Sunflower Bean Are Planting Their Own Seed

Written By Sam Murphy on 03/17/2016

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NYC trio Sunflower Bean are one of the most in demand bands in the world right now. You only have to listen to their debut album Human Ceremony to know why but if you need further proof, they're in the midst of playing 11 shows at this year's South By South-West - an industry festival that sets the tone for new music for the entire year.

In a climate where everyone is quick to declare the guitar dead, Sunflower Bean are proving that you can still be an innovative band in 2016, using rock music as your underlying foundation. Human Ceremony is a record driven by guitars. They are the melodic backbone of nearly every song, roughed up by crunching drums and softened by the pristine but powerful vocals of Julia Cumming. At SXSW, there won't be hundreds of acts that sound like Sunflower Bean and there's something timeless about a sound like that.

Right in the middle of an epic tour that will take them right through to October, we caught up with Cumming to chat raising a rock band in NYC, over-explaining lyrics and sticking to the sound you believe in.

You're in the full swing of a tour. How's it going so far?
Yeah, it's going really really well. Every UK date sold out and there's sold out shows in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago so it's been really amazing. We didn't really know what to expect in a lot of these places. It's our first time headlining in these places so it's really exciting. Every single person that comes out we're like "oh my God".

How does it feel to be playing the shows with the album out as opposed to last year playing tracks off the EP?
It's amazing. We really love our label Fat Possum, they're incredible, and they've done a reall good job getting the record out and having people hear it. We've just been working on it really hard non-stop and it's opened up a lot of opportunities. It's living the dream. I mean, it's still hard work but it's exciting.

That's interesting to hear that because you so often hear artists that love the idea of putting out an album but are overwhelmed by touring. It sounds like you guys are enjoying it?

Well, we have tour dates booked basically up until October, that's very overwhelming when I think about that. It's hard, it takes a toll on your body and your mind. But you can't think too much about the future, you just have to take it one day at a time. And also it is a dream job being able to play in front of people. The work is just part of it you have to do.

Was it hard last year playing shows and building an audience as well as recording an album?

Well, we stopped playing shows in New York City because between 2014 and 2015 we played like 50 shows in New York. We were the band that played the most shows in New York out of any band. We didn't even mean for that to happen. We were just playing and being asked to play shows. So we stopped playing that and focussed on making the record. The last show we did was a few days ago at Bowery Ballroom on 25th February and we headlined that and sold it out which is cool. So we stopped and just focussed on the record.

What's the rock community like in New York right now? You often hear a lot about the electronic music but you don't hear as much about the rock music as we did in the days of, say, The Strokes.

Well, it's not really the sound of our generation. Maybe there's not a lot of stuff happening in rock music but we're really trying to change that and do something original. The biggest rock band in the world is from Australia, Tame Impala. I think that's really cool. In New York, there's a really strong DIY scene that we came out of it. That's still there but just in the world in general there's less rock music.

One of the countries that really picked up on you guys early was the UK. Did that surprise you how quickly things took off across the pond?
I think the big difference in the UK and the US is the US is so much larger than most countries. The UK has BBC6 and they have bands like Savages and even Wolf Alice on the radio. That's a national radio station. In the US that doesn't exist at all. Guitar music is not on the radio and if you don't find it you don't know it exists. I think that it makes sense because there are still people there that champion guitar music. The UK is such a strong musical country. I think it makes sense for sure. They are more informed.

Was it daunting going into record the album with a sound that wasn't getting played on the radio?
No. I think we definitely made some of our jams a little bit shorter to put on the EP and tried to work on a different kind of songwriting but I think that's as far as we could ever go to be more popular on that scale. It wasn't even that it was just us wanting to try more things. So on the record we have some songs that are a little prettier than what was on the EP but that's more from us going into a real studio setting and working with our friends that produced the record. Our producer was Matthew Molnar from the band Friends so he helped us a lot with that.

It must be cool to know you stuck to your guns and now are reaping the rewards from it?

Yeah, it feels good. I think the most important thing with rock or just music in general is authenticity and genuine artistry. I think people always respond to that and that's what they're looking for so that's why bands like The Velvet Underground are so interesting. We made a record that sounds like us and I hoped that people would respond to that.

It's interesting to read about the band's diverse influences between the three of you. Was coming together and figuring out what you wanted each song to sound like a seamless process?

Everyone definitely had different ideas but we're all on the same team and we want the best things for the songs and the record. We definitely had a lot of discussions about it and we demoed everything extensively before we went into the studio because we couldn't afford a lot of studio time. So we tried to make sure we knew what we wanted to do with the songs before going in and recording them.

A lot of new bands get asked about the themes of their songs when they haven't read into them that much. Is that difficult to answer when you start doing interviews?
Yeah! Well, originally Nick told all the press that we were making a concept album, so we've probably done like 30 interviews where people are like, "so this is an album about the creator of the universe and an alternate universe record" and we're like "yeah, we actually didn't go with that idea". I do think that if we explained everything that would take some of the fun out of it. Sometimes when I find out too much about my favourite things I'm like, "oh fuck", I don't want to know why. I don't want to know everything. I think it's fun to give some ideas but not all.

One of my favourite lines on the record is "I was home and then I wasn't" from I Was Home. The simplicity of it is excellent but do you often feel that you have to overcomplicate things?

Yeah I know what you mean. That's a funny song. We came up with that line and were like "yeah, that's it". When you're a teenager and you're at home trying to explain your day and trying to figure it out, you were home and then who gives a shit.

