Interview: Ed O'Neil of Native

Native (photo by David Summers)

Hailing from North West Indiana, Native is comprised of four friends who came together after realizing they were each the most serious about music in each of their former high school bands. The guys decided to retire their childhood groups and instead come together to form Native in the Summer of 2007.Word of mouth about their live shows and their EP caught the attention of U.S. label and management company Sargent House who went on to sign the band and who has since re-issued their debut EP. Native have continued to tour non-stop building quite a following in a short time through their unforgettable live shows and well executed musicianship.
Native’s debut full length, Wrestling Moves, was produced by former Daytonian Chris Common (These Arms Are Snakes, Pelican) at Red Room Studios in Seattle, Wash.,and was released on January 23, 2010 on Sargent House.They recently finished recording their second full-length album, Orthodox, with Greg Norman (Russian Circles, Pelican) in Chicago. Sargent House will release the album in Summer 2013.
Ghettoblaster caught up with guitarist Ed O’Neil before the band launches a tour with Caspian to discuss the band’s roots and new direction.
Are you guys still living in Indiana?
Three of us do. I’m actually living in Chicago. Our hometown was essentially a suburb of Chicago, so we all still live in around the same area.
What is it about that part of the country that lends itself to your artistic pursuit or vision?
People always give the Midwest a stereotype. We all grew up in steel working towns and we always found a lot in common with people in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, those kinds of places.  There is definitely a salt of the earth kind of feel to it. Everything we did when we were kids was based on that steel economy. My elementary school was funded by the steel mill.  You see all levels of income and that kind of thing. We are also landlocked rather than being on the west or east coast where a lot of things start. But the Midwest has a good way of mixing the two and coming up with its own sense of identity.
Do you think that coming from a Midwestern background has leant itself to how you developed your work ethic?
We really just try to push forward no matter what. We’ve been doing this for a really long time; coming up on six years now. I think we have a spirit of perseverance and the mindset that if you stumble you pick yourself up and keep going.
Has Native every been challenged with the question of whether to continue or call it a day?
Without a doubt. Last year and the year before we were really struggling. We weren’t really happy with how we were doing. We had so much of our identities wrapped up in the band and the people in the band were changing, but the band wasn’t. We had a lot of serious conversations about this. We believe that the band should represent what you feel and want to achieve and if it isn’t doing that, then there’s no point to continue. We realized that it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to, had a lot of really awful long talks and breakdowns. Fortunately, we were able to cleanse it, detox, and get back to it.
Is there a commonality in terms of where your passion for creating music comes from?
I think that’s the main component of Native. We have a lot of passion when it comes to creating songs. There is no primary song writer. Each of us has a 25 percent stake in this and we grind out the songs together. That is one of the reasons it takes us so long to write.
What was it like working with Chris Common on Wrestling Moves?
We were all fans of his bands so we jumped at the chance to work with him. The main problem with that album was that we were already changing sounds, but that album ended up sounding more like its predecessor. We hadn’t figured out how to mix it up yet. We were on a time crunch for it too. So we didn’t get to do a lot of the things that we wanted to.
One press outlet who reviewed that record said you were, “a pissed off Minus The Bear and a caged up Botch.” Is that an accurate description of your current sound?
It is less accurate now. We aren’t nearly as flashy. We’ve gotten into a more bare bones level of song. The new album is a lot more aggressive than the last album. We have harnessed that aspect of the music more than the technical stuff.
What was working with Greg Norman on your forthcoming release like?
We wanted an album that was more simple sounding, but also captured the rawness of the new songs; the little, subtle things. He was awesome to work with and he bent over backwards for us.
Were you guys writing this record the entire three years after Wrestling Moves?
We took six to eight months to tour on Wrestling Moves, so yeah it has been about two and a half years of grinding this one out (sigh).
Have you set a title for the new record?
It is going to be called Orthodox and it will be out around the Summer. It is being mastered now and should be done in the next couple of days. The artwork will be done in the next few days too.
How did you decide that Sargent House was the right label for Native?
This was years ago, but we played a house show at Humboldt Park in Chicago and this guy wrote a blog about it. This guy in England read the blog and put out an album for us in the UK on a label called Big Scary Monsters. Sargent House was introduced to us by him and we talked to them for a while before they said, “Fuck it, let’s just roll with it.” They are really fair to their artists, a lot more fair than a lot of other industry people. They also totally love the bands that they sign and back them. They’ve created a culture that is sympathetic to the artist. Some people have the wrong idea about touring musicians; this isn’t a vacation, it’s another job. When people realize that and approach it with that mindset, it makes it a lot easier.
Will you be playing a lot of material from the new record when you are on tour with Caspian?
We are going to pretty much stick to new material and play one or two old songs a night. We wouldn’t play any old songs if it was up to us, but that isn’t fair to people who haven’t seen us. We made the mistake of not relearning any old songs prior to our first trip to Europe and a lot of people were disappointed. We didn’t intend to slap people in the face with it, but playing our old songs is really just paying lip-service to them. It isn’t really where we are at now.
You are probably more emotionally attached to what you’ve done recently too…
That is a great way to put it. We are extremely emotionally attached to the new stuff, and not so much anymore to the old stuff.
Does that lend itself to a stronger performance too?
Absolutely. That was a huge problem with the older stuff. We just couldn’t get into it. It was obvious to us when we played. This is way more real and we have a lot more fun with it. It is more unhinged than the last stuff.
So it is like that LL Cool J song, “Don’t call it a comeback,” but it really is sort of a comeback?
(Laughter) I love that. I’ve been waiting for an LL Cool J reference with regards to Native for years and you just nailed it.
Do you have tour plans lined up for when the new record drops?
We will definitely be doing a headliner, and will take out a different band for each part of the country. We like the variety of playing with different bands. We’ll probably do some support tours too. We are really excited about backing this album. We’ll play it by ear I guess and see how it goes.