. What’s the best part of the lifestyle?
TR. Definitely the travel. Besides music, travel is my favorite thing to do. That’s what’s so rad about being a musician: you get to see the world and go to all these places you never get to go otherwise.
GP. You guys all still live in a house in Silverlake?
TR. No. Thank God, no. I live in Mt. Washington now. I really love that neighborhood. It’s very much home. It’s a great creative place.
GP. Do you feel like your sound comes from the urban setting? Or do you feel that OC, where we grew up, still infiltrates into the music?
TR. That’s an interesting angle. We lived in LA for so long now, and I think that’s most directly the experience, but of course — the roots of driving around suburban southern California listening to the Beach Boys, that’s in there somewhere.
For us there’s not this grand architecture game plan. We try to be pretty honest about where we are and let the songs be what our experience is. Our writing is all very personal. Our songs show pretty directly where we were at the time when we made them.
GP. You guys have a pretty collaborative way of creating. What happens when there’s disagreements?
TR. [Laughs]; what happens every day, all the time? Every day, all the time it’s like a crazy democracy-in-action thing. You see why it’s good to have a dictatorship, sometimes. You see why it can be good to have leaders. But it’s a cool thing to have a band where you have multiple people that you believe in so much as song writers. Kelsey, Ryan and I’ve been writing songs together since we were like 15.
GP. What point did you realize, “this dream of ours is actually happening — we’re becoming the rockstars we always dreamed we could become”?
TR. It’s such a long, gradual climb — there’s not this one “We did it!” and you sign the contract and it’s over. But, we used to have $5 a day to live off of and we’d get the foot long sandwich and eat half of it for lunch and half for dinner. And I remember the first time when we actually had a per diem and I actually could eat food that I wanted to eat. That was huge.
And not having to work another job to pay rent is such a crazy, crazy thing. It’s an awesome, liberating thing. We’re so fortunate to have that. We still feel really fortunate to have our time be focused on making and playing music.
GP. What would you tell the next generation(s)?
TR. The thing we learned after doing it for years was that you really have to do it yourself. There’s no single step where you get the right label or agent that will make it happen for you. No one cares about your career or music as much as you do — especially in the beginning. You just have to really take control of all that and be really passionate about every little, tiny thing.
Like the guy we all wish we were, Scott Hansen pulls off cool with no effort at all. He makes smooth music. He creates compelling visuals. He’s got great hair. And in live performance, he brings it all together in squeaky clean harmony. We talked about Awake, his new album, and how he turns the blinders on when getting down to make music.
GEAR PATROL You’re a local [to San Francisco] guy—where do you find your inspiration here?
Scott Hansen I usually get outside the city and go to Big Sur or go back home to the valley [Sacramento]. That was what informed my work originally — growing up in those environments. [San Francisco] has always been kind of foreign to me, and that’s what I like about it. It’s exhilarating in that sense, but it doesn’t really speak to my work as much as those other places.
GP.Got any ways of getting into the Tycho mindset before you go on?
SH. Not really. I wish I did; it’d probably help a lot with relaxing.
GP. Between your two records, and just over time, how’s your music changed?
SH. It used to be just me doing just decidedly electronic stuff (with some organic elements), but when I started working with the other guys for the live shows — bringing in Zach [Brown] on bass and guitar and Rory [O’Connor] on drums — and then after touring with them for a while, I realized this is what I wanted the next album to sound like. And that’s what Awake was.
So it’s just become a little more driven, which is what the live show is all about. A little more guitar centric. The live elements have come to the forefront and the electronic stuff serves as the backdrop. It’s minor shifts, but that’s kind of been the trajectory.
GP. If you could go back and give yourself some advice —
SH. Oh man. That’d be tough. I think just “start earlier.” I didn’t start music and design until I was about 21 or 22; that’s part of why my music sounds the way it does and the art looks the way it does. I came to it late and I came to it from a different perspective than someone who understood it at a base level. So I think, just get an earlier start. I’m always like, “I wish I had more time to do this or learn that,” and I feel like I’m kind of playing catch up.
GP. Fair or unfair, at first, I pinned your style as music for musicians. So always been curious: when you’re creating music, are you thinking of fellow musicians or the general public?
SH. I try to stay in that mode of not really considering how the work is going to be received or experienced by anybody other than myself and my closest friends. I feel like I don’t want it to be colored by that. Especially now, since we play so many live shows, we have a tendency to say, “Well, how is this going to sound live?” It’s unavoidable at some point, but usually you’re in the moment and inspired and creating and everything turns off. You have blinders. You’re just right there, trying to keep the flow going.
