AS the world lurched from one political upheaval and tumultuous event to the next, Brooklyn-based trio Sunflower Bean simply could not ignore what was going on around them. After months of near-constant touring in support of their 2016 debut Human Ceremony, the band were more inspired than ever. Barely home for a few weeks, they retreated back to the studio to start work on their second full-length effort Twentytwo In Blue; a record fuelled by the unsettling political climate around them but ultimately one built on resilience and hope for the future. Ahead of its eagerly anticipated release next Friday (23rd March), TTV caught up with guitarist Nick Kivlen to hear all about it and their inspirations
“We started working on this new album in the very last few weeks of December 2016 and finished at the beginning of January there so very recently”, he said.
“We were on the road for so long that when we were finally able to start playing together again, there was a lot of stuff that came so quickly because it had been bottled up for so long”
Sonically, lyrically and thematically, Twentytwo in Blue marks a significant step up for Sunflower Bean. While Human Ceremony was a compilation of tracks, written over a long period of time and moulded into an album, their second LP takes a different, more direct approach; it is a deeper journey told from an altered perspective. rom the wistful ‘I Was A Fool’ to the angry ‘Crisis Fest’ to the more reassuring ‘Only A Moment’, the youthful vigour of the first album has been strengthened by a sense of empowerment and self-awareness that can only come from a growing maturity. Kivlen adds:
“So many things inspired the record. Individually each song has a different place where it’s coming from but overall the biggest inspiration was our headspace as very young people living in America in 2017. Personally and politically it was a critical year for a song”
While it is not an overtly political album, the trio haven’t shied away from the cultural shifts that were happening around them at the time. Written and recorded during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the unsettling atmosphere throughout the US over the past 12 months undoubtedly permeates the record.
“I just feel like it was looming so large in everyone’s mind it was impossible to ignore it. It was everywhere, especially as we were touring right beforehand so our songwriting was definitely informed by it. Even though a lot of songs are specifically political, I feel like the subtext of some of the songs are informed by that for sure”
The hard-hitting punk rocker ‘Crisis Fest’ perhaps forms the crux of their social commentary. A defiant call-to-arms for the younger generation, Julia Cummings makes her feelings known as she belts out the lyrics “2017—we know, reality’s one big sick show, every day’s a crisis fest”. Behind the encompassing anxiety, there lies a shining beacon of hope in its strong kinship and crunchy melodies as they call on the power of young people.
A product of their growth, both personally and as musicians, as well as the insanity of the times around them; the result is a confident and resilient record. It is more than a political statement or piece of social commentary though, it’s an album that attaches itself to you in its tender, delicate moments, its clever hooks and smooth, silky gleam. The diverse approach to songwriting is still there but Twentytwo in Blue sounds softer than their debut record; guitars have been pulled back this time around with Kivlen exploring new sonic textures while Julia Cummings sits at the forefront with her ethereal vocals elevating the band above their peers. Kivlen believes it’s just a natural development from Human Ceremony:
“We’ve always had duality of rocking hard songs and softer ballads, it’s sort of always been that way as we write across a broad spectrum. It’s just a natural thing, especially since it’s the three of us, it’s easy to have us all in there with our own ideas. It gives us a broad range of influence”
Much like before, there are airs of psychedelia, shoegaze, punk and other sonic influences but it seems that in their newfound wisdom and self-awareness, they have become more confident in applying this inventiveness for greater effect. With this in mind, there was absolutely no pressure to live up to the expectations put in place after the release of their globally acclaimed debut record.
We weren’t feeling pressure. We were back home again and everything was normal. It was as if the past year hadn’t happened and we were back in the practice space ready to write more
“We weren’t thinking this is not going to be as successful as the first record. There was no option in our minds. We knew we were going to grow and do something better. It’s been a long time since we had written the first record; we grew as people and songwriters”
The only difference, Kivlen says, was they knew what kind of audience they were writing for this time around: “One thing was different; we had an audience we were thinking about when we first started writing, in a positive way. For the first one we didn’t have a fanbase but we were thinking about that this time and writing for them – they were sort of like a muse”. Since first emerging, the trio have struck a chord with the younger generation so it is perhaps no surprise that the album, which rather appropriately comes out when all three members of the band are 22, is thematically aligned with young people and youthful defiance.
With a fanbase that has grown exponentially all over the world, they feel a strong affinity with UK crowds: “We love coming to the UK. It’s a really fun country for music; the audiences are receptive and a lot of people are into music. They’re really passionate about going to gigs
“The US is so much bigger and so broad. As you move through it the culture changes from region to region, the drives are lot longer and there’s a lot of geographical differences”
They’re a band who enjoy being on the move though. Following the release of the critically acclaimed Human Ceremony, they embarked on a number of sold-out international tours and are excited to do it all over again this spring: “We all love travelling. It becomes a lifestyle – always being on road and living out of duffel bag”
The last time they visited the UK wasn’t too long ago. Supporting Wolf Alice on their widely acclaimed UK tour at the tail end of 2017, they played some of the nation’s most treasured venues including Glasgow’s Barrowlands: “It was really good, we played the Barrowlands! We really like Glasgow, we were hanging out with one friend who had a beautiful apartment which overlooked a park. We had two nights there so we had some time to walk around and he showed us around the city”
The Brooklyn-based trio return this April as part of an extensive touring schedule which sees them take on the UK, Europe and North America. It’s fair to say that the Glasgow show at Stereo on 1st April is definitely on their radar with Kivlen promising a fair share of new material alongside the favourites. It’s a show you won’t want to miss.
Twentytwo in Blue is released on 23rd March.