In the Middle with Sunflower Bean
The title of Sunflower Bean’s upcoming garage-rock EP, ‘King of the Dudes’, perfectly matches the chilled-out vibes of the New York based band. The hard-working members of Sunflower Bean have gone from strength to strength since the release of their first LP Human Ceremony in 2016. Their follow up album, 2018’s Twentytwo in Blue was hailed as one of NME’s greatest New York albums of all time. I chatted with guitarist and vocalist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber during their UK tour.
“We are always looking forward and trying to shake things up” Jacob explains referring to their musical evolution. This experimental attitude is definitely present in their most recent single ‘Come For Me’ which was released last month. The song features some heavy, boppy guitars while lead vocalist and bassist Julia Cumming’s voice takes on a harsher, more rock n’ roll attitude. This song features on the new EP which was completed in an impressive seven days under producer Justin Raisen (who’s collaborated with artists such as Charlie XCX and Sky Ferreira). The band recorded the whole thing in Raisen’s garage in LA, which Nick called a “super intense” experience. Nick continued, “he would be jumping up and down and when we did something that he liked he would react really big to it and egg us on…we have this rock side and he really wanted us to push forward on it.”
I asked them about their politically charged single ‘Crisis Fest’, wondering to what extent they thought music acts as a successful medium to capture people’s political attention. Nick responded “I think it 100% is… [popular music] is one of the most widely consumed forms of art and I think it has a lot of power to influence people… I think that no matter what you do your art will always be political in some way because you’re making it within the context of the times you live in and I think you have a responsibility to engage with that.” He demonstrated the band’s passion for politics by continuing “one of the silver linings about what happened in 2016 was a lot of people our age were more engaged than they ever had been… that is really important to me because if you just close your eyes and think that the Democratic Party in America are going to keep things under control there’s not going to be any real change.”
Taking a lighter turn, we talked about the band’s style as each member wears amazing clothes. Julia’s on-stage attire usually includes a floor-length dress, jazzy boots and her trademark electric blue eyeshadow whereas Nick often opts for a white boiler suit. “We all have different style influences but we travel a lot and shop together at different vintage stores… I think the one thing about us is that we don’t really have any parameters, there’s no uniform… I’ll basically wear anything I think is interesting, it’s definitely just another form of expression that all of us are pretty passionate about.”
As they were in the UK I asked if any British bands had influenced their music. Nick said “there’s a lot of historic British music in our DNA… we draw a lot from UK artists as much as American artists.” Jacob talked about recent Mercury Prize winners Wolf Alice, saying going on tour with them last year was “super inspiring because they are so hard-working and put on great shows… it’s so cool to see another young band really do rock-music justice.” Sunflower Bean have approached touring differently over the years, with Jacob feeling that “you get better at touring because you figure out how to do it and keep your sanity.” He said that there is “always” a strange experience on tour, with Nick adding “there’s a lot of weird things that happen.” The day before this interview they were in Thailand for its first international festival after a long gap, which Nick described as “extremely amazing.” The locals made it difficult for them to get anywhere as everyone from security guards to taxi drivers were asking for photos. Nick described the experience as “really sweet because sometimes in the UK and America or in any place that has a lot of bands coming through they sort of take it for granted so it was really special to go to a place where they don’t see bands from different parts of the world every day.”
Sunflower Bean’s great attitude towards politics, music and their fans demonstrate that they are just as amazing off stage as during their vibrant live performances. Be sure to catch ‘King of the Dudes’ when it is released in January 2019.
Header Image Credit Christaan Felber for Rolling Stone