Track by Track is a recurring new music feature in which we give an artist the chance to dig deep into their latest full-length record, one song at a time.
Serving as the follow-up to 2016’s Sunlit Youth, the new LP was produced by Shawn Everett, known for his work with the likes of Alabama Shakes and Kacey Musgraves. The writing process saw the band return to the close quarters conditions of their Gorilla Manor debut, only this time they were in a massive warehouse instead of a rented home. As vocalist/guitarist Taylor Rice explained,
“It was fun, but also pushed us to outdo each other. We got back to our strengths. We’ve always been super collaborative and democratic, as we have three songwriters and singers, and all five of us have a lot of creative input. This was the most collaborative and open we’ve been though. We were raw and vulnerable. It’s the first time we didn’t do any pre-production, we went in and built the record out of nothing.”
Listen to Violet Street below. For more Local Natives — and to support Consequence of Sound, your favorite independent entertainment publication — pick up their past releases on vinyl here and grab tickets to their upcoming tour dates here.
For more insight into Violet Street, the Local Natives’ Ryan Hahn has broken it down Track by Track.
“Vogue”’s journey was definitely one of the more unexpected and experimental ones on the album. It started out as a minimal, delicate song on a nylon string guitar. Our friend Sara Nuefield, who plays in Arcade Fire, had shared one of her solo violin pieces with us a few months before at a festival. When we decided we wanted strings, we remembered her piece and Shawn (our wildly genius producer) slowed it down and pitched it to the song — it completely transformed the track. Then Shawn had us run around this binaural microphone shaped like a human head screaming at the top of our lungs and banging on trash can lids. Pure cacophony. He took that chaos and digitally tuned it until sounded like an angelic choir. Lyrically, we pulled strange phrases from the comment sections of various YouTube videos and collaged them together. Even before the violins, we knew we wanted the song to be about the human desire to feel a connection to god or a spiritual world. Unexpectedly the random phrases began to paint that picture and with some minor tweaks we felt like it achieved that ascendant, heavenly quality. Trying to turn something chaotic into something beautiful ended up being a theme of the whole recording process, so “Vogue” felt like the perfect introduction for Violet Street.
“When Am I Gonna Lose You”:
Although the title sounds like a relationship near its end, that’s not really the case. The song is about the feeling of being in an amazing relationship but feeling the fear and anxiety that it can’t possibly last, whether just by twist of fate or because of your own self sabotage. It was inspired by a trip Taylor took to Big Sur with his, at the time, new girlfriend. He kept telling us how even when you’re at your happiest it can be difficult not to put up those self-protective barriers. Full disclosure, the story has a happy ending; they got married right after we finished recording the record, in Big Sur. Musically the song initially came together in our rehearsal space as the 5 of us jammed together. We wanted it to have a dark Fleetwood Mac vibe, something that could soundtrack driving up PCH. Also, I feel like I owe it to our engineer Ivan to mention the freak out during the last seven seconds of the song. I know it sound like it could’ve been a quick ProTools edit, but it was actually Ivan (and Matt) splicing up the instrumental on tape and scotch taping the tracks back together in random order on the wall of the studio. It took four days to do! Haha.
The seed for this song first came together on a writing trip we took to Mexico where we were able to write and rehearse as a full band basically outdoors. Unfortunately once we brought it into Shawn’s studio, we weren’t really feeling it. So a few of us switched instruments — Nik on keys and myself on bass, and the resulting live jam felt like a wholly new song. That jam turned into the final instrumental track. It’s our first song that’s featured backup singers – the incredible Olivia Walker and Anjolee Williams — and their performance really elevated the song to a new place. The song is about finding a kind of shelter from the storm when life or the world around you seems to be spiraling out. It’s not about sticking your head in the sand or anything like that, it’s about what keeps you grounded and strengthens you to keep pushing ahead. For us it meant our relationships with our wives and girlfriends and our relationships as bandmates. Kelcey said with all the tragedies and madness in the world while we were making the record, it was easy to feel powerless, but writing this song was a reminder of what gets you through all the things that you can’t make sense of.
This interlude is a small section of a longer track we recorded with the working title “Munich”. We wanted “Munich II” to have a Beatles “Sun King” vibe. The longer track is an eight-minute instrumental jam based off a riff I came up with in Mexico. While we were jamming in the live room Shawn pulled up this app called Radioooo. It has this map of the world and when you click on a country you also select a decade and it will play some amazing song from that era. He randomly selected five countries and decades and had us jam on the riff in those five different musical styles. After that, he edited the results together as a score to the opening scene to the movie Drive. Meaning, if you started listening to “Munich” right as the movie begins, it’ll sync up with what’s on screen. I’m stoked that we’re releasing the full eight-minute instrumental as a 10-inch single with the deluxe edition of the album.
