Kelcey Ayer, the keyboardist and one of the vocalists/primary songwriters of Local Natives, sees the beauty in darkness and heartbreak, seeking art to convey and relay this affection.
Though Ayer once thought it wasn’t feasible for him to turn his more somber songs that didn’t quite fit in with Local Natives’ sound into a solo project, last year the musician discovered the drive and opportunity to do so, and is now nearing his debut as Jaws of Love. With the new endeavor, he has created an honest reflection of the vicissitude of love on the upcoming record Tasha Sits Close to the Piano, out Sept. 22 via K-Rizzla/House Arrest.
“I think that art and music in particular has proven itself to me to be such a therapeutic way of dealing with life,” Ayer tells Billboard. “As a person, I’m very light and outgoing, so I think the music that comes out of me is almost the opposite so I can just be in equilibrium.”
Ayer’s equilibrium is met with the elegant tenderness of his songwriting, exploring the fearless grace in vulnerability and necessity to speak about the hurt — and by taking songs such as these that the singer has written at the side of his piano for years, he has pulled together the seams of his forthcoming debut.
“This whole process has been such a process in self discovery and getting to know myself. I [once] felt like I could never write a love song because [to do so] the relationship has to be wrong and it wrenches it out of you to have to deal with this through songs,” he says. “What ended up making sense in the end were these collection of songs that felt like a meditation on love and the trials and tribulations of love.”
“Even though I’m very happily married with my wife and she is my best friend and biggest supporter, in any relationship and even the best ones, there are miscommunications, there are struggles, and there are just things that get in the way that you can’t predict,” he says.
Tasha sees intricate cries from piano keys and atmospheric synthesizers like the whirling soundscape of a marriage and all its melancholic moments and illuminated specialties, featuring lyrics like a memoir of the delicate, inner fabrics of Ayer’s homelife. Down to the album title and cover artwork, the record opens the front door to his home, letting the listener into the world of some of his most important relationships with his wife, Melanie, and his dog, Tasha, who he says finds comfort in his piano playing. “Mel came up with the name of the album and it just felt so fitting because it’s a relationship — Tasha to my piano playing or Mel and I — the album is about these relationships.”
Today (Aug. 7) Jaws of Love. follows up his self-titled first single with the second release off his upcoming debut, “Love Me Like I’m Gone.,” a stand-out on the piano-centric record as the only guitar-focused track. He says, “That song I had demo-ed out and it was more electronic and keyboard-y, but I wrote it originally on a Spanish acoustic guitar and there are no other guitars on the record beside this one song. It just felt like I put later in the track listing as this nice, refreshing break from the piano, so this is I guess in service to switching things up on this album.”
Like the sum of the record, “Love Me” inspires the pain that comes with relationships, but earnestly and gracefully conveys the utmost fear of what it would be like to lose that person. “Being on tour in a successful band with Local Natives has been the only life that [Mel and I] have ever known because right when we met at the end of 2008, that was [when] Local Natives starting to do well,” he says. “But I get extra emotional on planes, so whenever I’m flying and I’m watching something and I get moved, I always come back to the thought of, if the plane crashed … and start getting emotional thinking about dying and Mel being without me or me being without Mel. It’s just a f–king sob fest.”
As much as the album is a documentation of his relationship with his wife, Tasha also pays homage to the marriage Ayer has with the piano. Though he first found an outlet of expression in the drums as an “angsty fifth grader listening to Korn,” his mother’s efforts to force him to play the piano helped him find solace in the instrument that he holds onto today. “When I got on the piano when I was messing around, I got that same dynamic range [as the drums] where you could really slam on the keys and really create this feeling or play as softly as you can. There’s such a huge dynamic range to the piano that really resonated with me,” he says. “[Tasha] is the kind of an album I always wanted to make and it’s all centered around the piano.”
Though the entire record came together naturally working over the course of only a few days with engineer Michael Harris at Electro-Vox studio in L.A. (a space Ayer became enamored with while recording Local Natives’ latest release Sunlit Youth) it was an effort he was once wary to venture into. Ayer says, “I was talking to Richard Reed Parry from Arcade Fire years ago when we went on tour with them in 2011 and he was talking about doing all of this stuff on the side and I was perplexed like, ‘How do you do that?’ and he was like, “It’s not that crazy. You just pick a studio that you think is cool or have heard something awesome come out of and go there and work. He made it sound really simple and that dawned on me at some point last year and I was like, ‘F–k it. I’ll go to the studio and see what happens.’”
Of course, what unfolded happened to be was a harmonious process, as Ayer was able to create a record so wholly his own — a sound that felt like a sonic representation of his feelings and words that encapsulated the gentle, solemn emotions of his life and romance.
“I feel like this project has shown ways in which I have taken being in a band for granted where you work on something with a group of people and if somebody doesn’t like it, at least the five can be a collective and family and it can be you and them against the world. Now I’m out there by myself, so I’ve felt vulnerability in a way that I’ve never felt before,” he says.
But nevertheless, this vulnerability is absolute, like the emotion that floods Jaws of Love.’s record. He says, “[Music makes you feel. It makes you feel the feeling that you don’t want to feel so that you can move on and just be happy and do whatever you want to do because you spend your time grieving or do whatever you have to deal with. It’s free therapy.”
Listen to “Love Me Like I’m Gone.” below.