Forgoing digital in favour of a meaty analogue approach was about trying something new, says Local Natives’ Ryan Hahn. “It wasn’t in a Jack White, ‘I hate technology’ way,” the multi-instrumentalist explains, “but in a way that really seemed to get to the core of being in a band – us playing off of each other again.”
Grasping the practical was at the heart of Violet Street, the new album from the globally acclaimed, LA five-piece.
Hahn and his bandmates Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, Matt Frazier and Nik Ewing (who variously swing around guitar, keys, percussion, and bass, but also all contribute gorgeously harmonious vocals) garnered stunning reviews and their share of television appearances off the back of their third album Sunlit Youth (2016), but were unafraid to change it up for their fourth, this time enlisting the help of producer Shawn Everett, who quickly became the sixth Native.
Hahn’s description of one of the album’s stand-out tracks – Megaton Miles – is a masterclass in how the often erratic process worked. “We made a bunch of loops on a tape machine; it’s something Brian Eno did with the Talking Heads back on Remain In Light,” he explains. “The whole drum track is a trip, and then Nik playing this Motown-inspired bassline… it’s definitely inspired by Rock The Casbah.” About 20 seconds from the end, the whole song crunches slowly down like a felled giant. “That’s a perfect example of Shawn and his mad scientist nature,” says Hahn. “That was the tape machine turning off, kind of winding down. [Everett] basically took the piece of tape and started running it back and forth with his hands. He looked like this alien DJ. I don’t even know how to explain it. And then it was all faders up: every instrument, every loop. Maximum chaos.”
That was just one of several experimental stabs. “At the end of When Am I Gonna Lose You, there’s a freakout part,” Hahn continues. “That was cutting up pieces of tape and gluing them back together almost randomly, with Scotchtape. It took maybe two full days of sticking tape together… [for] three seconds of music. God, I feel like I could go on forever talking about all Shawn’s experiments.”
The best part about it is that analogue experimentation breeds happy accidents: “All these things, you could do them on ProTools, and it would probably take you 20 minutes,” says Hahn. “But we did it all by hand, and sometimes it took forever to get it right. But that’s Shawn’s process: doing it analogue, in the weirdest way possible.”
Violet Street is out April 26 via Loma Vista/Caroline.
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