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Local Natives “Airplanes” (Influenza)

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here Local Natives’ vocalist and songwriter Kelcey Ayer peels away the layers from “Airplanes,” a track to be released on the band’s forthcoming debut album. Ayer describes the process of writing and rewriting (and rewriting) the song as one that appeals to the democratic nature of the band; a process that shifted the song from being an unintentional homage to one that is purely theirs.

On “Airplanes”:

The song originated with a chord progression and a melody that I loved, but Ryan [Hahn] had a huge problem with the chorus line as it sounded a lot like J Lo’s, “If You Had My Love”. The funny thing about songwriting is that no one intentionally tries to rip off other artists, but occasionally an accidental act of thievery can happen. I was fairly certain that the vastly different context of my piano ballad would lead listeners away from late 1990’s pop single and into the world I wished to immerse them, however, dispute remained. So we showed the part to an unbiased friend of ours and she immediately started laughing hysterically (she thought I was secret J Lo fanatic). We scrapped the melody and wrote a new one.

Though I took the decision as a loss at the time, I think it serendipitously led to one of the most memorable hooks on the album. The words came to me and I wrote the whole song in an afternoon, making a demo of it to show the others. It so happened that I was really digging the new M.I.A. record at the time, which was the inspiration for the clicks you hear in the chorus. I wanted something really jarring and abrasive to counteract the sweetness of the melody, something that Diplo would be proud of. The demo was now enough to get the band excited, so we went to work on arranging the song. We have an extremely collaborative and democratic songwriting process. Parts were chopped up, melodies rewritten, bridges built and then demolished just as quickly, and all the meanwhile everyone is making passionate speeches for their ideal song version. At last, the final version emerges: a kind of energetic marching ballad.

The lyrics are about my grandfather, Harold Ayer. He died when I was about two years old, so the only connection I’ve had to him was through stories my father told me. He’s been painted as this great man who provided everything he could for his family, with a vast knowledge that surpassed even the thickest encyclopedias (which might be the reason my dad loves his World Books collection so much). I learned that my Grandfather was the archetypical preacher/father; he was very calm and never raised his voice. In addition to living as a Christian missionary in the South Pacific, he worked as a Boeing engineer for over 40 years, which is the source for the title of the song. – Kelcey Ayer