Growing Into Something Beautiful; An Interview with Sunflower Bean

When you take that deep dive into Sunflower Bean’s first album Human Ceremony, you will notice the trio have obviously been doing their homework on classic rock bands before them.  Growing up in the heart of New York, it is also pretty hard pressed to not think that the grit and grime that the city provides didn’t play a part in their growth musically.  The indie world has taken a liking to the band’s vintage feel as tours around the world have been notched into their belts and opportunities supporting bands such as DIIV, Best Coast, The Vaccines, Pixies and Wolf Alice have given them well deserved credit.
Twentytwo in Blue has Sunflower Bean embracing a softer, sweeter side.  Going along with the confidence gained on their worldwide travels, lead singer Julia Cumming and company (drummer Jacob Faber, guitarist/vocalist Nick Kivlen) slowed things down and took in what was happening around them.  One could say that being a band during the period of personal maturation helped the writing process (Human Ceremony was written during the later teen years).  Inspiration wasn’t too far away in the political and cultural spectrum; the current climate gave the band all the more reason to sharpen their craft.  Twentytwo in Blue was co-produced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jacob Portrait (who also mixed the record) and Human Ceremony-producer Matt Molnar of Friends.
We recently caught up with the band and talked more about music, what was learned while being on the road, and the view of millennials.
Nick and Jake-the two of you were already messing around before setting anything up.  When Julia came along, did it become clear that there was potential to start up the band?
We had been playing together after high school with another friend from the neighborhood, not necessarily gigging. That summer, however, we were looking for a final member and Julia seemed like the perfect fit. She came over to our friends’ house where we were recording and she laid down the vocals on our first song “bread”. The moment we listened to the playback I knew it was going to work.
Culturally speaking, being in Brooklyn is one of the best spots to be. How influential has the borough been for the group?
When the band first started gigging we wanted to do everything the opposite of what most bands were doing in a broad sense. However, there were a few local bands that we really loved and learned a lot from. It was a really great community of spaces and people putting on DIY shows.
The band went on a stretch the included performing 200 shows in 2016. What did everyone learn about themselves during that run?
2016 was the most travelling we had ever done and we became really adept at the road life. The world felt very small and connected, for instance, we would have breakfast at a cafe in London and casually be back there again 6 months later. Even insignificant gas stations sprawled across the middle of America we would start to become familiar with. It was really cool to be experiencing the world like that.
The number 22 is pretty symbolic in regards to the band right now. The title of the new album and its release date, and of course the age of each of you. Why did it become so important to make sure everything had to center around 22?
Since we have been playing together for some time, and know each other well, we can see how we’ve grown, almost like little notches on the wall when you get taller. Because of that, it seemed fitting to include 22 in the title. It just felt right. It’s hard to take a record full of songs that cover a vast range of topics and feelings and give them a ubiquitous title. 22 is the age we all are and blue in an abstract way kind of felt like the hue of the record. Melancholy, but ultimately hopeful.

In Twentytwo in Blue, some of the songs are heavily geared towards the political side. As musicians, how important is it to you all to address certain issues within your music.
There are definitely songs that address the state of our country on this record. It seemed impossible not to be artistically affected by the election. Not all of our art is inherently political all the time, but music is how we connect and communicate. And when stakes are so high, it feels irresponsible not to address them.
What made working with Molnar and Taveniere so intriguing again?
They are really great people and amazing musicians who really helped us make the first record, and it felt like we could do more together. They were able to bring things out of us on Human Ceremony that we didn’t know we had, so we wanted to look further with them. The wildcard was Jacob Portrait who we had never met before, acting as co-producer. He was the new element in the room.
I was reading about the some of the lyrical content when the whole millennial debate was brought up. Does the group collectively feel that you have to fight off the label as being what many consider millennials as lazy and soft?
We just think that some of the negative stereotypes and attitudes older people have towards millennials (words like snowflake) are complete bullshit.
Going more towards the softer sounds the encompass Twentytwo in Blue, do you all feel that this will be the direction you are headed towards for future releases?
We’ve always had a very soft rock side to us, our first single “bread” was super soft.  I think because our live show has a reputation for being rowdy, people are surprised when they listen to the recordings.  I don’t think we’d want to ever to put ourselves in a box, but we were definitely interested in pulling certain elements back and others to the forefront on this record. Writing some songs that were a little more “classic” gave us the chance to explore new sounds within ourselves, and we want to continue that exploration.
Writing and recording Twentytwo in Blue took about a year. Did everyone find it refreshing to take the time to work on the album?
Yes!! It was a really amazing experience. We hadn’t been able to just get together and explore because of touring for a long time. It was a creative explosion.  It was really great to slow down and be able to just work together and enjoy the process of demoing and the little breakthroughs you have with these songs, which are very much alive. The songs are like little people who you watch grow, and having the time to let them breathe was exciting.
For the recording, did the band put the tracks on tape or computer?
We worked all digital, with a few tape elements worked into the digital recordings. We don’t believe that the tape way is necessarily the best way or anything like that.
Besides the world tour coming up, what else is on the agenda?
We are just really excited to get out there, let everyone hear what we worked on for the past year.
Sunflower Bean’s latest Twentytwo in Blue is out now.
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