New York trio Sunflower Bean released their second record Twentytwo in Blue on March 23rd. The album comes almost two years and two months after the release of their critically acclaimed 2016 debut album Human Ceremony.
Co-produced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jacob Portrait (who also mixed the record) and HC-producer Matt Molnar of Friends, Twenty-two in Blue shows Sunflower Bean stay true to their guitar band core and classic rock-inspired roots while exploring new sonic textures with more direct and progressive themes. Unlike their debut, which was essentially a compilation of songs Sunflower Bean wrote while still in their teens, Twenty-two in Blue was made in the year between December 2016 and December 2017 and showcases how far the band has come since playing together in their high school days.
Lizzie Manno had a chat with band members Julia Cumming, Jacob Faber and Nick Kivlen during their current UK tour to find out more.
“Burn It” references how much NYC has changed over the years. How would you describe your relationship with the city and do you think your music would sound different if you were from somewhere else?
Julia - I think New York Music has a certain kind of speed and urgency that goes with the intensity of the city. It's more of something you hear when you compare music from New York City with music from the west coast. I feel very very close to NYC, almost too close perhaps. I just want to see it continue to be a place for artists, for spontaneity, for experimentation. Also for the people that have been there for generations to be protected and valued. The NYC I grew up with feels very far away these days. But maybe it's not completely lost.
“I Was A Fool” has the feel of a duet, which you guys haven’t really done before. Was it the goal in the beginning to write a duet and do you think you’ll write more in the future?
Julia - The goal wasn't necessarily to write a duet, it was more of our different interpretations of the music and theme. Nick started with the chorus, and I wrote around it. I wouldn't rule more duets out in the future!
“Twentytwo” feels like the defiant centrepiece of the record. Do you think there are enough songs that address the struggles of young women, beyond just romance?
Julia - I think there's always room for more.
“Crisis Fest” is a distinct battle cry for young people, partially societal and partially political. Do bands that don’t address these issues, whether it’s through music or just talking about them, are complicit in these issues?
Julia - I don't think all art necessarily has to be political (while it is important to always check and look at your privilege; for example, a white artist has more opportunity to be a-political because they aren't constantly being persecuted). Right now we are up against a wall, and when you are up against a wall I think a lot of exciting art can be made. That is the only potential idea of a silver lining that we have in the current political climate in the United States.
While there seems to be a generational divide on political and social issues, it seems like there’s also a generational divide when it comes to older veteran rock stars lamenting at the state or lack of new bands. Is it just that musicians like Bono, The Killers, Noel Gallagher and Muse, who have all said things like this, are out of touch or are they on to something?
Nick - They’re are so many bands in the underground making great records. Some artist like The Pixies who took us on tour earlier this year(and other young bands) are still super in touch. It's very hard to be good, and it's very hard to make rock music that's interesting these days. It's easy to just do what is done before. If rock wants to stay current, we have to look at how it can do that and stay true to itself. The music has to have a reason for existing, and rock has to and CAN do better.
One of the main lyrical themes on your debut album was religion and spirituality with songs like “Creation Myth,” “Oh, I Just Don’t Know” and “Space Exploration Disaster.” Do you see your new song “Human For” as a rejection of the ideas on those previous songs or were those earlier songs merely an exploration of religion and morality?
Julia - I think they are a thought in the same family, continued in a different way. On Human Ceremony we were looking at religion in the context of what it meant to music, language, and culture. How people may say “My God” or “Oh My God” while having no religion at all. On Human For, we are rejecting the role religion is expected to play in our lives, and letting music and art take that place. We can make our own meaning, find our own meaning in this world. And we do.
In regards to the new album, many people have thrown out the Fleetwood Mac namedrop. Others have said 70’s soft rock, American new wave, and glam rock. To me, I hear a bit of Abba on “Twentytwo,” I hear a bit of Public Access TV on “Sinking Sands” and I hear a bit of Lana Del Rey on “Only A Moment.” What’s your reaction to all these comparisons?
Julia - I think because the heart of our music is with the guitar, people can hear a lot of the past in it. People can compare it to whatever they love, and that's part of the fun! We don't mind comparisons. That's how you relate one piece of work to another.
Nick - People always put their own filter on what they see in you. They make the connections and references that they are familiar with. There’s nothing wrong or offensive about it, we’re just so used to people telling us bands we remind them of every day. It doesn’t really have any effect on us.
There seems to be less of an improvisational jam feel to the songwriting on this album than your first album and there seems to be a more direct, confrontational approach to the lyrics than the more metaphorical, metaphysical lyrics on your debut. Was either of those conscious decisions when you started making your new record?
Julia - Definitely. We knew we wanted to go more inward and direct than we had on Human Ceremony. We felt there was more to us that wasn't fully being shown. Although mostly we worked and looked at what we created afterwards.
How radical of a departure do you feel your new album is from your debut?
Julia - I don't think it is too radical. I think we still sound like ourselves, just a little older, a little wiser, and much stronger.
How have you gone about implementing the new songs into your live set, since they seem to have more of a classic songwriting feel?
Julia - We have just been trying to do them justice, and let our voices shine where they need to. In NYC we are playing the whole album in full with backup singers, which will be really amazing and new for us!
Jacob - Yes! We’ve been playing a bunch of songs off the new record live. It’s been fun to figure out how they work best.
Do you still do a bit of improvising with the new ones?
Julia - Absolutely, but you will have to hear it for yourself when you see us live! 🙂
Jacob - That goes along with adding the new songs to the live set. It’s always a lot of fun to open songs up and see what can come in a live setting.
What’s the overall message or takeaway that you hope people get from listening to Twentytwo in Blue?
Julia - We created this album not to be something perfect, but something lovable, and personal for us. If the songs help you through a hard time, I would consider that a success. If the songs make you laugh, I would consider that a success. I just want them to make you feel.
Nick - There are so many albums that feel like close friends to me. If we can be that for one person it’s all worth it.
Jacob - I think one thing that we want people to take from these songs is a feeling of companionship. We hope these songs can be someone’s friend and be there for them.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend to our readers?
Jacob - I just got the new U.S. Girls record which I have been liking a lot!
Julia - I really like Jay Som.
Nick - We have been listening to The Ooze by King Krule a lot.
1. Burn It
2. I Was a Fool
4. Crisis Fest
6. Puppet Strings
7. Only A Moment
8. Human For
9. Any Way You Like
10. Sinking Sands
11. Oh No, Bye Bye
05/4 – Brighton, UK @ Concorde 2
06/4 – London, UK @ Koko