We caught up with Ryan Hahn of the LA band, Local Natives because we needed some new music recs and word is, he’s really good at making playlists.
And he is. On top of making music, he can occasionally be found at a friend’s party playing the kind of music that everyone is low-key Shazaming, (except for that one girl who won’t stop requesting Bieber.) So we asked Ryan to make us cool by telling us what to listen to, and he kindly obliged. We also talked about what it’s like to be in a band for over 10 years and what we can expect from Local Natives‘ forthcoming album. Scroll down to the bottom to listen to his playlist.
You’ve been off the road for a little while, which means you’ve gotten some time to settle in a set up a proper home set up – can you tell me about how you approached designing your space?
I’ve lived in and out of a suitcase for a lot of the past 10 years. And I’ve probably lived in about a dozen different houses in LA during that time. When we got back from our last tour I wanted to put some roots down. I love the house I’m renting in right now; it was built in the 60’s and already has a lot of character built in. Maybe it was the suitcase training, but I’ve always been more of a minimalist. I’ve got a mini recording setup here and do a lot of writing at home so I just wanted the room to feel like a relaxing place to work on music.
You’re working on your 4th record right now, can you tell us about that? Are you intentional about writing around a theme or do you just write and let the songs dictate the overall vibe?
Our last record Sunlit Youth was the first time we consciously discussed broader themes for an album before writing it. We have several songwriters in the band and it can be tough to get everyone on the exact same page. Early on, between living in the same house and touring an insane amount in really close quarters, we almost became one big singular person. We still spend a ton of time together but we’ve definitely learned the value in giving each other space. It’s rad getting back together after some time apart and hearing what new influences people bring to the table. Everything feels really open right now. So far we’re letting the songs dictate what the theme and vibe will be for the new record.
“This time around we’ve been much more open and free spirited with things – we’ve been recording songs live and letting accidents and imperfections inform the songs.”
Are there any rituals or things you like to do to get yourself in the right headspace to create music? (listening to music, drinking coffee, etc)
For me, the main thing is figuring out how to be present and get rid of distractions. I try to find chunks of time where I can unplug and turn my phone off. Mostly I’ve tended to work the best at night, usually until really late. I’ve been trying to get better about working during normal business hours though so I don’t become some kind of weird hermit.
The visual aesthetic of your last record felt really cohesive, from the videos to the album artwork to the merch. What role does visual design and artwork play in your band?
It’s really vital to us. We’ve always tried to create a cohesive look for each album cycle but I think we did it the best with Sunlit Youth. Usually all the songs are basically done by the time we even start coming up with artwork. Nik, Matt and myself have done most of the band’s graphic design over the past few years. But for the last record we teamed up with this rad LA artist named Brian Roettinger – he’s done a lot of awesome album campaigns and really helped us make sure everything we put out lived in the same visual world.
You also created the artwork for this playlist, how did you come up with it?
I’ve liked drawing since I was a kid and I studied graphic design in college. I always tend to combine the two and keep hand drawn elements in any design work I do. For the playlist artwork I think I was just stoked to be finally be back home in California and to have the time and a space to work on stuff like this. The palm trees around the house and the neighborhood remind me of that feeling.
“Lately I’ve been more interested in the idea of limitations”
How did you choose the songs on the playlist you made us?
I went out to Joshua Tree with my girlfriend recently. It took us a lot longer than usual but a good portion of it was a really beautiful drive with the sun going down. My favorite place to listen to music is in my car, everything just sounds the best to me on those speakers. And it’s where I spend the most time closely listening to songs. I guess this would’ve been the playlist I wished I’d had for that road trip. I’ve had a strong connection to a lot of these songs for one reason or another over the years. I can picture where I was and what was going on in my life when I was playing them a lot.
Is song order important to you when putting together a playlist or DJing?
For sure. I still enjoy listening to albums all the way through. And our band always has heated arguments about the song order on our own albums. If someone is gonna take the time to sit and listen to a body of work I think it’s cool to have a thoughtful arc to things. Haha, maybe it’s a strange sort of OCD but even with playlists I really enjoy trying to connect the dots between different songs to make things ebb and flow.
“If someone is gonna take the time to sit and listen to a body of work, it’s important to have a thoughtful arc or flow to things.”
If we had to listen to only one song on this playlist, which one would it be and why?
“I Forgot to Be Your Lover” by William Bell. It’s just an incredible song to me. It’s got one of my favorite guitar riffs ever – I’ve definitely tried to nick some of that vibe in my own playing. Some good friends of mine got married last year and they had asked me to play some guitar while the bride walked down the aisle. That song immediately came to my mind. Lyrically it’s maybe not the best fit for a wedding but even just the guitar part on its own is so beautiful that it felt perfect.
The time between touring and making records can be really reflective for a band, can you tell us what you’ve learned in the making of your new record and how that’s informed your sound/vision moving forward?
We’ve been a band for over 10 years and I’ve known most of the guys since high school. We know each other really well as people but also as musicians. We know each other’s strengths and tendencies but we also try not to box each other in. We’re a very democratic band in a lot of ways. Taylor, Kelcey and I each write songs individually and then we throw them around the room to jam on them as a band.
One thing that’s been interesting to witness over the past few years is that there really aren’t many bands anymore, especially bands that play fully live without backing tracks and bands that work in a collective, collaborative way. The more festivals we play the more that reality becomes clear. With this new record it feels like we’re sort of embracing that identity of being a live band and leaning into the things that make our writing process unique.
In the past we’ve worked on records pretty maniacally for long drawn out periods of time. I think you slowly learn that it’s possible to overthink think or squeeze songs too tightly. Every album has been fun to make but not without a lot of stress. This time around we’ve been much more open and free spirited with things. We’ve been recording songs live and letting accidents and imperfections inform the songs. Usually we bring complete or almost complete songs into the studio to record. This time around we’ve just been bringing initial seeds of ideas and seeing where the day in the studio takes us. It ends up being really fun and experimental and the songs come out feeling more immediate and alive. Now that we’re on album number four, I think all that time and experience brings a certain level of confidence and perspective to focus on what’s most important to you and lets you just enjoy the process of making music together.
What makes you most excited about making music in 2018?
I think right now everything feels wide open. It feels like a lot of arbitrary lines are falling away and even mainstream music seems to have more interesting, progressive artists bubbling to the surface. I’ve been having a lot of fun collaborating with other artists and producers who come from different musical backgrounds or usually work in different genres. Personally, I’ve been surprised to find that even though I’ve got more technology and tools than I’ve had before, lately I’ve been more interested in the idea of limitations. At least at the start of something, if I only allow myself the basics, it forces me to focus on the most important pieces of a song. Maybe I’ll feel differently about that next year or in a few months but right now that’s what’s got me the most excited.