“When that inspiration does hit, it’s a magical moment that you can share together” – An Interview with Nick Kivlen of Sunflower Bean

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Calling from Brighton while on their latest stint in the UK, the lovely Nick Kivlen of Sunflower Bean took some time out to talk to The Edge about the New York music scene, growing up and bumping Justin Timberlake from his spot on the Top 40 with their second album, Twentytwo in Blue. Sunflower Bean will be playing The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth on November 28th as part of their tour.

With Nick on vocals and guitar, Julia Cumming on vocals and bass and Jacob Faber on drums, the three twenty-something year olds have been turning heads with their alternative rock since their emergence from New York’s DIY music scene. Here in the UK, Annie Mac’s head has also swivelled their way. Their newest single, ‘Come for Me’, featured as Mac’s Hottest Record this October, which is one of four tracks on their new EP, King of the Dudes, set for a January 25th release.

You guys formed Sunflower Bean back in 2013. When did you all decide to make a go of it or did it just spiral naturally into this musical career?

We we are all involved in music from a very young age. Me and Jacob were both in a rock band when we were in high school, and Julia’s been touring since she was about 13, so we’ve always been sort of working musicians to some extent. And me and Jacob were in another band together where I played bass and I had all these songs that I had written and me and Jacob started playing them together in our senior year of high school. There weren’t that many teenagers in the Brooklyn DIY music scene so we kinda all new each other and that’s how we met Julia and I asked her to be in the band. It took a little bit of convincing but finally she agreed and here we are five years later.

What is the New York music scene like? How have you seen it change as you’ve been changing as a band?

When we were all teenagers it was really really thriving, around 2011 to 2014. There were a lot of bands and everyone was friends and there were a lot of venues and a lot of shows. There was this one street called Kent Avenue in Williamsburg where there were three amazing DIY venues right there. Everyone would go there on the weekends and there would always be something great to see or there would be a rave until 5 in the morning – it was a really great time. As we’ve been on the road more and away from home I feel like I’ve lost touch a little bit with that DIY scene – mostly because we’re not in the shows, we’re not playing every weekend. But there’s still some great bands and some great venues in New York and whenever I’m home I try to go out and catch friends and see stuff. I mean, New York is a huge city and there’s so many people, there’s always something going on. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re into like really really minimal crazy noise or if you’re into performance art. There’s a venue called The Glove in Bushwick that’s pretty heavily based in performance art and music. There’s still a lot of a really great stuff going on in New York.

Is there a venue that’s your guilty pleasure when you go back home?

When I’m home, there’s a venue called Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg which is run by a friend of mine and it was the venue we played the most when we first started. It’s really funny ‘cos it has the ethics and values of a DIY venue but it’s really nice (laughs). There’s a really great sound system and they treat the bands really well and it’s a lot of fun to go there. It’s very club-esque, it feels like going to Max’s Kansas City – a lot of people hang out there.

You have a song named after Tame Impala, who are a big influence for the band. If a band did a song called ‘Sunflower Bean’, what would it sound like?

It’s funny, a couple of bands actually have done that, just as a joke to us. Just a few Soundcloud artists, or people on Bandcamp, who’ve named a song after us as a joke to keep up the lineage (laughs).

Your latest album, Twentytwo In Blue, is named, in part, after your ages. Are you 23 now, or are you still 22?

I turned 23 earlier this year.

Happy birthday for then! When I was kid, I thought that there would be a point when suddenly I’d be an adult, but I still feel like the same person that I was back then. Do you feel that you’ve changed?

It’s hard to say. You think there will be that one moment where you wake up and you realise “oh, I’m 23,” like I always thought of this as being an adult. Like when I was 18 I thought that my life would be more together and I would be so much wiser, but in a lot of ways, because the change is so gradual, you do become more mature and you just don’t even realise it. I usually use a rule of thumb, [that]as I get older, the less I cringe at myself from the year before, the better off I’m doing. If I can look back at 22 and feel less cringy than when I did when I looked back at 18 then I think that I’m progressing, and something’s going right. You definitely don’t want to regress.

What song on this album means the most to you?

I think the song on Twentytwo In Blue that I sort of gravitate the most toward is ‘I Was A Fool’. Because it’s sort of the classic moment in our practise space where we’re working on something and all of a sudden the magic starts flowing and you get this feeling of elation that you are worth creating. ‘Cos sometimes you have self doubt and you’re like “what am I doing”, “are we really good enough to keep on doing this?” When you have those moments and you stumble upon a song like ‘I Was A Fool’ you get this feeling of like “wow, it really is all worth it.” Because I love this, I love playing it and it’s an amazing feeling because that doesn’t happen most days. Most days you’re playing and nothing significant comes from it. So when that inspiration does hit, it’s a magical moment that you can share together, and I think we nailed the recording, which is hard to do. I really do like the sonic qualities of that track on the album.

Is that the case with your new EP King of the Dudes?

Yeah, the EP was very similar to that in a lot of ways, because we went into the studio without any material. We had a few ideas but for the most part it was unwritten. We banged out those four songs really quick. And the factor of having a new producer who was also in the room sorta added to the serendipity of it.

So, you’ve got quite a few tour dates in England. What has been your best experience in the UK to date?

There’s been a lot of great experiences in the UK, it’s one of our favourite places to tour. We had a great time here when our record came out (Twentytwo in Blue). It actually made the Top 40, which was just something we couldn’t believe – it was number 39 (laughs). It was crazy. And we sold out KOKO in London, that was a big night. We went on a tour with this band Sorry and did all these different shows. A lot of them sold out – it was kind of a dream come true. Making the Top 40 was just crazy, we couldn’t believe it. We actually bumped Justin Timberlake to number 40 which I thought was really funny. We always have a great time in the UK. We were also on tour with Wolf Alice last November and that was a really fun tour.

If you could ever move away from New York, what other city could you see yourself living in for a while?

It’s really hard because the only thing I know is New York. London is a city that sort of reminds me of New York in a lot of ways. It’s huge, it’s cold, it’s unforgiving. The people there are grinding, it’s really expensive. But if I wanted a change, and I wanted to go somewhere that was different, I love Austin, Texas. Austin is really great. The weather is beautiful year round, it’s like desert-y but also a bit more tropical because it’s so south. The food is absolutely amazing. It’s probably my favourite food in the world. Like that Tex-Mex Mexican fusion, it’s an absolutely delicious place to live (laughs). But I don’t know, I think I’d miss seasons too much. I think I would miss the fall because I do like cold weather.

Catch Sunflower Bean on any one of their UK tour dates, including November 28th at The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, by clicking here. Watch the music video for ‘I Was A Fool’ below.

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Fourth year French and English student and 2018/19 Live Editor for The Edge.

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