Alumni Insights: Taylor Rice '08

Which UCLA professors and classes inspired you the most?

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Marde Gregory’s speech class was incredible. I think that some students might not understand her somewhat unorthodox class, but if you let the experience seep in, there is some unique thinking to be done there. I also took a few extremely interesting classes with Francis Steen that explored the more theoretical, academic facet of communication studies. Mark Huppin was easily one of my favorite professors. I took the fascinating Freedom of Speech and the Evolution of Mass Media Images courses with him.

Finally, I must add Barry Sanders’ architecture course as one of my most inspiring experiences at UCLA. At the end of the course, Professor Sanders took us on a tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. As I listened to the grand organist rehearse in the most amazing auditorium I’ve ever heard, I realized that playing in the Concert Hall once in my life would be my ultimate dream as a musician. It is so incredible to me that I was able to fulfill that dream three and a half years later. Performing there was euphoric, surpassing even my wildest expectations. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and love for music and for Los Angeles. 


What led you to choose Communication Studies as a major?

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I was torn between Communications Studies and Cognitive Science as a freshman. After taking some very interesting General Education courses that delved into themes and issues in the field of communications, I decided to major in Communication Studies. I wanted to have the opportunity to learn about as many different topics as possible in college, and the diversity of courses in the major was very appealing to me. Communications had the most classes listed that piqued my interest. I like that UCLA is on the quarter system because the class turnover rate is so high; within a year I was able to study twelve completely different topics. 

How has Communication Studies empowered you in your personal and professional life?

I think that a key strength of the major is that it is very broad. In four years, I was able to take diverse courses that included negotiation, law, music, architecture, philosophy, speech, theoretical studies, government, media, and psychology. Gaining exposure to chunks of knowledge from such a wide spectrum helped to open my mind in general to new experiences and ideas. Growing up in a sheltered community, I was craving unique experiences in college, and I believe that Communication Studies has made me a better, more empathetic person. 

As far as impacting my career development, I think that Communications Studies helps cultivate something I will call “good thinking,” or social and cultural problem solving. I suppose that sounds rather vague and academic, but I guess that’s another result of graduating from college. 

What do you think the role of Communication Studies should be at UCLA? How do you see Communication Studies as an important area of study?

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Communication Studies is not a utilitarian practice, which is what I like about it. At first, I was a little bothered by the impracticality of not learning music theory, or how to code in several languages, or some other specific and direct skill set. However, now that I look back at the education I received at UCLA in hindsight, I think it’s really important that people take the time to dive into the millions of less concrete patterns that guide our lives just as much as a field like mathematics does. To me, the Communication Studies major is an attempt to see the whole. Through the process, I learned that while the whole is something much bigger than I imagined and impossible to ever really know, all the elements are related. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced as a student at UCLA?

Balancing my college life with the band was the most difficult thing I had to do. I was commuting three times a week out of Los Angeles for band practice or shows while still trying to develop an academic and social life at UCLA. I remember facing incredible wrath from my band mates at my decision to study abroad in Spain for a semester. My two greatest dreams during that time were to make playing music an everyday reality and to graduate from college. The two didn’t always coexist well. 


Could you describe your experience studying abroad?

I spent one semester abroad in Granada, a small student town in the south of Spain. I wish that studying abroad was mandatory for all undergraduates. In Spain I bought a flamenco guitar and took lessons from a master player and luthier, I learned how to speak Spanish, and I got my first true glimpse of the world from a non-American perspective. I’ve travelled a lot in the past two years, but living and growing roots in Granada provided a depth of experience that you just can’t get from spending a week in a city.  


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How did you decide to pursue a music career? Did you have other career ambitions growing up?

I received my first guitar as a gift at 13. I started playing with my friend Ryan that year, and in high school our friend Kelcey joined the band. Matt joined us in college.  It’s been over eight years since we started, and we are still playing together. I fully expect to make music with them for decades. But I did consider doing other things if music was never going to work out. My second love after making music is actually business, which may be a rare thing for a musician to admit. One of my best friends from college works in consulting and mobile technology, and we toss around start-up ideas from time to time. I’d also like to pursue something with micro-finance in the future. 

What was it like to perform at UCLA’s Spring Sing in 2008?

Spring Sing was the first time I played to a crowd of several thousand, and I remember feeling incredibly nervous that I would lose my voice. Suddenly a big performance like that seemed like lunacy to me—how could you rely on something as fragile as a human voice to hold up on any random date picked so far in the future!? The experience turned out great though, and it served as the first in a long line of lessons that led me to trust in my voice and love performing without fear. 



Please describe your experience touring in Europe.

We’ve toured Europe four or five times over the last two years. Some trips were brutally difficult and others were a breeze. Our first headline tour was during “the worst winter Western Europe had seen in over fifty years,” as the newspapers relayed in various languages. We careened our freezing, heater-less van down the icy freeways like a toboggan eight hours every day, barely getting sleep or breaks. Though the tour itself was hard, the shows were incredible and kept us alive. Our record came out in Europe before it was released in the United States, so these were literally our first headline shows. It was so surreal to arrive in Sweden and hear that our shows in Stockholm and Gothenburg were both sold out. That tour comprised two of the hardest months of my life and probably the two most satisfying ones as well. 

Last summer, we played about 30 festivals all over Europe. Festival season is more carefree. The weather is good, you spend a lot of time hanging out with and watching other artists, and the shows are much more massive than what we were used to with headlining clubs. 

What are your goals for the future?

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We are setting up our own studio in Silver Lake where I will spend most of my waking hours for the rest of 2011. We expect to release our second record sometime in 2012. Other than that, we have a little touring left this year: the Sasquatch Festival in Washington and Lollapalooza. 


Biographical sketch

Taylor Rice was born and raised in Mission Viejo, CA. He learned to play the guitar at the tender age of 13. Taylor and his friends Kelcey Ayer and Ryan Hahn started their band in high school and have been together for eight years since, joined by drummer Matt Frazier five years ago. Recently renamed Local Natives, the band has performed in venues in Los Angeles such as the Silverlake Lounge and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. They have toured extensively internationally as well, traveling to Europe, Japan, and Australia. Local Natives’s debut album Gorilla Manor hit at No. 3 on the Billboard New Artist Chart in 2010.

In addition to attending classes, Taylor spent much of his four years at UCLA playing music with his band. He also enjoyed playing racquetball, sleeping on the roof of Ackerman Union in sleeping bags with friends, and he might have taken a self-guided evening tour of UCLA’s underground tunnels.

Taylor graduated from UCLA in 2008 with a degree in Communication Studies.  He and the three other band members currently live together in Silver Lake, CA.

Local Natives’s music can be heard here: