Sunflower Bean – Interview 2018

After their exceptional sophomoric album, Twentytwo in Blue, which we called, “A thrilling ride which lands a solid sonic punch right in your guts” and their exceptional take-down of Brighton’s Concorde 2 a couple of weeks ago, we were honoured to chat to Sunflower Bean about their Top 40 record, making music in the American political landscape, and sitting Theo from Wolf Alice down to play him the record in full.

Congratulations on the Top 40 in the UK! How have you found the reaction to the record?
Nick Kivlen: It’s been great. It’s just great to finally have it out after recording it because we put so much time and effort into it and to have it come out is just a giant achievement for us and we’re really glad that people have been enjoying it. These shows have been selling out, it just seems to be going really, really well and we’re thankful for that.

You’ve spent a lot of time here, touring with the likes of The Vaccines and Wolf Alice last year and now the Top 40 record, it feels like you’ve got quite a good relationship with the UK crowds…
Nick Kivlen: I would say so, yeah.

Do you feel that at gigs as well?
Jacob Faber: Yeah they seem to just really be more easily excited about music.

Nick Kivlen: They’re less cynical. I’d say that they believe more. I would say that most people are just more open and friendly.

So Twentytwo in Blue came out a couple of weeks ago. Is it true that you played it to Theo from Wolf Alice?
Julia Cumming: It is true!

Nick Kivlen: We sat him down in the middle of this giant room…

Julia Cumming: What was also happening was I was really nervous for that whole Wolf Alice tour and freaking out [about the record] and you make something and not a lot of people see it or here it yet and you go through your internal monologue like, “I think it’s good, but will anyone else?” We did a tour with Pixies right before Wolf Alice so we were always in these giant rooms playing these songs that nobody knew and it was really hard to gage what the heck we were doing. So I just sat him down, and we’ve been friends for a while now, and I trust his opinion, and we just basically made him sit there and listen to the whole thing. That was the first time I realised how much the record is an experience I think. There’s a lot of music now which is meant to play in the back of a restaurant or at the gym or can just be on and I feel like our record…

Jacob Faber: Demands your attention.

Nick Kivlen: We’ve known them for a long time, we played a bunch of shows with them in America a few years back. We played in Philadelphia with them, where I think 60 people came so we go way back with them so it’s so good to see their rise and us follow behind. It’s a dream come true.

The record has got tinges of classic rock to it, things like T-Rex, Fleetwood Mac and Thin Lizzy in there. What were the influences going in, or did you just go in with an open mind?
Nick Kivlen: When we first started working on the record, we wanted to shed and throw away the things that we were doing on the first record which were really, really Brooklyn. Personally, for me, my guitar tones were all super of that Brooklyn period from 2010 to 2015. Those were the bands that I loved in high school. After being in a band for three years, and touring on the Human Ceremony record for a year and a half, I just felt ready to do something else. So I re-learned how to play guitar and the music that we were all listening to was, generally, heading into those records that people always mention to you, but you’ve never heard. Like, “Oh, you’ve never heard Low by David Bowie?”

Julia Cumming: I feel like you especially [talking to Nick] will come to records super, super late, or get into them in a really funny way. Earlier this year, he was like, “What do you guys think of Blondie?” and I was like, “What are you talking about Nicholas? We play rock music!” [laughs].

This feels like a more confident release as well. Do you think you’re getting better as musicians from this album to the last?
Nick Kivlen: Yeah, my memories of making the first record was that we were a little confused, we were a little nervous and it was a chaotic experience where we worked really to push through it. On this record I feel like we were a little bit older, we’d already been through making the first one and we had a fan base which we didn’t have during the first one, which inspired us to have a little bit more confidence. I would say that this record was a little bit more natural and a bit more confident.

Julia Cumming: I think also we’re definitely getting a lot of this term of growth and this concept of growth which maybe we put on ourselves unintentionally by calling the record Twentytwo in Blue which calls to our age.

Nick Kivlen: And by calling our band Sunflower Bean! [laughs]

Julia Cumming: I didn’t want to grow, I just wanted the songs to be better. I just wanted the songs to stand on their own. I think Twentytwo in Blue stands on its own and I think Human Ceremony stands on its own, it’s just this one more than the last one.

I think it would be fair to say that the political climate changed between your albums. Was that something that you went in with that you wanted to talk about the political landscape or was it an unconscious thing?
Jacob Faber: We wanted to make a really honest record. We wanted an honesty to come through the lyrics and the music. It was just weighing heavy, so it didn’t feel like we had to, it just felt extremely natural and the honest thing to do. The weight of the world is all over the record and it comes out in some places more than others.

Julia Cumming: One thing I’ve noticed is with one song ‘Twentytwo’, which has a few different meanings, people see things in it which are true about this time right now and what it’s like to be a young woman. It’s really amazing to hear what people hear in it and it makes me feel like we were at least in tune with ourselves enough to understand what we have in common with the collective ‘youth’ and we’re all experiencing the same fears surrounding fake news, questions about the future, the same resilience about what people go through.

Nick Kivlen: It was just really candid. You have to think about what we were doing during the time that the album was being conceptualised. We were touring around America in October and November 2016 in the lead up to the US election, meeting people from all over the country and seeing different people our age have different reactions and different worries and things to say about their future. People that we went to high school with are graduating from college and coming out into this late capitalist work place in hundreds and thousands of dollars of debt. We were also writing these songs in January and February of 2017, the first few months of Trump’s presidency in America and it permeated through a lot of the subtext of the songs. Even though I think a lot of the songs on it are personal, aside from ‘Crisis Fest’, which is the one outrightly political song, it definitely has an underlying influence and subtext of the times.

As a young band – you’ve been doing this for five years and you’re only 22 – have you ever felt patronised by the media, or the labels? Did you ever feel like people didn’t take you seriously?
Julia Cumming: It’s only now in this current press circuit when we keep getting the growth thing that I just mentioned before. That’s the one thing where I’m like, “It’s not about the growth, it’s about the work!” That’s the only part that I get a little confused about, but I feel like we’re funny because we haven’t exactly followed any trend. Which has sometimes made it hard because we don’t know exactly where we fit in.

Nick Kivlen: At SXSW we felt that a lot. We’d play one showcase with a bunch of rock bands and we were the black sheep and then we would go and play with some more home recording, bedroom emotional indie bands and we didn’t fit into that world either.

Jacob Faber: I think we’re confident in the purpose that our music has in the world.

Julia Cumming: It doesn’t mean we know anything, and it doesn’t mean we’ve done everything we wanted to do, but I’m still super excited in what the future can hold. I think we’re on the right path and that’s the important part.

Between the likes of you guys, Public Access TV and The Lemon Twigs, there seems to be a resurgence of indie-rock coming out of New York and America, especially looking from the UK. What do you make of the scene at the moment?
Nick Kivlen: To be completely candid and honest. It feels like New York has changed a lot within the last five years. Not for the better or the worse, I just feel like it’s more quiet. When we first started going to shows and playing in DIY bands around 2011, maybe we’re just a little out of touch but to me it seems like things are a little bit more quiet.

Julia Cumming: I think there’s a ton of great music coming out of the UK. Dream Wife, I think Shame are really exciting, we love Sorry.

Nick Kivlen: I’m growing more and more in love with Sorry everyday!

Liam McMillen