For the past eight years, Kelcey Ayer and his bandmates from Local Natives have consistently pushed to create music that is different from anything they have done previously. This process has piqued the interest in many; 2010’s ‘Gorilla Manor’ peaked at No. 160 on the Billboard Top 200 and 2013’s ‘Hummingbird’ debuted at No. 12. Last year, Local Natives released their most cohesive album to date ‘Sunlit Youth’.
Before Local Natives prepped to release ‘Sunlit Youth’, Ayer booked some time at Electro-Vox in Los Angeles. During this time, Ayer allowed himself to be open emotionally which culminated in some powerful results. Ayer came back to the studio to complete the songs with the help of his bandmate Local Natives’ drummer Matt Frazier.
‘Tasha Sits Close To The Piano’, named by his wife after their dog Tasha, allows one-third of the songwriting process for Local Natives to embrace Ayer’s nuances and indulge in them. Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Ayer to talk more about the album, what led to the musician to go about releasing the music, and much more. Here’s what he said.
Your mom pushed you the play piano when you were young. Looking back, when did it become clear that your passion for the instrument come full bloom?
I would say by the end of high school I was writing mostly on piano, and it took over as my main instrument. But if you want to talk full bloom, I’d say ever since I bought my Boston Steinway upright piano for my apartment here in LA, towards the end of 2012. Before that, I had my parent’s piano which they refused to tune, so it sounded like shit for most of my life. Then when I moved into a house I shared with the other Local Natives’ guys, I bought this thrift store upright for like 60 bucks, and that had its charm and worked for a while. But once I decided that my work deserved an actually great sounding piano, I went to this piano sale Steinway does at the Walt Disney Concert Hall every year, and I tried a bunch out and did a payment plan and everything, it felt like buying a car. But it was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’ve been getting so much out of it ever since. I’d say this Jaws of Love record is the latest step towards full bloom. To say I’ve fully bloomed with it bums me out because I want to continue to go down the rabbit hole with it. I think I’ve barely scratched the surface.
What was the driving force ultimately to release some solo work?
I think I just had too many songs written that I needed to release. I probably knew that subconsciously, which led me to jump into a studio with zero plans, and then realized it was something I needed to do. I’ve always wanted to release solo material, so it’s always been more of a matter of time than if.
The album explores the wonders of love and all that comes along with it. When piecing together the lyrical content, did you found yourself opening up more than you ever have?
I don’t think this material, at least lyrically, is something I haven’t done before, but I guess the difference is that I’m diving in way deeper and for much longer. When I zoomed out though and saw that the similarity in the songs was about not just love and relationships, but romantic love, that definitely surprised me and felt different. I had never thought I could write a record like this, so in a way, I felt proud and excited to do something different that felt right.
What made you feel that some of the songs weren’t suitable for Local Natives?
Some of those choices I made on my own, mostly because I just decided they were too dark or slow for the band, and then some of those choices are made because not everyone responds enthusiastically enough for a song to go the distance. A lot of things are happenstance too, like ‘Love Me Like I’m Gone’ could have worked for LN, but we weren’t looking for a song like that at the time, and I started making my JOL record and it just clicked for that.
You have said that in order to write love songs, something had to be wrong. Did you find it difficult to move away from that feeling when you started this project?
Like I said before, I had all these songs that I felt needed to come out one way or another, and so I wasn’t even aware that I had moved away from that feeling. So that was the surprise when I stepped back and looked at all the songs I was considering for Jaws of Love., that I had moved on and was able to write songs about love without even knowing it. I love that. When things just develop organically without any orchestration or master-planning of any kind. From my experience with LN, that’s always been our barometer for when something is good. If it takes a lot of work, it usually means it isn’t working.
How long did the recording process take?
Recording the album took 8 days in the studio (Electro-Vox Studios in LA), and many hours here or there tinkering with things on my own in my apartment or on the road. I’d spent years writing the songs and lyrics, however, and had so much time to think about what I wanted them to sound like, so that, plus the amazing help of Michael Harris (Vox’s head engineer), led to being able to record the album as quickly as we did. We also had to because of LN’s schedule.
Was there any doubt with releasing a solo effort?
I would not say there was doubt, but there definitely was fear. In a band, you have a number of other people who are going through the exact same thing you’re going through, which is something I’ve been used to and have probably taken for granted, the way you would with support from your family or something, but with this I’m alone. No one is more invested in this than I am. So that vulnerability has felt very scary at times. But I love the record and am extremely proud of the songs, so I never felt hesitation in getting it out there.
I read in an interview that you would like to go into doing some stand-up comedy. What peaked your interest in going into that world?
In any circle of friends I’ve ever had, I’ve always been the “funny” guy (gross, hate that I said that, I don’t know, that’s the impression I get), so I’ve always had an interest in comedy. My wife gave me some beginner Groundlings classes a few years ago as a Christmas present, which I wanted to continue but was too busy. I’ve even done a few open-mics on the road, all with varying degrees of success and nightmarish fear I’ve never known before. The more I look into it though, it seems you really need to be doing it constantly to get good, so that feels really daunting to me, especially having taken on this solo project (oddly enough about my love for my wife, which will ensure even less time than I had before to see my wife…shit). I guess I’ve been feeding that side of me through Twitter, stupid Instagram captions, and I’ve actually done two writing pieces for JOL (one for Talkhouse and one for October) that I’ve really enjoyed showing more of my personality through. My music and my personality are pretty different, which has been challenging but also kind of fun to mix.
Are there any plans on going around the US and touring under Jaws of Love?
I’m not able to do a full tour at the moment, but I’ve carved out some time here and there for a few runs. I’m doing a West coast run at the top of next month, an East coast run beginning of December, and even doing some EU and UK shows at the top of next year. You can get tickets for all those shows on my website (jawsoflove.com). I’m hoping to do more shows in more places next year, but I’m just snaking any JOL touring around LN stuff.
What’s next for you and Local Natives?
I’m currently getting bit by mosquitoes about once every hour in a beautiful house we rented in Mexico to write the next record. I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but I’m allergic to insect bites, so that part is sucking (hahahahahaha). Besides that, I am excited to write some LN stuff now having an outlet like JOL. I used to feel so much pressure to make a song I wrote work for LN because it was that or nothing, which I’m sure led to songs being pushed beyond their true potential for the band. Now that I know that LN isn’t the only option for a song I write, I’m hoping it leads to being more relaxed and honest about what works and doesn’t work.
Jaws of Love ‘Tasha Sits Close to the Piano’ is out now.
(For more Jaws of Love: