PLAYLIST: Local Natives’ Songs That Influenced “Megaton Mile”
Guitarist Ryan Hahn shares a few tracks the band leaned on while penning their Violet Street single.
Local Natives may have released their fourth studio album Violet Street nearly a year ago, but the record’s release cycle seems to have been resuscitated—for the past few months, the LA collective has been dropping installments of their remix album for the LP, with the third and final component of the project dropping May 1.
In honor of VS’s first birthday arriving next Sunday, and Vol. 3 of their remix project dropping the following Friday, we asked the band to revisit the early days of Violet’s standout single “Megaton Mile”—a particularly apocalyptic track that accidentally foretold the current state of pandemic we’re currently slogging through.
“When Violet Street first came out, we did an interview with Zane Lowe and I described ‘Megaton Mile’ as a ‘fun song about the apocalypse,’” guitarist Ryan Hahn recalls. “The tagline stuck and we started introducing the song that way on tour. Even though it sounds flippant, at the time it felt like an honest, albeit bleak, reflection on the absurdity of the situation we’ve found ourselves living in. Trump was taunting North Korea and everyday nuclear annihilation seemed more plausible; yet there was little you yourself could do about it.”
The following playlist compiles a few of the apocalypse-wary tracks the band had in mind for the single’s theme, as well as some instrumental inspirations. “The music came first and was, by design, in the vein of a couple songs on this playlist,” Hahn continues. “‘(Nothing But) Flowers’ inspired me to try juxtaposing uptempo music with lyrics about armageddon. I’m not sure why but that Billy Joel song ‘Still Rock and Roll to Me’ was stuck in my head one day, but that lyric ‘Are you gonna cruise the Miracle Mile’ jumped out. That became the setting for my apocalypse. Don’t worry, I didn’t put that song on the playlist.”
Stream the whole track list below, and read on to hear what Hahn had to say about each song.
The Clash, “Rock the Casbah”
The Clash is one of my favorite bands—mainly the era when they started being influenced by disco and reggae. I remember seeing this music video on MTV when I was a kid and the experience kind of blew my mind; the song has stuck with me ever since.
The Avalanches, “Since I Left You”
This song is undeniable to me—it feels so good. On the demo for “Megaton Mile” I had a really prominent triangle track like the one in this song. Chopping up and collaging samples like The Avalanches do has been a big inspiration on my writing and producing.
Steel Pulse, “Handsworth Revolution”
I don’t know music theory, so this is a little difficult for me to explain, but I’ve always been drawn to what I’ll just call “half-step minor-sounding bass riffs” in reggae and dub. I love the palm-muted guitar and bass riff in this song. I copped that sort of melodic phrasing for the main bass riff in “Megaton.”
Elvis Costello, “Watching the Detectives”
This is another example of that half-step riffing I’m talking about. Beyond that, this is simply one my favorite songs of all time. Elvis is one of the greatest lyricists, and his delivery on this song is so distinctive: “She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake.” Love it.
Roxy Music, “Love is the Drug”
I love how spacious this song is. I wanted the bass to be a present, lead instrument in “Megaton” like it is here. Plus, the saxophone blowing really hard is a great texture. Our “saxophone” is actually my guitar run through some pedals, but the idea’s the same.
Gorillaz, “Feel Good Inc.”
Damon Albarn is a genius. He’s a master of songs that are happy and sad at the same time. Plus, here’s another great half-step bass riff.
Again, Damon Albarn—genius. This song has always felt apocalyptic to me, and yet also triumphant. Plus, there’s that great bass lead line coursing through the whole thing.
The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”
Another one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s perfect on so many levels. I love the concept, lyrically; the specificity of the dark details all juxtaposed over such a fun music bed.
Tenor Saw, “Ring the Alarm” / David Bowie, “Five Years”
When I was working on lyrics, I kept thinking of the concept of alarms. In Bowie’s song, humanity had five years left. If something were to happen nowadays, would alarms be blaring or would it come out of nowhere? I’d read somewhere that if Russia or North Korea launched an attack, LA would have a few minutes before impact. If a world ending asteroid was gonna strike, we’d have thirty seconds notice. Someone fact check me, I’m actually curious to know the answer to that. And some scenarios, like climate change, we’ve been warned about for decades and yet its acute impacts will feel sudden for some people.
Stevie Wonder, “I Was Made to Love Her” / Four Tops, “Bernadette”
Both of these songs are perfect examples of the greatest bassist of all time, James Jamerson. If you haven’t paid close attention to the bass lines in these songs before, you can find isolated tracks on YouTube and have your mind blown. I would never begin to compare our song to anything James Jamerson played on, I’ll just say he was the inspiration for wanting to make the bass so active and prominent on “Megaton.”
Jackie Wilson, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher”
Motown in general was another big influence on this song. One of the reasons Kelcey sang lead on this song was that he’s able to really belt it out in those high registers. Plus, I wanted the call and response background vocals to evoke that era.
The Isley Brothers, “That Lady, Part 1 & 2”
I’ve always loved the tone of the guitar solo in this song, and we had it in mind for Taylor’s guitar sound in the bridge.
Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows” / Talking Heads, “(Nothing But) Flowers” / Nina Simone, “Baltimore”
These are songs that groove and also have evocative lyrics about dark themes.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Higgs Boson Blues”
Nick Cave is another one of my favorite lyricists, and while I was working on this song I was reading his book The Sick Bag Song. The word “terracotta” jumped out at me. The first lyric I had for the song was “Abandoned cars on the freeway” and when I read that, I had the clearest image of the 10 Freeway looking like that entombed Terracotta Army.