Sunflower Bean Open up About ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ and Their Hope That Social Progression Will Positively Impact the Future
Rock trio Sunflower Bean hail from the Bushwick, Brooklyn music scene, where to be normal is to be as alienly insular and cartoonishly peculiar as possible — think six hour sets of feedback and tape loops with interpretive dance. In this context, Sunflower Bean is something of an oddity, precisely because of how “normal” they are. This isn’t to say they’re bland or generic, by any means. They simply make music well-informed in the last fifty years of indie and alternative rock history, with a willingness to revive elements that have fallen out of focus, or out of vogue, and with an ability to craft songs that are at once eclectic and elegant, inventive and accessible. People have described particular elements of their sound with references to such disparate artists as Fleetwood Mac, The Smiths, and Black Sabbath, although those references are beyond hackneyed at this point, and nothing except a proper listen to the band will do them justice.
Their new album, “Twentytwo in Blue,” showcases the band honing their songwriting craft and making bold strides musically, with a focus that is tasteful and engaging. The three members — guitarist and vocalist Nick Kivlen, bassist and vocalist Julia Comming, and drummer Jocob Faber — are each 22 years old, hence the album’s title. The album explores the singular feeling of being this exact age, capturing not only the essence of a particular moment in one’s own life, but also the experience of being that age at this particular moment in time. It’s a strange time we’re living in, and Sunflower Bean’s new record explores the surrealness of the present, and teases possibilities for the future. The band’s three members always conduct interviews together, so Entertainment Voice was able to get an intimate look from the entire band into both the new record and the band’s upcoming tour.
What would you consider the biggest difference between your new album “Twentytwo in Blue” and your debut album?
Jacob Faber: With “Twentytwo In Blue” we were really able to use the studio as more of a tool and were able to really to dig for a whole new world of sounds.
Why is 22 a particularly significant age to you?
Julia Cumming: Being 22 actually reminds me of “Eighteen” by Alice Cooper, not quite a boy and not a man. It’s like knowing how to buy a blender but not knowing how to do your taxes. It’s knowing you have power but still just understanding how to wield it. It’s also a really interesting time to be 22, or just a young person in the United States of America right now. All of that heavily influenced the record.
You’ve mentioned that the color blue came to you often while writing the new songs, and that one of the things it represents is expanse, as in an open sea. Tell our readers why the color blue was so important and how it impacted the album.
Jacob Faber: The color blue didn’t come to us until the later stages of making this record. When we were thinking about visuals blue kept coming to us in not only a way of melancholy but also a feeling of resilience. The feeling you get when you stand at the edge of sea and can feel where the ocean meets the sky.
The lines, “I do not go quietly / Into the night that calls me,” from “Twentytwo” appear to have been inspired by poet Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” What do the lyrics in “Twentytwo” mean to you?
Julia Cumming: “Twentytwo” for me is really about fighting against the idea that you only have one moment to blossom, or that there’s no life beyond your youth. The chorus is in a way reminding myself that I can make it through to the other side, that I can stand through the waves.
“I Was A Fool” began when the band was jamming, and you and Julia improvised lyrics. Do you take this approach to writing songs often? How does it usually work out?
Nick Kivlen: Every song is different, some lyrics are edited and revised for months, while others are sung out of thin air completely finished. “I Was A Fool” was one of the rare songs that more or less came about in less than an hour. It’s an exciting thing when the three of us feel really taped into something where we are pulling things together quickly with instinct. It’s a special serendipity that is a blessing when it happens.
About, “Crisis Fest,” you’ve said, “This song is less about specific politics and more about our belief in our generation to change the shitty things about the world.” What are some specific shitty things about the world that you hope your generation might change?
Nick Kivlen: I think young people today have a worldview that is potentially more progressive than ever. We hold a lot of value in tolerance and understanding. Older people might try to criticize us by calling us “whiny” or “snowflakes” but this is because of a fear of the changing of power. The country grows more and more diverse every year and America is not always going to belong to the establishment that it does now. While understanding not everyone feels this way, there is definitely a trend dedication to understanding each other that will lead to social progression. We need to address the many injustices and imbalances in power, wealth, and freedom that exist today. Thinking back to just 5 years ago, same sex marriage was still not legal. I think reform of the drug war and prison systems will be a big one that I hope to see change very soon.
What is the story behind your song “Anyway You Like?”
Julia Cumming: The song takes an inspiration from Phil Spector, very lush and beautiful. The beginning is a bit edgier, and then it opens up into this big soft orchestra. The lyrics on that song are really about the back and forth between two people, “If you push the knife, then i’m the one who bleeds.”
If you had to pick a set of lyrics from the new album that has a particularly special and personal meaning to you, what would they be, and why?
Nick Kivlen: I’m especially proud of “Crisis Fest” because it was a hard song to write. It was a tough task to accurately convey the message in a way that is meaningful and not preachy or futile. There were many drafts for the three verses that me and Julia went over many times, until finally one morning we had a breakthrough and wrote them all out at once. It was also the last song written and was a nice sense of finality.
Is there a musical influence on the new album that you wouldn’t expect your listeners to expect or recognize?
Jacob Faber: We were listening to The Gorillaz a lot before making this record. I think they are a really good example of making creative music that is also able to reach a lot of people.
How do you feel about the Brooklyn music scene? And, at the present moment, would you consider yourselves more a part of it or a reaction to it?
Julia Cumming: It’s hard for us to feel in touch with the scene because we travel so much, but it’s really close to our hearts because we wouldn’t be who we are without it. It’s where we grew up, DIY taught us how to start a band. But we also really wanted to be different from what was around us, like when everyone was shoegaze we wanted to do guitar solos. So, we’re always kind of reacting.
What can U.S. fans expect from the North American leg of your tour?
Nick Kivlen: We keep things interesting by improvising every night and take every show extremely seriously. We will never reel it in and a have a run of the mill show. They can expect us to be 100% invested in every performance, which I think is the most important thing a traveling band can do.
What’s one place you’re especially looking forward to playing on this leg of tour?
Nick Kivlen: I love traveling in America. Each region is so unique and has a very special place in my heart. Before the band I had never traveled west of the tri-state area, being able to get to see this country over and over again has been one of the most special privileges of my career in music. Our shows in L.A. are always highlights, and we have a lot of friends who live there, but I also really love smaller cities like Cleveland and Bloomington. It’s really nice to see the art and music community in smaller cities.
“Twentytwo in Blue” is available on Apple Music. The North American leg of Sunflower Bean’s tour kicks off April 26 at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom and runs through Aug. 5. All tour dates and tickets are here.