L.A. darlings Local Natives have had a big year—a UK tour, a record deal, and a road trip with Fool’s Gold and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. Bassist Andy Hamm stepped outside on a chilly afternoon in Seattle to share with us some of the highlights. This interview by Amber Hollingsworth.
I saw you guys open at the El Rey last month and I thought you just stole the show. I’m so excited to hear you’re touring with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros—how did that come together?
Andy Hamm: We hung out with a couple of guys from Fool’s Gold, who are also on the tour, and they asked us to jump on. We were like, “God, Fool’s Gold already has anywhere from 7 to 11 members, and Edward Sharpe has anywhere from 12 to 15,” but it’s cool because it’s like an L.A. representation. I think it’s hard to find three bands that get along and all are doing their own thing—nobody’s really stepping on each other’s toes stylewise or musically.
What’s it like hanging out with a huge troupe of hippies? I just imagine so many hugs on this tour.
Andy Hamm: One big happy hippy family? Yeah, everybody’s really cool. There are so many of them, you hang out with a new person every night. And on stage, we play during the Edward Sharpe set, sometimes a bunch of their guys jump up on one of our songs, and same thing for Fool’s Gold. Edward Sharpe lets us use a bunch of their equipment too, and the guys who do sound for our shows actually played in Fool’s Gold. So yeah, the more I think about it, it is this big commune of L.A. people who play music together and share everything, and it works out to everybody’s benefit.
I wanted to congratulate you on getting signed to Frenchkiss Records. How did that happen?
Andy Hamm: Yeah, thanks! It was important for us to find someone who’s on the same page, and we’d been talking to them for awhile. They saw us I think the first time we played in New York 6 to 8 months ago, and we just kept in touch. We met with a few others, but with Frenchkiss, they just thought what we thought. That’s what was most important to us when partnering up with a label—finding people we get along with and who let us do our thing.
Your album is due out in the U.S. in February. There’s been so much buzz about your live performances—what can we expect from the Local Natives studio album?
Andy Hamm: What I love about it is they’re two totally different things: if you listen to the album and like it, then hopefully you’ll love the live show. The feedback that we get is that the live show is more energetic and a bit more in-your-face. The album shows off the separate orchestrated parts, and the melodies come out a lot more. If people see us and expect to hear exactly what the record sounds like—you’re not going to get that, but you’ll definitely get a new experience.
I like the band name Local Natives, it’s subtly funny. Who came up with it?
Andy Hamm: I actually came up with it. We were in the middle of recording the album when we decided we needed a name, and we were going through lists and lists. But I liked Local Natives; it rolls off the tongue and it’s redundant in sort of a quirky way. We thought it was a good representation of us too because, as a group, everybody writes and everybody contributes—it’s very much a family effort within the band.
Is everyone actually from L.A.?
Andy Hamm: I grew up in Golden, Colorado. Ryan, Taylor, and Kelsey all grew up in Orange County, and Matt grew up in Chino Hills.
You guys have been living in a house together in Silverlake. Give me some secrets—who has the most annoying habit?
Andy Hamm: Ugh, there are a lot of annoying habits. Taylor’s probably the worst with the dishes and leaving lights on. Ryan’ll sleep all day long if you let him, so we’ll be in the van ready to go on tour or head to the practice studio and he’s always the last one out. We also own a rat named Burpy Christ that lives upstairs with Matt, I don’t even want to get into that.
Haha fair enough. So quick story: I was walking back from your show and I ran into my friend and I said “Oh man I just saw this band Local Natives, they blew me away!” and he gets this look on his face and says, “Yeah, I know them. My ex-girlfriend broke up with me to go out with one of them.” My question is, have you ever stolen anything from someone?
