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Local Natives Sign to Frenchkiss, Go Global

December 4, 2009 | 12:32 pm

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In this era of blog-built bands and online celebrity, the Local Natives’ ascent seems almost anachronistic. Sure, only a year after moving to Silver Lake from Orange County, the band signed a deal to release its debut album, "Gorilla Manor," on well-respected indie Frenchkiss Records (The Dodos, Passion Pit, Antlers, The Hold Steady). But back in March when they arrived in Austin for the South By Southwest festival, they were just another largely unknown act making a sleepless two-day trek to Texas in the hopes of impressing industry tastemakers and power players.

“We were really nothing when we showed up to South By Southwest, but it took off from there,” guitarist Taylor Rice said. “We’re proud of our album, but we’re at our best when we’re live.”

They left, four days and nine shows later, one of the event’s most ballyhooed bands, thanks to breathless raves from the British print press and other traditional media. The accolades didn’t stem from a savvy publicity campaign, slick sartorial style or a high-powered label, but from the band’s transfixing live show, which combines crisp drums, celestial three-part harmonies, superb songwriting and inexorable energy. Of course, people tend to take you more seriously when your manager is Phil Costello, the co-founder of TBD Records (a sub label of ATO) and a former Capitol Records executive who was instrumental to Radiohead’s development during their early years at the label.

“We had few if any overseas connections prior to this year’s SXSW. We always thought we’d establish ourselves here first and take it from there,” said drummer Matt Frazier.

Shortly thereafter, the NME offered to host the group for a very brief British tour, which allowed them to build an avid Anglo fan base through their gorgeous folk-inflected pop rock. By the time they returned home for a memorable August Spaceland residency, they already had secured a deal with English indie Infectious to release “Gorilla Manor,” named after the riotous communal home the band shared during its writing.

But like The Strokes and The Killers before them, Local Natives found themselves in a situation where their album was released overseas before they could secure a deal to release it at home. Fortunately, Frenchkiss entered the picture. Though the band fielded offers from prominent indies and major labels, they opted for Frenchkiss because of its artist-friendly reputation — Frenchkiss head Syd Butler is the co-founder and bassist of Les Savy Fav.

“We really didn’t want anything bigger than Frenchkiss. We’ve respected them for a long time and feel like we’re in good hands,” Frazier said.

“Frenchkiss embraced us from the beginning and are on board with our vision,” Rice added.

“They’re phenomenally talented musicians. It’s tough to believe how young they are to have such well-written songs,” Butler said. “I saw them in New York and then flew to England to watch their shows over there. Each time, they gave me chills.”

In the months between now and February, when Frenchkiss is slated to release "Gorilla Manor," it’s a safe bet that the band's profile will rise: They're set to follow their current national tour (alongside fellow locals Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Fool’s Gold) with a two-month, 10-nation international jaunt.

-- Jeff Weiss

Photo via Chad Cheverier

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