Around this time last spring, the NPR Music staff sat around talking about bands we wanted to book for our daytime party at South by Southwest 2010. Those discussions get fairly heated: We're all pulling for our favorites, so coming to a consensus about a band can be as difficult as agreeing on a pizza topping. One band we all got behind pretty quickly was Local Natives.
Since the group's set at SXSW, it's been fun watching Local Natives flourish from a little-known opening act to one of the breakout artists of 2010. The band's well-deserved rise culminated in headlining shows, a prominent gig at Bonnaroo and an album, Gorilla Manor, that found its way onto many best-of-the-year lists. We caught up with Local Natives again late last year, near the end of a tour, and invited the group to the NPR Music offices for a stirring acoustic set behind the Tiny Desk.
The L.A.-based quintet — Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayers, Ryan Hahn, Andy Hamm and Matt Frazier — plays buoyant, infectious songs that brim with sunny melodies and three-part harmonies sung with gentle grace. Local Natives' joyful mix of inventive indie-rock arrangements, clattering Afrobeat rhythms and euphoric chamber-pop harmonies may be what invites listeners in, but the lyrics contain just as much depth and nuance.
The band's yearning set-closer, the soaring "Airplanes," is dedicated to Ayers' deceased pilot grandfather, and the song practically bursts with evocative images — a desk, a set of chopsticks from Japan, a worn encyclopedia — that help listeners piece together what the man was like. When performed in such an intimate and unadorned performance space, that catchy and contemplative song highlights the strength of Local Natives' songwriting and musicianship. It also points to a promising future.
- "Wide Eyes"
- "Cards & Quarters"
Michael Katzif and Bob Boilen (cameras); edited by Michael Katzif; photo by Abby Verbosky