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Human Ceremony is out now via Inertia. 
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NYC trio Sunflower Bean are one of the most in demand band's in the world right now. You only have to listen to their debut album Human Ceremony to know why but if you need further proof, they're in the midst of playing 11 shows at this year's South By South-West - an industry festival that sets the tone for new music for the entire year.

In a climate where everyone is quick to declare the guitar dead, Sunflower Bean are proving that you can still be an innovative band in 2016, using rock music as your underlying foundation. Human Ceremony is a record driven by guitars. They are the melodic backbone of nearly every song, roughed up by crunching drums and softened by the pristine but powerful vocals of Julia Cumming. At SXSW, there won't be hundreds of acts that sound like Sunflower Bean and there's something timeless about a sound like that.

Right in the middle of an epic tour that will take them right through to October, we caught up with Cumming to chat raising a rock band in NYC, over-explaining lyrics and sticking to the sound you believe in.

You're in the full swing of a tour. How's it going so far?
Yeah, it's going really really well. Every UK date sold out and there's sold out shows in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago so it's been really amazing. We didn't really know what to expect in a lot of these places. It's our first time headlining in these places so it's really exciting. Every single person that comes out we're like "oh my God".

How does it feel to be playing the shows with the album out as opposed to last year playing tracks off the EP?
It's amazing. We really love our label Fat Possum, they're incredible, and they've done a reall good job getting the record out and having people hear it. We've just been working on it really hard non-stop and it's opened up a lot of opportunities. It's living the dream. I mean, it's still hard work but it's exciting.

That's interesting to hear that because you so often hear artists that love the idea of putting out an album but are overwhelmed by touring. It sounds like you guys are enjoying it?

Well, we have tour dates booked basically up until October, that's very overwhelming when I think about that. It's hard, it takes a toll on your body and your mind. But you can't think too much about the future, you just have to take it one day at a time. And also it is a dream job being able to play in front of people. The work is just part of it you have to do.

Was it hard last year playing shows and building an audience as well as recording an album?

Well, we stopped playing shows in New York City because between 2014 and 2015 we played like 50 shows in New York. We were the band that played the most shows in New York out of any band. We didn't even mean for that to happen. We were just playing and being asked to play shows. So we stopped playing that and focussed on making the record. The last show we did was a few days ago at Bowery Ballroom on 25th February and we headlined that and sold it out which is cool. So we stopped and just focussed on the record.

What's the rock community like in New York right now? You often hear a lot about the electronic music but you don't hear as much about the rock music as we did in the days of, say, The Strokes.

Well, it's not really the sound of our generation. Maybe there's not a lot of stuff happening in rock music but we're really trying to change that and do something original. The biggest rock band in the world is from Australia, Tame Impala. I think that's really cool. In New York, there's a really strong DIY scene that we came out of it. That's still there but just in the world in general there's less rock music.

SunflowerBean

Sunflower Bean, the interns' Class Of 2016

One of the countries that really picked up on you guys early was the UK. Did that surprise you how quickly things took off across the pond?
I think the big difference in the UK and the US is the US is so much larger than most countries. The UK has BBC6 and they have bands like Savages and even Wolf Alice on the radio. That's a national radio station. In the US that doesn't exist at all. Guitar music is not on the radio and if you don't find it you don't know it exists. I think that it makes sense because there are still people there that champion guitar music. The UK is such a strong musical country. I think it makes sense for sure. They are more informed.

Was it daunting going into record the album with a sound that wasn't getting played on the radio?
No. I think we definitely made some of our jams a little bit shorter to put on the EP and tried to work on a different kind of songwriting but I think that's as far as we could ever go to be more popular on that scale. It wasn't even that it was just us wanting to try more things. So on the record we have some songs that are a little prettier than what was on the EP but that's more from us going into a real studio setting and working with our friends that produced the record. Our producer was Matthew Molnar from the band Friends so he helped us a lot with that.

It must be cool to know you stuck to your guns and now are reaping the rewards from it?

Yeah, it feels good. I think the most important thing with rock or just music in general is authenticity and genuine artistry. I think people always respond to that and that's what they're looking for so that's why bands like The Velvet Underground are so interesting. We made a record that sounds like us and I hoped that people would respond to that.

It's interesting to read about the band's diverse influences between the three of you. Was coming together and figuring out what you wanted each song to sound like a seamless process?

Everyone definitely had different ideas but we're all on the same team and we want the best things for the songs and the record. We definitely had a lot of discussions about it and we demoed everything extensively before we went into the studio because we couldn't afford a lot of studio time. So we tried to make sure we knew what we wanted to do with the songs before going in and recording them.

A lot of new bands get asked about the themes of their songs when they haven't read into them that much. Is that difficult to answer when you start doing interviews?
Yeah! Well, originally Nick told all the press that we were making a concept album, so we've probably done like 30 interviews where people are like, "so this is an album about the creator of the universe and an alternate universe record" and we're like "yeah, we actually didn't go with that idea". I do think that if we explained everything that would take some of the fun out of it. Sometimes when I find out too much about my favourite things I'm like, "oh fuck", I don't want to know why. I don't want to know everything. I think it's fun to give some ideas but not all.

One of my favourite lines on the record is "I was home and then I wasn't" from I Was Home. The simplicity of it is excellent but do you often feel that you have to overcomplicate things?

Yeah I know what you mean. That's a funny song. We came up with that line and were like "yeah, that's it". When you're a teenager and you're at home trying to explain your day and trying to figure it out, you were home and then who gives a shit.

Human Ceremony is out now via Inertia. 

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