June 7, 2018

Sounds of Summer with Sunflower Bean

Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Yessica Klein. Photography by Steph Estrada.

Julia Cumming, Jacob Farber, and Nick Kivlen are already gaining quite a reputation for their hazy, textured guitar-based tunes floating across airways the world over. The band wrote their second album whilst transitioning into young adulthood. With all three band members entering their early twenties, their latest offering Twentytwo in Blue waxes lyrical about all those topics most important to a young generation in unstable political times. We caught up the band between a very full schedule of summer gigs to talk about the inspiration behind their latest record.

How did you guys meet and how did you start playing together?

Julia: We met in Brooklyn, we were all in bands then. I was 13, the boys were 15 and 16. It was kind of inevitable for us to eventually link up because we were always the oddballs in the scene for being the youngest. Which maybe is why age has been part of our narrative, it’s always been something we’re conscious of. We started playing together in 2013, I guess, I was still in high school and basically, by our first practice, we knew that it was going to be something special. You have to follow your gut and your instinct. We felt really safe and also really inspired by each other, so we jumped in and we never looked back.

Do you have any advice for people who are in their early teens and want to start creating?

Julia: That’s a good point. We are obviously super young and when I was 13, two of my first bands were all girls. So we were really young girls in this band trying to make this point of kids making art – which is a weird thought, in a certain way. Can they do it? Are they capable of it? I think that we always thought we were, we felt really drawn to it. One thing that is really important that you can learn from making art is that, especially in a group setting, is trying to respect the people that you are working with, which is really hard. We feel like we were really lucky to have those opportunities because, by the time we got to this band, we really knew how to play with each other. Like learning how to work with other people. When you’re a kid, your ego can almost be bigger, because you don’t know any better. Everything is new and everything is different and all of the sudden, you’re an artist. It’s about the same things when you’re older, cherishing the people that you work with, your bandmates, project mates. And not overthinking it. Especially now in the digital age, everything you do will be online and that can be embarrassing too. Not being afraid to fall on your face – you know, just don’t look back.

A lot has been said about Twentytwo in Blue to be a sort of rite of passage between teenage years and young adulthood. What kind of new challenges do you expect from this new decade that you guys are now on?

Julia: It’s definitely different! First of all, I’m really excited in general about the process of getting older because with each year things have gotten better. We feel a little bit more in control of ourselves as artists and what we want to do. Also, it’s hard to totally know… I think we know what our goals are, very basic ground: making records and making music. So the years almost don’t matter, do you know what I mean? Between 22 and 32, the numbers don’t matter as much as the records within it matter. We really hope to do what we do and do it well – I don’t even want to say better, that’s a weird word in the way of art.

Do you have any other favorites – records, books, films that inspired you?

Jacob: Do you think Napoleon Dynamite counts? I love that movie [laughs] I think it’s a really nice portrayal of people that are just trying to figure it out. Kind of a weird aesthetic.

Julia: I can’t even remember my own favorite… It’s Alex G coming of age, in a way? I think Alex G’s Rocket – I think that’s a record that deals with young adulthood in a lot of ways and that makes sense to put out there, we all love that record a lot.

Throughout your lyrics on the new album, you mention about the generational divide and its presence in the current political scene [in the US], how did you start to approach these topics in your songwriting?

Julia: I think a big part of the record is about our experience – generally speaking – young people in the US, so everything entails emotionally and politically. We feel there’s a kind of disconnection between people who are in the office and how we feel and a lot of people around us are feeling, and that was definitely a big part of the record. On a song like ‘Crisis Fest’ it’s a bit more obvious, on songs like ‘Sinking Sands’ and ‘Oh No, Bye Bye’, it’s kind of like this threat that is more general… I remember Nick once called ‘Oh No, Bye Bye’ an anthem to uncertainty, and I thought that was an interesting way to put it because we’re looking at a lot of things. I think young people right now generally feel uncertain, but they also feel strong, and I think that’s kind of where we are at, we know that we are strong, we’re just trying to figure out how to use this strength.

What kind of ways do you think young people now are using this strength?

Nick: I think that is a major problem in the US. There’s a big question of what individual agency is, and what can people do to become politically active or what can they do to be heard… You know, I think there are so many ways you can do it. Even public opinion is such a strong tool for change: talking about these issues with your friends and family, protesting, campaigning, calling your representatives and letting them know how you feel about these issues are all ways that people can easily become active.

Jacob: I think if there’s a silver lining for the political climate in the US right now is that it’s going to get young people to get more involved and do things like calling their representatives and start voting. I think a lot of people are more aware that that needs to start happening in order to be some real change.

It’s funny because the older generation seems to think that millennials are lazy, and given the number of possibilities that they do have, is the definitely the wrong definition, isn’t it?

Julia: I think that’s generally how it feels, yeah. I don’t think we’re lazy, and I don’t think most people we know are lazy and the situation is really, really different now. With so much of the world being digitized, the job market being different, with the school system being different.

Anything else that inspired you throughout the making of Twentytwo in Blue? Besides, obviously, the two years of personal growth that led to the title?

Julia: I think that were a few things… Without sounding too obvious, the color blue was guiding us a lot throughout the process and that’s why we put it in the title. It was an influence as far as texture and vibe and kind of this theme that we felt connected the whole thing. Kind of like a deep, royal blue. Like a dusky one, felty and soft.

Lots of bands fear the second album syndrome. Was it something that was in your mind at any point?

Jacob: If anything, we were really excited! That sounds too easy, almost, but we felt we’d done a very good job with Human Ceremony and touring for a while felt like the perfect time to make a second album… Good pressure from us, to ourselves, to make a really good album. I think we did a pretty good job at that. We were lucky to have a good team with us, let us grow and build our music like we wanted to.

How was working with Jake Portrait [J.P.] from Unknown Mortal Orchestra?

Julia: We also worked with Matt Molnar, from the band Friends, our record actually had the two producers. It was kind of the dream team working with both of them because they do really different jobs… Molnar is really, really good with helping you become who you can be – he’s almost like a mirror that can show you the best version of yourself. Then J.P. is really, really good at creating special tones and making sure that the music on the record feels kind of inimitable. Each sound is really curated for the moment. I felt that with the two of them together we were able to achieve something we weren’t really able to do with Human Ceremony, and it makes me really excited about the things we’ll do in the future.

It’s still really early to tell, but have you started thinking about the follow-up?

Julia: We’re definitely thinking about it all the time, we talk about it every day and we think about it a lot. Twentytwo In Blue was in a large part made in reaction as Human Ceremony, we wanted to do things we hadn’t done in the first album… In a certain way, we did that. And I think we won’t know fully what this third record is – we can muse about it all we want, but we won’t know until we are a little closer to the end of this tunnel, which is only just beginning. I can already see things in us, in our ambitions as writers, and our ambitions of understanding ourselves, which is a lifelong process. We’re in it, and I’m excited to see what we’re going to be on the other side. I believe in what it’s going to be, without knowing what it is yet.

Any favorite moments so far?

Jacob: On this tour? I think that ‘wow’ moment happened a couple of times this tour, a really good show – whether it is a smaller room like we’ve been doing in Europe or a bigger room. This universal feel that us, the band, the crowd, are all in sync and beating with one another. It’s a reminder of why playing live music is so amazing, and why we do it. The feeling of having a great show will never get old.

Discover the sounds of Sunflower Bean, and check out their new album at www.sunflowerbean.net

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