Local Natives’ Kelcey Ayer breaks out as Jaws of Love
As one of the most intriguing and festival-friendly bands to come out of Los Angeles in the last decade, Local Natives have solidified themselves as a forced to be reckoned with in the indie rock world. Now, their vocalist/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer has stepped out on his own under the moniker of Jaws of Love.; the first time any member of the group has released a side project. Ayer’s debut solo album as Jaws of Love., Tasha Sits Close to the Piano, is a personal and oftentimes darker-sounding affair with musical reference points linking to ambient electronic music. Ayer took a moment to chat with us over the phone from L.A. to tell us how the album and his solo endeavour came together, what inspired it, and how hard it is to write joyful love songs.
Northern Transmissions: You’re the first member of Local Natives to release a solo project. Since no one else in the band has done it before you, did that make it easier or more difficult to make the record since you’re essentially setting the benchmark for the rest of the band to follow if they also want to release side projects?
Kelcey Ayer: Yeah, I think it will definitely make it easier for people to do in the future. I feel like it was pretty hard just because no one in the band has ever done anything musically outside of Local Natives, so it was uncharted territory. It’s been equal parts exciting and anxiety-ridden for me.
NT: In what sense?
KA: Just how to work on something outside of something you’ve committed your life to for so long with these other people that feel like brothers, in a way that everyone feels respected. I’m just trying to not step on anybody’s toes and try to make it so that it doesn’t have a harmful effect, because it can feel kind of like infidelity in a way. It felt pretty tricky in that way, but I’m lucky because everyone’s been pretty supportive. I think I’m on the other side of actually releasing the album and feeling like it went really well. We’re about to work on another record, and it’s felt really good to have a little break from Local Natives for just a tiny second to make this record.
NT: What was the origin of the name “Jaws of Love.”, and why do you think it fits how you approach your solo material?
KA: I think for the music that I made for this record – obviously “Jaws of Love.” is the name of one of the tracks off the record – I thought it represented the tone of the project so much. I liked the idea of letting my name still be open to do whatever it can do and have this project be its own entity so it can live on and be its own thing separate from Local Natives, eventually. It definitely has not gone that way so far (laughs), but I really hope in the future that this thing can start to bloom and create its own moon next to Local Natives’ world.
NT: Listening to the album, I get the sense that there’s a big theme of love and dealing with its “trials and tribulations” as you’ve said, not to mention the tone of the album itself seems pretty dark at times. Seeing as you’re actually happily married and named the album after your Siberian husky Tasha, what made you decide to frame the record like this?
KA: For everybody, you use music as something to lean on or to help you through something… I’ve always loved the darker, more cathartic variety of music. For this record, all the issues and any problems that may have arisen just being in a relationship and being in love kind of changed the surface on all of these songs. It just kind of ended up that way. Even though everything is really great, and you can be in a really functioning, loving relationship and still have problems just speaks to the nature of love being such a complicated thing. I guess it’s in that material that I wanted to talk about it, because I’ve always felt it really hard to actually write happy love songs. I don’t know that I have the stomach for it (laughs). Some people can, and I find that to be super impressive.
NT: How much does travelling influence your work? Because you have one song called “Costa Rica”, another called “Lake Tahoe”, and another about the license plates you saw in Hawaii.
KA: Any place I’ve gone usually ends up having some sort of effect on me. My dad was a pilot for American Airlines. I was in a pretty big family. I had three siblings – [including] a much older sibling that was out of the house when we were growing up – but we would take a lot of family trips because we would get standby tickets to go someplace, and it was affordable through my dad’s work. I ended up going to these different spots, and I’d get a new record through wherever we were going and just listened to that record nonstop. Any other time I heard that record again, it took me right back to that place. I think travelling and records have always… felt like they went hand in hand, so that might have something to do with linking different places to different songs. I think travelling is such an amazing way to grow and learn about different places, and maybe that has something to do with lending itself to having an easier time to create a story from a new place that you don’t have any baggage with, and you’re seeing something for the first time. I feel like it’s such a blank canvas to create something, or create a mood.
NT: How much of an influence does experimental and electronic music have on the sound of this record? Because I hear a lot of that in the record, and also you mentioned artists like Portishead and James Blake as being influences for the LP in other interviews, and I hear a bit of artists like Four Tet on the record as well.
KA: Those are all definitely really big influences for me. I love the idea of synthetic elements coming in and creating actual organic feelings – those are my favourite kinds of synthetic sounds, where they feel alive and untethered. Another big one for me was Jon Hopkins’ Immunity, I really got into that record. I feel like that would be amazing to collab with him one day, he’d be on a bucket list of people to work with. I love when a synth feels fluffed up and out of control. That’s what I love about Portishead’s Third. There’s some awesome videos of [Portishead member] Adrian Utley; he’s in his studio and he’s fucking with his synths, going through a tape delay, and liking synths that they use for horror movies, and using those instead of something more contemporary. It’s a pretty fun video if you want to nerd out on synth stuff.
NT: Now that the album’s out, what’s the most satisfying part of the end result for you?
KA: I’ve really tried to make it feel like a cohesive record, and something that you could just play through and it feels like one solid piece of work. I’d say the one song I’m most excited [about] and encapsulates the whole project is “Microwaves”. I was talking to someone while I was making it, and they were like ‘Yeah, you should just go as far from anything you’ve ever done, as far from Local Natives as possible, and just make the project something completely its own.’ I feel like I got the closest to that on “Microwaves”, just having some freeform moving thing that doesn’t even repeat parts that often – until it repeats the same thing for three minutes! (laughs)
NT: What do you think the future holds for you as far as more solo material?
KA: I’m excited to see how the album goes from here, and how it will hopefully get passed around to anyone else who hasn’t heard it yet in the Local Natives world, and just let it be this thing that finds its audience slowly. It’s a grower of an album, I suppose, and I’m excited to see what doors are unlocked through it. I’m excited to do more records for [Jaws of Love.]… I’m always gonna love being in Local Natives and writing with them, but it’s nice to know that I have this other outlet as well that I can feed from time to time.
Words by Dave MacIntyre