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Local Natives get personal in experimental new album ‘Violet Street’

Q&A: Singer Taylor Rice talks about love and the California band's wild recording sessions

Johanna Gretschel
Taylor Rice, Ryan Hahn and the rest of Local Natives will play Stubb's in Austin on June 15. [TOM MCCARTHY JR. FOR AUSTIN360 / FILE]

What happens when hot young indie rockers turn 30 and settle down, or start to seriously consider doing so?

The first single off Local Natives’ fourth studio album, “Violet Street,” is “When Am I Gonna Lose You,” a haunting, driving, spiraling ode to the anxiety of finally connecting with the person you’re going to end up with for the rest of your life. It was inspired by the real-life love between lead singer Taylor Rice and the woman who became his wife, Mara Roszak.

Finding joy and peace in that fear (is this called growing up?) is a central theme in the California band’s new release, which was recorded with super-producer Shawn Everett, who pushed the band to experimental extremes in the studio. Everett knows what he’s doing. The five-time Grammy-winner has worked with everyone from Vampire Weekend to Kacey Musgraves in the past year — and the collaboration yielded some of Local Natives’ most memorable earworms yet. One of Everett’s techniques even inspired the name of the band’s summer tour, the Spiral Choir Tour.

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We caught up with Rice over the phone (while he and the band enjoyed an “extremely rare and elusive day off in Chicago”) before Local Natives' upcoming Austin show to find out more about what went on behind the scenes on “Violet Street.”

American-Statesman: What were some of the experimental techniques you used to record “Violet Street”?

Rice: Working with Shawn Everett, who produced, engineered and mixed the album, was the most incredible experience. He’s a total genius, and every day was a wild adventure.

For the song “Megaton Mile,” we were referencing the Talking Heads and (David) Bowie. (Shawn said), "Let’s make this song the way that (Brian) Eno made 'Once in a Lifetime' with the Talking Heads," which is this really involved (process of) making all these tape loops and running them in a circle around the room, putting it all into a board. Each of us were on the mixing board and controlling three elements of the song we were looping.

It’s impossible to explain. We didn’t even know what was happening until 15 hours later. It was 2 a.m. We were cheering and delirious.

The first song on the album, “Vogue,” has this really beautiful aural background that goes throughout that track. Shawn put up this microphone in the middle of the studio, and we all ran around it in a circle. The microphone is shaped like a human head, and the way you record on it is the way you’ll hear it in headphones. So if you whisper into the left ear, that’s how you would hear it in your headphones.

We used that on everything, but for this, we were running around in a circle and yelling and banging on drums and just got really carried away and all landed in this pile on floor, laughing. We turned this crazy cacophony into one of the most beautiful sounds on the record.

That spirit really captured the Spiral Choir Tour. That moment was really emblematic of subverting things and ideas and how you can create something really beautiful out of something chaotic.

Had the band worked with Everett before?

We worked with Shawn on (third Local Natives album) “Sunlit Youth” for two weeks, more in an engineer capacity. We signed up with him again for two weeks, and after three days, we gathered around and were like, "We have to lock Shawn in to produce this entire record."

Is he known for experimentation in the studio?

A lot of producers I’ve worked with before, you learn their tricks. Shawn is not really an exception to that, but he never wants to do anything the same way twice. He always wants to try something new. There was an experiment we did for the end of “When Am I Gonna Lose You.” He told us,"‘I literally don’t think this has ever been done in recorded history."

Ivan (Wayman), our other engineer, and our drummer, Matt (Frazier), worked on this project for about three days straight — they had to cut all these holes out of the middle of the tape and splice in other pieces of tape from other parts of the song. ... Suffice it to say, this experiment, I don’t think it’s been done before. It took three days of straight work for about eight seconds. It does sound really cool. It’s awesome, but it was also like, "Man, that was a lot of work for the last eight seconds of the song."

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What song is the most personal for you on this album?

For me, it’s "When Am I Gonna Lose You," definitely. I’m probably known the most in the band for losing my mind over (details), refining and trying to get things right, lifting up every single stone. Shawn really did get on this page with me. It was me and him kind of torturing the rest of the band. There were actually 42 versions of the song. That was a super epic journey.

What was the inspiration for that song?

It is about my now-wife.

The song, more generally, is the feeling of even when you have something that’s really amazing and feels really good and really great, the circling feeling in your head of "This can’t really last" or "How could this really last?" It’s a fear of losing something that feels really great in your life.

For me, it was the story of the epic journey of my relationship. I was having these feelings of, "Am I gonna (expletive) it up?" Or, "Am I gonna get rid of this amazing thing in my life?" Or, "Maybe fate will intervene, how could it possibly work out?" Basically, well, we could do a whole therapy session, but we won’t do that.

I did get married last year and take what is this super amazing, really beautiful dive of vulnerability to get married to somebody and make that commitment.

This song was the journey to get to that point.


Local Natives with Middle Kids

When: 7 p.m. doors June 15

Where: Stubb's (801 Red River St.)

Cost: $36-$136 (general admission technically sold out)