Andy Hamm: Wow! Well, I used to be quite a Dennis the Menace. I was troublesome but I always got away with it. I knew how to talk to people and be sweet. As far as stealing, I was pretty young, must’ve been 5th grade, but I had a friend who lived across the street from me (he’s one of my best friends to this day), and I remember I was at his house and I was looking for a toy or something in his room, and I saw a $5 bill just chilling there and something just clicked. I grabbed it and put it in my pocket and then I went in to him, and I could feel the guilt weighing in, so I just said “Uhh my mom’s calling me, I gotta go home.” I ran across the street and got home and 5 minutes later the doorbell rings and it’s him. He’s like, “Hey man, there was $5 in my room, did you take it?” And it’s that moment of truth, and the guilt’s weighing on me and I’m like, “Yeah… I got it right here,” and I gave it back. I remember I couldn’t hang out with him for what was probably only a week but what felt like a year.
So your bad behavior was pretty innocent at the heart of it.
Andy Hamm: I probably did a lot of stuff that I shouldn’t have done when I was little, but I was never that kid that would walk into a Radio Shack and grab a CD player. It was more like water guns and snowballs, stuff that a young boy living in Golden, Colorado would do.
I read on your blog about the fan in Vermont who hosted you in her home when you toured through there. Is that a typical Local Natives approach to touring, just get there and hope to find a place to sleep?
Andy Hamm: We do that in almost every town. It works. It’s a combination of us not having a lot of money and you know, our music just seems to attract very good-natured people. So we’ll usually just announce it in the set. We’ll say, “Hey, we have sleeping bags, we don’t smell that bad, so if you have room on your floor…” and I’d say 90% of the time there’s at least one person that says, “I’ve got a tiny one-bedroom but if you don’t mind sleeping on the tile floor in the kitchen, you can do it.” Luckily no one in the band is a prima donna, so it works.
So the other 10% of the time, do you end up sleeping in very sketchy places?
Andy Hamm: I’d be lying if I said it’s always been hunky dory. There was one time, I think it was our first time we had toured outside of the West Coast, and we stayed in Philadelphia. It was approaching last call, around 2:30 a.m., everybody had been drinking, and it was one of those nights where partying came above being responsible and finding a place to crash, so none of us had really met anybody with a place we could crash at, and there wasn’t a hotel in sight. We met this guy who was just sitting by himself at the bar, and he was like, “I loved you guys.” And he was older, like mid-40s I would guess—he just sort of had a weird vibe about him. But it was 3:00 in the morning, the bar was closing, and so we followed the guy to his apartment. Well first he took us to this bar that was still open, and he just sat there and drank I think three PBRs and two shots of whiskey, and we literally just sat there in the bar with him. Then he took us to his apartment, and he put on… this is really weird the more I think about it… he put on a murder mystery on a record player. It was like someone reading a murder mystery, a book on tape, but it was on record. And we all laid down and he just let it play. So the story’s playing while I’m trying to sleep, about this guy who’s murdering women. And then I woke up and the dude was just sitting by himself in the room we crashed in by an open window with a 6-pack of PBR and chain smoking cigarettes. This was at like 5:00 in the morning. So, I didn’t go to sleep past that—I don’t think any of us went to sleep. I remember leaning over and looking at Kelsey and his eye was open, giving me that look like, “Do we run now and save our lives or do we just pretend we’re asleep?”
Did you bail as soon as the sun came up?
Andy Hamm: Yeah I mean everything turned out fine. Who knows, that guy was very nice to us on the surface, maybe he was just a character, I don’t know. Hopefully he doesn’t read this and come seek us out or something…
LOCAL NATIVES WITH VOXHAUL BROADCAST AND CHIEF ON TUE., DEC. 22, AT THE ECHO, 1822 W. SUNSET BLVD, LOS ANGELES. 8:30PM / $5 ADVANCE / $10 AT DOOR / AND A CAN OF FOOD / ALL AGES. ATTHEECHO.COM LOCAL NATIVES’ GORILLA MANOR IS DUE OUT IN THE U.S. ON FRENCHKISS RECORDS FEBRUARY 16, 2010.