Sunday, August 25, 2019

DIY Roots: Sunflower Bean in conversation

They are one of New York’s hottest young guitar bands, and ever since Sunflower Bean first started out in 2012, their creative journey has been one of hard work and focus. Playing hundreds of gigs in their hometown and being a part on the live music scene is important to the three musicians who want to continue making music and playing live shows.

Funded by Brooklyn Brewery, the eclectic psych rock trio – singer and bassist Julia Cumming, guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber – recently completed a string of intimate gigs in some of the UK’s most iconic venues including the Borderline in London, the Bodega Nottingham, York’s Crescent and the Exchange in Bristol. It was very unique and every show differed by offering its own atmosphere and energy.

“The live dates have been amazing”, enthuses Julia. “We have known Brooklyn Brewery from New York for a while and it’s cool what they are doing to support bands and smaller local venues in different places and make it a unique night. It is good to be a part of it and they are not only representing New York City. I like them a lot.”

Sunflower Bean love playing in the UK. All four shows were different. It can take a couple of shows to get into the swing of things, so the first and the last night are often going to be even more special.

“Every time we play shows in the UK we want to make sure that they are really good, it’s very special for us here”, explains Julia. “We are connected to the fans and the music culture, we brought out these songs we hadn’t played in a long time and we wanted to make sure that it was interesting for people that may seen us three times. We like the more intimate shows, like the Brooklyn Brewery ones, you know there was real quality”.

Delivering quality encompasses all aspects of the band’s work. To the surprise of their fans, they released ‘King of the Dudes’ early this year. Reactionary, it is a sharpened response to our times. Produced by Justin Raisen, the EP release represented a smart move, and it prompted both interest and curiosity.

If their acclaimed second album ‘Twentytwo In Blue’ allowed them to find strength, then ‘King of the Dudes’ can be seen as the means to utilising it. The track ‘Come for Me’ is featured on the EP, it is a song inspired by inner strength, power and sexual freedom. Having released their second album in 2018, the band decided to move quickly rather than wait ages before releasing new material.

“The reception has been pretty good”, says Jacob “It’s been funny to see and hear what people think of it because we put it out as a surprise. We released our record in March 2018. People were not expecting us to come out with a whole new pool of songs, so it’s been  cool to see how they have been reacting. It’s another step, a new direction for us but everyone has responded to it well. It’s crazy the way take off here in the UK”.

“It was definitely a new thing for us”, Jacob continues. “We produced, wrote and recorded the whole thing in two weeks in LA. It just felt like a ‘f*ck it let’s do it’ attitude. There is a lot of yelling and kicking, and there is a lot of excitement. We are always just trying to push ourselves and I don’t think we ever want to feel like we are stuck in a place or feel like we are boxed in. We are always just trying to move things forward and make new rock music”.

All their hard work is definitely paying off. Having played numerous live shows at underground level, Sunflower Bean have also had the pleasure of touring with big acts. In addition to building new friendships, touring with Wolf Alice taught them a lot about being a band.

“We first met them when they came over for their first US tour, we opened for them at a bunch of small venues in America”, recalls Nick. “We just became best friends and they were a similar age, I think maybe one or two years older than us. They worked very hard and by the time we came over to the UK and opened for them at Alexandra Palace in London, they had transformed everything from their light show, to stage production, to their songwriting”.

Similarly, the opportunity to go on tour with The Pixies is not one up for rejection, “It was pretty crazy when they asked us to open to them for some dates in the US because, they are an iconic band for us and our people and just really inspiring”, says Jacob. “They are a niche band and are not mainstream like some other artists. It was pretty cool to see all these fans pack out 3,000 capacity rooms all over the States and play new music”.

It is obvious that playing live means everything to Sunflower Bean. When they first started out they played more shows in 2014 than just about any other New York band. There is a website that lists all the different shows and the band go as far as to estimate that some of the smaller DIY shows went unrecorded as they don’t tend to get listed on the website.

“I think that’s how you get really good as a band in the first year”, says Nick. “There is a lot of benefits to it because you are getting to practice, develop your songs, you are getting reactions from audiences in real time about stuff, what’s working and what’s not working and you are also building a following”.

Starting out in New York they quickly went from being first on a bill of five bands to being top of it, “I remember the end of December of 2014 we played these three shows at Baby’s Alright and that’s the first time that we were able to pack these rooms. It felt like things were happening and by spring 2015 we were in the UK on our first tour and we had got signed. That is my advice to bands when they are first starting out; play as much as you can in your hometown, there are so many benefits to it”.

Sunflower Bean make an effort to properly engage with their fans in the UK, “We have a joke that there is something in the water here in the UK that just makes the music and the fans better”, Julia says. “I think that there is a real appreciation for rock and guitar music. There is an openness and an optimism about new music. I think that people here are generally curious about what’s going on, they want to watch an act to see how it develops, so we’ve been lucky to be part of that”.

Sunflower Bean are about authenticity, and having known Brooklyn Brewery for a good while, a relationship was already in place when the company approached them about doing the funded UK tour.

“The venues are so important. The venues are just like the ones we went to when we were teenagers. It’s really important work”, Jacobs concludes.

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