Kelcey Ayer Finds Himself in the Jaws of Love.
With the release of his first solo album, Tasha Sits Close to the Piano, Kelcey Ayer (a.k.a. Jaws of Love.) does a commendable job of setting himself apart from his main project, Local Natives, while also drawing on some familiar nuances from that band. There is a sorrowful and longing tone woven into the moody, piano-based R&B that is reminiscent of his previous work.
Ayer has been working on Tasha Sits Close to the Piano for five years, and his attention to detail shows. His conviction to his lyrics never wavers over the course of the endlessly emotive record, which deals, mainly, with love. In “Before the Hurting Lands,” for example, he sings: “I’m believing it will fade away/as my pockets start to lose their weight/And I’m as light as a balloon/rising high/naming rivers on the moon/before the hurting lands.”
Ayer took some time to talk to TIDAL about the process of making the record, movies and loving dark music.
Do you feel like you needed Local Natives to get to a certain place for you to feel comfortable to put out a solo record?
I think it is hard for any band to get any sort of success, and once you have it, it’s hard to keep. I think after three albums it felt like if anything were going to happen, it’d be a good time to branch out and expand. I felt like I had time where I could do it without being of disservice to this band I had been working so long and so hard for.
What song on the album dates back the furthest?
‘Costa Rica’ I had back in 2012. I remember being at the Capitol Records building and doing a session. I threw it down real quick; so I had a quick, clean take of it.
What is like to be the first member of this well-regarded group to go through the process of releasing a record alone and being reliant upon your own resources?
It’s exciting to do stuff on my own, but it’s also incredibly terrifying. I’m just kind of out there by myself in a way I’ve never known before. I’ve also had the support of the others guys in the group. It’s been pretty strange to have been tethered out there. It’s like I’ve been on a space shuttle for 13 years and I decided I’m going to take a walk outside. I’ve got a little rope holding me to the ship and I’m out there wondering about what’s going to happen.
The album seems like a very deliberate effort, with all of the music finding its pocket through the lens of this atmospheric and moody R&B. Was this album something you had been cooking up for a long time?
I have been thinking about this. That’s a good way of putting it. I have had these songs from years before, some from during Sunlit Youth, and scraps of things I knew was never for the band. I have always wanted to do this and it never really made sense at any other time.
I think it just happened. I had these three days off in June and I went into Electro-Vox studio in Los Angeles, where we recorded Local Natives work before with the engineer there, Michael Harris. He ended up co-producing the album. We flew through all these ideas and we both couldn’t believe how much material we had gotten through and how fleshed out it became. It dawned on me then that it had begun.
What did Michael Harris bring to the album and what came from this kinship you developed?
The studios had these rooms of different guitars, pianos and drum machines that I’ve never heard of. From what I know and have been told, a lot of studios don’t have that extensive of a selection. It’s the oldest privately owned studio in America as well.
He was this conduit for me where I would just describe what I wanted and he could get the tones I was thinking of. He delivered on exactly what I felt I needed for each song. For two hours, we finished the bass parts for about six songs and it was right on every single time. He’d pull out a weird synth, we’d fuck with it for 10 minutes, and it’s amazing. We didn’t have a lot of time to record, so his talents laid in being able to work that way, while nailing it at every turn.
How was it telling the other members of Local Natives about the decision to release solo material?
They’ve always known that I’d be most excited to get some solo stuff done, because I am one of the more prolific writers in the group. I tend to have a lot more material than what we use, so I think it’s been on everyone’s mind that if someone did it first, it’d be me.
It was an organic process. I started last year in June, and then I grabbed three more days in August and then a couple more in December to finish tracking the album. By January, I was mixing it. Throughout the process, I’d show them little bits and they’d like it. It never turned it anything serious, but by the beginning of this year, I realized I had this record I wanted to finish.
They heard it and they were pumped for me. I told them I wanted to put it out, so we just figured out how to do it with all of the Local Natives stuff.
It was definitely a strange feeling for everyone. You want to be excited for your friend, but you kind of feel like they are cheating on you. We navigate all of this as we go by talking about it. We are all very open with each other.
It’s definitely uncharted territory, so we make sure to stay open about it. In the end, people doing their own project outside their main groups is awesome and it helps enrich the world that group creates.
What, outside of music, informs the way you create?
I think I’m a pretty big film geek and I’d love to be a part, one day, of making films or being involved in some capacity. I think that’s why I’m drawn to more dramatic and darker music because it always feels so cinematic to me.
With a lot of the music on this album, I really got off on the idea of picturing what it would look like in a music video or in a scene. I’m always trying to achieve that same feeling I get when I watch something inspiring.
After thinking about making this album for so long, did you end up with the album you expected you were going to write?
I think, in my bones, I always wanted to make something that sounds like this. It kind of spilled out of me and I think that means it was already there.
I think the idea of the unified sound you speak of comes from Portishead’s Third. Everything about it was in this unabashedly moody world where you could go as deep and dark as ever and it was embraced. I took cues from that, but I mixed with this man named Cian Riordan on an analog board, like they did for that record. It makes you commit to a mix for the day and I thought it was a cool way to have everything feel very alive and not so perfect.
How did the album opener ‘Jaws of Love’ come to be?
That was a song I came away with from that first session of three days with Michael Harris. I had that song around for about a year and a half before. It was never intended for Local Natives. I knew it always felt like for something else.
That was the song that made me feel like I could make a song or make an album by myself. As a songwriter, I feel so proud of it.
The only drums Matt Frazier [drummer from Local Natives] did on the album were for this song. He came in and I was going to have him just play drums on the outro. He wanted to play over this to practice, so he played over the whole thing. He did a couple of takes and it sounded great. We fucked with it in the studio and by the end of the time there, we had something that sounded almost done already. It was the clincher for me to make this album.
What was the process of creating ‘Before the Hurting Lands’ like?
I did a version with Michael and then I completely changed it. It was the last song I wrote for the album. It was done by myself and brought to life with Cian. I used this DM1 drum machine app on my phone. It’s a great creative tool when I’m working on demos. I had this beat I created on it and it really complemented this piano chord progression. You hear it at the top of the song and I looped in all of this stuff that were filters on the app.
It was the most digital thing on the album, but there’s also this pump organ that I recorded at this venue called The National in Richmond, Virginia, that they have backstage. I played the chords and set my phone up. An iPhone and an analog mixing board made that song.
Where does the desire to create this dark and dramatic music come from?
I certainly wasn’t writing a bunch until Hummingbird. I think once I found a group like Radiohead and the music of Kid A and Amnesiac. It told me there was a world where it was OK to go to these dark places. It felt counter to what my natural disposition is. I like to make people laugh and I tend to be a little more extroverted.
The music acted as a way to manage that and understand these emotional counterpoints.
What do you hope listeners take home with them from the record?
I hope someone can use it as a tool. Given how complicated life and love are, I think the songs can service a lot of emotions. I used the music as a way to get through some ways of feeling. I hope people can use it the way I’ve used so many records: to heal.
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