Despite only being in their mid-twenties, New York City trio Sunflower Bean are relative indie music veterans, with their third full-length album Headful of Sugar set for release this summer. And the events of the past few years have weighed heavy on their shoulders.
Since endorsing Bernie Sanders in his failed presidential campaign, the state of the world around them has proved to be a disappointment from then onwards, their generation seemingly at odds with the idea of the 'American Dream' which seems further out of reach than ever. Especially for musicians wanting to obtain the carrot dangling throughout the entirety of their careers: security.
But the band (singer and bassist Julia Cumming, singer and guitarist Nick Kivlen, and drummer Olive Faber) are adept at shifting their identity, utilising the disillusion and burnout as impetus for their latest album by wiping the slate clean and taking it "back to the basics" of their DIY roots where community and connection at up-close-and-personal gigs was the only tonic required.
With their first UK tour in over three years now well underway, we caught up with the trio to chat about their new album and their preparations in connected with audiences again after an enforced break.
If each of your albums so far are a snapshot of the emotions you were confronting at the time of writing them, what would you say is the driving emotion behind Headful of Sugar, and why?
Nick: I think we were projecting out of the pandemic, imagining a world wide open and full of possibilities. Running away and meeting strangers. Airports and highways. Pushing away all the malaise of consumerism for real experience.
Olive: For me it’s the feeling of letting go of all the empty content we are fed everyday in search of something real.
Is your latest single ‘Roll The Dice’ more of a damning indictment of the world around you, or a signal of your intent as artists?
Nick: It’s both. It’s a cynical embrace of the grind set but what makes it really funny is that we are strivers. It’s dealing with that side of yourself and chanting “win win win” in a demonic way that is half sincere.
Did the pandemic ever make you reevaluate your desire to create?
Olive: Not really. Honestly, it gave me the time to finally be as creative as I've wanted to be. It gave me the time to really dive into different projects.
Julia: The pandemic created a situation where all we could do was create. Even though everyone was losing so much, we definitely gained the space and time to experiment and try new ideas. We were in a pod together creating all the time.
Headful of Sugar marks your evolution into an unabashed rock band. Is it in part to the enforced break from performing live and wanting to come back even bigger and more defiant?
Julia: I think in a lot of ways we’re back to the basics. We’re rocking like we were when we first started, in DIY venues and in basements again. It’s the same energy we’ve always had, just informed by everything we want to do now. Headful of Sugar to me is a psychedelic pop rock record best listened to loud, fast and while moshing with friends. Our show is definitely in service of that.
What were your main musical influences whilst writing?
Nick: A lot of songs with a big strong beat, fuzzy groovy bass lines, tons of distortion and noise all underneath a big pop melody.
Olive: Drill and and grunge music were big influences on the album.
With recording from home and Olive acting as engineer, how did this offer you more creative control in terms of what you wanted to say with the album and how it sounds?
Olive: It just let us create together as the three of us in such a much more personal way. We could get all that we wanted down and recorded before sending it to an outside person. In this case we had Jacob Portrait producing and he did a really great job filtering all the stuff we had done through his brain.
Artists are now readily making music for platforms like TikTok, so do you think there’s still an appetite for new, young artists to pursue music without targeting viral success?
Olive: Yeah! I think the thing with going viral is that unless you only want literally one second of fame you have to make something honest and true to you. People crave real things.
Julia: I think it’s harder than ever to be a brand new artist trying to make it without making work that the world will immediately consider incredibly digestible and easy to sell. But that’s always been the circumstances. They are just heightened in this time of super short attention spans, easy entertainment, and 'viral-ity', for sure.
Nick: It’s something that happens randomly for some artists. It doesn’t seem to be conducive to a long and healthy career. It’s like a one hit wonder kinda deal. We just use TikTok to hang out and have fun with our friends.
Julia: As much as people want music to be easily wrapped up and sold to people in the quickest way possible, there is a magic in songs and songwriting that can never be understood or bottled or measured. There is a magic and a spontaneity that I think listeners will always yearn for and that is always worth doing and fighting for.
Are there any plans to play festivals this summer and beyond?
Julia: There will definitely be a lot more touring!
You’ve had a storied career so far, but are still pretty young in the grand scheme of things. What is the band’s ultimate ambition?
Julia: That’s for us to know and for you to find out!
Headful of Sugar is out on 6th May via Lucky Number. To check out all of Sunflower Bean's future festival appearances, click here.