I’ve started summarizing “Megaton Mile” as “a fun song about the end of the world.” It started as a demo I made, inspired by some of my favorite songs with extra percussion, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Rock the Casbah”, and “Since I Left You” by the Avalanches. The drum beat is definitely simpler than a lot of our songs but I wanted the bass to really shine as the lead instrument like you’d hear it in a Motown song. I assumed we’d set up in the room and maybe hire some extra percussionists and record a live take, but Shawn threw one of his many curveballs at us and suggested we take a page from the Brian Eno playbook and play the song “live” in a different way. We recorded every instrument and every chord of the song onto its own track on the tape machine as a four-bar loop. Then using the faders on the mixing desk we “performed” the song by sliding the appropriate faders up and down. It ended up looking like a game of Twister because all five of us had to be sliding various faders to get through a full take of the song. So even though it’s constructed from loops of tape, the song ended up still feeling really human with all the characteristics of that imperfect process. Lyrically the song is about living through a kind of Armageddon in Los Angeles. The title is a play on a stretch of Wilshire Blvd that’s called the Miracle Mile. I’ve always liked when artists pair dancey music with darker lyrics like “Nothing but Flowers” or “Everybody Knows”.
This song is about a couple, in which one person has been consumed by chasing their dream and has told their partner if they can just hold on till things settle down it will all work out great. The problem is sometimes dreams take longer to achieve and sometimes they aren’t achieved at all. Their partner is tired of waiting for Someday. They want that someday to be now.
We ended up using the rhythm track from “Megaton Mile” to create “Someday Now”. Ivan and Shawn physically slowed the tape machine down until it was the right tempo and we built the song from there. Musically, we tried to use Marvin Gaye What’s Goin On album as a guide. It informed a lot of the strange chord changes on the chorus. I think Nik really killed it on bass on this song. I had recently bought a cheap lap steel guitar. Even though I’m a complete amateur at it but Shawn was able to throw enough reverb and effects on it to make it work. Between the lap steel and Shawn slowing the tape machine down even further for the outro, I can understand why Taylor thinks this song sounds like Spongebob.
Taylor explains the lyrics to “Shy” as: “Examining my own sense of masculinity, how I’ve never felt comfortable with many of the expectations put on boys at a young age. Those expectations are starting to change as culture more broadly starts to push back against a patriarchal establishment, and pushing for women to a claim a share of assertiveness and power.” This is another song that Shawn really took in unexpected directions. We recorded the basic track with two drum sets in the room playing against a distorted drum machine loop. It’s got this surfy, swamp rumble to it that almost felt like something from our first record. Then, in the spirit of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, Shawn masterminded a huge horn section freak out halfway through the song. It’s also got one of the most bizarre guitar solos. We actually covered “Tusk” for a Spotify session a little while back and I can’t remember whose idea it was but we sampled ourselves and put in the noisy moment from that cover to glue “Shy” together.
“Garden of Elysian”:
This song has some of my favorite lyrics on the album. It’s about a nostalgic look at what your life could have been if you had taken a different path with an old lover. It’s set at the top of one the hills in Elysian Park looking out towards downtown LA and hearing the crowd from Dodger Stadium down the road. We recorded this one live in the room without a metronome so it could drag and push where it needed to. One of my favorite songs, David Ruffin’s “Let Somebody Love Me”, was a big influence on this one. It definitely doesn’t feel retro though with all of Shawn’s production, the experimental string arrangements and the vocal modulation.
I’m pretty sure the synth that Nik used to play the bass line in the verse is the same one used to make the goofy bass sounds from Seinfeld. The lyrics are about realizing how much you need somebody and how closely linked you are with them, so much so that if they walked away, your world could come crashing down. This is yet another song that got flipped on its head in the studio. It started out as more of a Beach Boys vibe with a nylon string guitar and Kelcey, Taylor and I singing three-part harmony. The drum machine originally was just a placeholder for Matt to play drums against but we grew to love it. It was one of those sessions that went really late into the night and at some point Shawn started slamming the chorus really hard. Not sure if we were just delirious but once the outro section came together I remember me, Taylor and Shawn dancing in the control room. What sounds like a synth is actually Taylor’s guitar through some great vintage fuzz pedals.
I’ll let Kelcey explain this one: “At the beginning of 2017, Taylor and I were on a houseboat in Labyrinth Canyon filming an episode of Viceland’s environmental series Earthworks, and we wanted to play something around a campfire later that night. It’s the reason we sing together on the whole song, because we liked how it felt by the fire that night. Ryan helped me craft the lyrics, which are about longing for a simpler time when you didn’t realize what you wanted, you were just grateful for what you had. I had been reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and she had a line that read, “I would always be armed against artificial roses,” and it just stuck with me. The idea of artificial roses as a negative thing, but not because of what they are. Just that before, I’d be able to enjoy them, but now I have experienced so much, I know that they’re not real, and can’t derive as much joy from them.”
Shawn took all the vocals we recorded and smashed them together for the post-chorus vocal part. We loved that it sounded like a beautiful, alien language. It felt like another example of trying to turn chaos into something beautiful and a great bookend to close the album.