No doubt because of the backstory, Hummingbird is proving to be an album that’s often misunderstood, at least from the perspective of Local Natives’ co-frontman Kelcey Ayer.
“I don’t think it’s too much of a downer of a record,” says the upbeat singer-keyboardist, on the line from a Las Vegas tour stop. “But I feel like a lot of other people feel that it is, and that’s funny to me. I mean, I know what we’re dealing with is pretty heavy, but at the end of the day we’re still interested in writing pop songs. I don’t think we could ever go down a path where we create a serious, bummer record.”
Ayer’s argument that the Los Angeles quartet is a pop band makes sense when Local Natives is viewed through the same prism as acts like the Growlers, the Flaming Lips, and Fool’s Gold. Hummingbird is a record flooded with dreamy, impressively adventurous goodness. Desert-baked guitars and shimmering organ turn “You and I” into something hypnotic, while buzzing synths and ’70s-soft-pop vocals give “Ceilings” an enchanting pixie-dusted glow.
“Out of the three songwriters in the band, I’m definitely the bummer guy,” Ayer says with a laugh. “Taylor and Ryan balance that out, and infuse the songs with a sense of hopefulness.”
And that upbeat streak was certainly needed for Hummingbird. As hinted at, the past few years haven’t always been dream ones for the members of Local Natives. Things couldn’t have looked sunnier for the band after the release of 2009’s Gorilla Manor. The band self-recorded the album in the Los Angeles house it was living in, and then promptly watched it blow up into an underground hit, with critics and fans latching onto the group’s mix of stoner-friendly psych-pop and ocean-breezed Afro-beat.
But as Local Natives became established as an act on the rise, things began to go bad. Band friction led to a by-all-accounts painful split with founding bassist Andy Hamm, resulting in his dismissal and the press-release statement “Due to unresolved differences within the band, we strongly feel that, in order to continue in a positive direction, this is the best course of action.”
In the bigger picture, that was nowhere near as painful as what Ayer was dealing with on the personal front. Following Local Natives’ breakthrough, his mother, Patricia, became sick, dying in 2011, three months after Hamm’s departure. His mother’s death hangs over Hummingbird, inspiring both the record’s title, and songs such as the beautiful piano-based “Colombia”, which includes such lyrics as “I pray that you feel my love” and “Patricia—every night I ask myself ‘Am I giving enough?’ ”
From the way Ayer describes things, he was close with his mom, even if she didn’t always understand where he was coming from.
“She was raised in Argentina, and came over to the States when she was in high school,” he says. “She had this really heavy accent and a weird way of dealing with humour. I have a really weird sense of humour, so I always remember laughing at something stupid, and then my mom thinking I was laughing at her. Which would make her go ‘Stop laughing at me’ in an accent that was really funny, which made me laugh even harder, because she would get angrier and angrier.”
Laughing, he then pauses. “I know that makes me sound like some crazy, vicious child. But we had a great relationship, right up until she passed away.”
Consider that a sign that he doesn’t want to be misunderstood, even if he’s getting used to that with Hummingbird.