Rock and roll has always been cast as the music of the young, but the title of Local Natives' third album, Sunlit Youth, doesn't refer to the members of the Los Angeles quintet themselves. Since the release of 2013's Hummingbird, the band's founding members, Taylor Rice, Ryan Han, and Kelcey Ayer, have all crested 30. When they sing about "these kids" now, they're talking about a generation younger than themselves.
"You're always hearing about it like it's this hump, when you're going up and then it's downhill from there," Ayer says by phone from a stop on the band's current tour, which brings them to the Electric Factory on Wednesday. "It just feels inherently reflective. Us being in this space is teeing up all these thoughts of our youth, nostalgia for that, and also looking toward the future."
In the six years since the release of their debut album, Gorilla Manor, Local Natives have climbed steadily from playing clubs to festivals, and their music has expanded along the way. The songs on Sunlit Youth aren't just better; they're bigger, creating their own cavernous space to echo through, whether they're playing to a field full of bodies or through earbuds on the bus.
"We always wanted to have a career and go for as long as we can, to be one of those longtime bands," Ayer says. "I think in the past we have been a bit averse to a bigger-sounding style of music, but this felt like a good time for us to make something that felt bigger than an indie rock record. It just feels like it's all going the way we always wanted."
Getting out of the band's comfort zone meant leaving behind the familiar places. Sunlit Youth was recorded all over the world, from a studio in Malaysia to a hotel room in Joshua Tree, Calif. The vocal for the appropriately undulating "Jellyfish" was captured by an iPhone in a living room; if you listen closely enough, you can hear someone pouring cereal in the background.
"It's pretty insane when I look at the record," Ayer says. "I can look at every song and say, 'That drum part happened in Thailand, and that guitar part was record in a studio in L.A., and somebody sung that in a crappy studio in their house.' " As for "Jellyfish," he adds, "It was just us around a mic . . . late at night, and someone said, 'We should just write a song from scratch right now.' It was a happy accident that sprung up."
In songs like "Fountain of Youth" and "Past Lives," Sunlit Youth shows Local Natives chewing over the responsibilities that come with their ever-increasing audience, and how to handle dreams when they start coming true.
"We started having this realization that we have fans," Ayer says. "We have some sort of megaphone, no matter the size, and we should shine a light on things that you care about as a person on this planet. We were sick of indie rock, just wanted to push ourselves, and that fell in line with thinking we have some sort of responsibility to say something."