Throw eleven Oregonians in a room full of instruments and you’ll get music. Throw Typhoon in there, and you’ll get a tonal storm (had to). The group brings big energy and happy vibes, balancing out frontman Kyle Morton’s introspective lyrics. We caught up with a few dudes — Eric Stripe (trumpet), Tyler Ferrin (horns), and Alex Fitch (drums) — to chat communal living and hip hop.
GERA PATROL You guys keep any pre-show pump-up routines?
Eric Stripe We actually do. We have this one thing we do before every show —
Tyler Ferrin — we huddle and we all put our hands in. And then we sing the victory song from Final Fantasy [they sing the tune] and then we cheer to whatever we decide. It’s different every show. It’s usually kind of silly. Yesterday we were at the science museum, so we said, “Science Rules.”
Alex Fitch In honor of Bill Nye.
Tyler Ferrin We’ve played shows where we didn’t do that before, and they were bad. So we have to do it. We’ve been doing it for like 10 years. And sometimes we listen to Rage Against the Machine.
GP. You know the crowd pleaser songs, but do you have a band pleaser, something that gets you guys going?
ES. Right now, “Hunger and Thirst” because it has a sick horn lick in the beginning of it.
TF. It’s the most rockin’ song.
ES. And Kyle has a sick guitar solo in it. That’s my fav.
AF. Generally, it’s the crowd pleaser and the band pleaser.
ES. Yah, it’s a banger.
GP. So with 11 people, do you guys all live in like a large communal house up in Portland?
TF. That’s the dream —
ES. — but no, we all live in separate spots.
TF. There’s been a time when up to four of us have lived in one house. But, no, we’ve all kind of scattered. A lot of people live with girlfriends.
GP. You guys recorded the last album on a farm; how are you going to top that?
TF. I don’t know. We heard Canada —
ES. Ahhh, yeah. Alberta, man. We were driving through that and that would be a pan-ultimate place.
GP. What do you do when you don’t have the instrument in hand.
ES. Hang out with my girlfriend. Spend some quality time.
TF. I work at a record store in Portland.
AF. Bike a lot. Be outdoors.
ES. When the season is right, a few of us fish a bit and go hunting. That’s kind of a fun thing to do.
GP. You guys play happy music that the crowds love. How do you come down from that? Is there a moment when you’re back on the tour bus, and it’s quiet?
ES. Not really. We like to hang out and interact with people who come to the show. We like to go mingle with people.
TF. We’re at a level where we can go out and mingle and not get overwhelmed. It’s nice. People seem to enjoy that. Or we get back in the van and that’s when the hip hop comes on.
AF. Then it’s officially party mode.
TF. And usually the energy’s still there.
AF. But it also depends on how to drunk you are.
In some weird aether between dark and light, warm and frigid, Warpaint’s sound lives, reverberating and brooding. It’s haunting. It’s gorgeous. And the girls of the band are as enigmatic as the sound they produce. We sat down with Stella Mozgawa and Emily Kokal to talk festivals, energy, and great silences.
GEAR PATROL How’s the festival vibe — or do you prefer playing venues?
Emily Kokal Depends on what festival. Some are super plush and have massages and organic food and manservants.
Stella MozgawaI guess it depends on the festival and you. This is really nice though.
GP. What about the crowd energy?
SM. Also depends — on what country you’re in.
EK. And time of day. Traditionally though, when we play our own shows, sold out, in the evening — those are some of the highlights of our experience because it’s so intimate, and it’s our crowd.
GP. Your music has this terrifying nature that I can’t seem to shake. Is that me or you?
EK. Everyone’s coming from their unique energy and their own unique places. I think it’s about expressing your emotions and using music as the facilitator to do that. And also I think that’s just the integration of us and how we work. We seem to pull those kinds of moods into the music quite naturally, without the intention of doing so.
GP. So things flow organically? Or do you like “get in the mood”?
SM. We definitely know when we’re in songwriting mode, but we don’t have to vocalize it. In that moment, everything else is kind of eliminated. Even though we talk a lot about very specific things and we put every thing under the microscope, we also try a hundred different ideas. We never have a direction per say, except for the ones we create in our own heads.
GP. At what point do you say, this song’s ready?
