Creation myths: An interview with Sunflower Bean

Julia Cumming is talking about a song her band, psych-rock three piece Sunflower Bean, have just finished demoing. The constant drone of building work underway in her Manhattan home has no chance of competing with her enthusiasm. She’s so excited about it, grinning wide into her webcam. But then she pauses. It’s too early to talk about the second record, she realises, as their debut album ‘Human Ceremony’ is just about to be released.

This youthful impatience is so imbued with spirit of the band - also comprised by Nick Kivlen (vocals and guitar) and Jacob Faber (drums) - that they already have a song written about it. “I’m on the edge of my seat / I know I’m going too fast,” Julia cries on ‘Come On’, the second track of the album. Then, as if caught up in the sheer airspeed of the guitar melody, she changes her tune; “This is my chance to be / I know that I need to go faster”.

Having made themselves indebted to fuzzed up wig outs akin to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Sunflower Beans’ layered and melody-focused debut might come as a bit of a surprise to some. In an era where bands often are urged to pick a marketable identity from the outset regardless of their true ambitions, Julia, Nick and Kevin are going with their gut.

Clash spoke to Sunflower Bean about allowing themselves to grow as a band.

How do you feel about the release of ‘Human Ceremony’?

Jacob: Excited. Almost a feeling of relief. We've been a band for two years without an album out, so it feels good to finally get it out there and show the world what we've been up to.

Julia: I just want it to be out. It's probably different from what people expect from us, but in a good way. When we started, we were a lot more of a heavy band. I sang at school and when I joined this band I didn't feel like singing. I felt more like screaming. I felt all these different kinds of emotions. When we finally took the time to make the record, I went back to my old way of singing, which I actually missed. So there's a lot of singing, harmonies and production on this record.

Are there any other ways in which your departure from a heavier sound has affected your songwriting?

Jacob: It’s more about just wanting to explore all the possibilities of songwriting and production. We tried to make a dynamic album.

Nick: We’ve always had a soft side, but I think on this record we focused less on psychedelic jams and freaky instrumentals and more on songwriting and vocal melody. At the same time, ‘Creation Myth’ was a song that we opened our set with for all of 2014 and I wrote ‘I Want You To Give Me Enough Time’ when I was seventeen years old.

How would you define the themes of the album?

Julia: We've been asked this question a couple of times and it's not one I had expected for some reason. I haven't fully put together a good answer. I don't want to give too much away, because I want people to be able to react to it. The theme, if there is one, is us at this time. It's our first record. It sums up a lot of the stuff that we've been doing, but more succinctly and the best way we can right now. It's time for us to have this record out.

Nick: Lyrically, the album is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Musically, it’s about the vibe. It’s not a party record. I don't think it’s the kind of rock album people will put on and drink some beers with their friends to. It projects a feeling of loneliness and melancholia.

Is there a song on the album you feel more connected to?

Nick: I have a soft spot for ‘Space Exploration’. It’s a fun song to play live and we like to jam out on it for a long time.

Julia: My favourite song is ‘Easier Said,’ the fourth track. I put all of myself into it in a way. Everything that we do in the band is shared, but that song is a bit more like my baby. It’s about growing up and the climate we've been in New York and how I was feeling about that. We're all getting older and moving on, but the dreams stay the same.

What can you tell me about ‘Wall Watcher’? It has more of a rough sound compared to the other songs on the record.

Julia: ‘Wall Watcher’ is about a few things, but I don't know if I should talk about them, because some people might get mad… (laughs) It's definitely more upbeat. We had to make that single to realise we wanted to do something different for the record. You can only do so much with heaviness. There's only so much I feel I can express. So it was nice to open up the possibilities for what the album could sound like.

Do you think that has to do with growing up?

Julia: Definitely. I think we're growing all the time. A lot of bands come out of the gate fully formed. That's cool. It's great to be amazing from the beginning. But we're all growing together and I think the people that have listened to us have to grow with us. It's kind of old school, to see how people progress musically. Like, we just started working on a new song and… oh my gosh. I’m so excited to do the second record!

Will the songs you're working on now be in the same vein?

Nick: I think it will sound like us no matter what we do.

What has been the best moment so far with Sunflower Bean?

Julia: There have been so many good ones for me. I really love Nick and Jacob and I think they're incredible musicians. When I first started to play with them, I was just happy and shocked. I remember feeling so proud at our second show. My dad was there and we had a party afterwards... little things like that. Travelling the world. I keep a diary, so that I don't forget all the things that are happening.

This interview was originally published in Clash magazine.