EK. Never. After it’s recorded and we can’t touch it anymore.
SM. If it’s mastered and done and released and people are buying it already.
EK. After they undo our handcuffs.
GP. You ever get any downtime, and what do you do in those moments?
EK. We just got off for three weeks on the road. Personally, I’m just not one of those people who is like, “I’ve got some downtime and I don’t know how to sit still and relax. I’ll write a novel or go skydiving.” I like to chill.
GP. What’s on the playlist these days? Who’s got your ear?
SM. I’m fanatically listening to Caribou’s last album, in anticipation for his next album.
EK. A lot of Nirvana lately. And, I guess for those few weeks off, I kind of just enjoyed the silence.
Bluegrass is tasty however it’s served, but these brothers are cooking with some secret sauce. Is it: communal life on Haight Street? a deluge of Lagunitas? the mandolin? Whatever the recipe, their hell-raising energy brings on the boot tapping. We joined Ben and Alex Morrison, Phil Brezina, Ryan Avellone, and Ryan Lukas to talk folk shop.
GEAR PATROL Pre-game routines, to get pumped:
Ryan Avellone Smoking lots of weed. Whippets, too.
Ben Morrison That’s not actually true. We tend to drink beer. A couple beers.
Alex Morrison 8 Minute Abs.
Ryan Lukas Ladies.
GP. How’d you come to your sound?
RA. That goes to our pre-game ritual of lots of beer. Then you sound like us — not in tune, throwing a banjo in there.
BM. It comes down to not really knowing how to play bluegrass music. We try to imitate it. By imitating we’ve kind of made our own style.
AM. What it really is, is that the Bay Area is a hotbed of innovation and open, non-judgement mentality. So people can play whatever they want, and what happens is you have the freedom for uninhibited style that naturally or organically happens.
RL. It’s like a melting pot.
RL. Barbara Streisand
PB. Usher — but truly.
BM. Keith Richards.
RA. Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. We’re kind of all about the energy. The feel — rather than being a precise bluegrass band.
BM. We’re more song focused than solo focused. A lot of bluegrass is about solos — how badass I can be in this solo. Which these guys can do. But we’re trying to be more song focused, is where we’re going with it. What serves the song the best, not every single person taking a solo for the song.
RA. And then live it’s all about the energy. When I go to shows, I like to see a punk rock band that’s moving constantly and engaged with the crowd heavily, and we do that, too. Especially after a lot of beers.
GP. Is there a song that gets you guys going every time?
PB. “Drop It Likes It’s Hot.” Snoop Dogg.
BM. We did actually play the same festival as Snoop — Wakarusa, out in Arkansas. And we were all just —
RA. — We were on drugs. Let’s be honest.
BM. And it was the best fucking thing in the world. It was awesome.
PB. Put on “Drop It Like It’s Hot” in your car with the good stereo, turn it up pretty loud, and then come back and say you didn’t like that song. Dude, do it. If you don’t like it, you missed it.
GP. Who’s the best dancer in the band?
RA. Who’s the whitest dancer? Ben and Alex?
BM. What are you talking about? We got moves for days.
RL. I’ll probably say that Phil’s the best dancer.
AM. Are we talking about jazz, tap or interpretive?
GP. How is it living together in the Haight Street house?
BM. It’s alright.
AM. We should move on.
GP. What’s your creative spark — a place you go, a time you’re like, “hey, we’re making something good right now.”
BM. We kind of do our own thing, and then we bring it together. A lot of magic has happened in the living room of the Haight Street [house]. That’s a magic spot.
GP. You guys have done two albums; on the new album, can we expect more of the same, or you got any tricks up your sleeve?
AM. Both — more of the same and new. We’re trying to expand upon what we think is good in what we do.
BM. So all will be catchy, danceable songs.
RL. And we’ll throw in a ballad or two. Phil, thoughts on that?
PB. I’m thinking about tricks in a different form of the word…
GP. Last question, where do you guys want to be in three years?
BM. Living in my parents’ extra room.
RA. No, we did a tour earlier this year, opening for The Devil Makes Three and it was their first tour on a tour bus, and their audience was so dedicated and they were playing the right-size venues.
BM. They sold out every show. Their crowd is fucking nuts.
RA. That level, where they’re at is a goal for us.
BM. And a band like them, who, you don’t hear those guys on the radio or out in the media, but they’re doing it. Fans love them.
RA. Nothing crazy big. Just the right size.