The New York trio stays polished and keeps it real at the same time, reports Aurora Krogh.
“Easier said than done”. Describing how it feels to break into the music business may not have been the intention, yet this line from Sunflower Bean’s ‘Easier Said’, is a case in point. The New York-based band has shown that public recognition – eventually – almost always requires plenty of prior hard work. But having paid their dues, Sunflower Bean are also proving that glowing adolescence still has a place in this decaying music industry.
The release of a debut album is always a milestone in any band’s career. It sets the bar, and often it is the first thing that fans-to-be will hear from you. New Yorkers Sunflower Bean marked the UK release of their Human Ceremony with an in-store gig at Rough Trade East, right off Brick Lane. The release follows two years of gruelling gigging and gradually making a name for themselves.
Anything but easy.
“We’ve been leading up to this for like two years basically. I mean, we tried to make the record a few times in different ways before this one,” explains Julia Cumming, lead vocals and bass. The fact that they recognised their initial recordings were not good enough, and held back rather than pushing for an early release, marks the difference between Sunflower Bean and most of the rest. For example, whereas Harrison Koisser of Peace admitted to DIY that “the first album was more of an experiment”, Sunflower Bean went about the recording process with much greater attention to detail; and their the patience has paid off.
Nick Kivlen, guitar and vocals, describes the complexities they put themselves through: “We spent about a month practising to a click-track, and then seven days in the studio recording the basic tracks, just the drums, guitar and bass. Then we took about a month to demo on top of those recordings to figure out the arrangements of the vocals and other separate instrument overdubs. Finally we took five days to go back into the studio and record them.” This particularly detailed breakdown astonishes even the other members. “That was a real break-down! Like the most detailed ever,” choruses Julia Cumming.
As they take to the stage at Rough Trade this is clearly a band that has played live before – many times before. On their best behaviour, and still determined to show what they’re made off, they kick off with the title track ‘Human Ceremony’. The set consists of both new tracks and old EP material, nicely put together. It proves the band already has a history – and they are already looking after it. Having seen them at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton, tracks like ‘2013’ and ‘Tame Impala’ again stood out as highlights for me, yet it is hard to pick out particular highs in a stratospheric set like this.
Sunflower Bean are familiar with both American audiences and the UK music scene, having toured here with established bands like The Vaccines and Wolf Alice. Yet when it comes to the crowds, they find it’s more to do with particular cities than which side of the Atlantic. “It’s kinda like the different cities in America and the different cities in the UK all have different sort of behaviour at shows.” Nick says, before comparing London with New York’s audience and pairing Bristol with Los Angeles. But one thing that’s definitely distinctive is theUK’s appreciation of rock music. “I think in general people are more excited about like rock music here,” says Jacob Faber, the drummer. “In the UK rock music is definitely a lot more popular than it is in America,” Nick concludes.
Emerging from a New York scene dominated by Shoegaze and dreamy synths, Sunflower Bean clearly stand out with their simple guitar-to-bass harmonies, backed up by Faber’s solid drum work. The band seemingly seeks to re-establish rock in the USA, and according to the NME “they’re making indie exciting again.”
Sunflower Bean have an almost perfect chemistry on stage (during ‘2013’ their intense presence sent shivers down my spine), and judging by Nick’s detailed description of the recording process, they leave little to chance with their studio work. This can make them seem too polished. Their ‘it’-looks and careful social media presence also contribute, yet somehow they avoid coming across as pretentious. Perhaps because there is something incontrovertibly real about the group.
Kivlen has spoken out to DIY. “Let the next generation have a hero,” he declared, criticising the lack of coverage of new bands in the media, and the narrow-minded approach towards new talent. Daring to make a statement on behalf of a whole generation confirms their sense of boldness; it is exactly this edge that keeps Sunflower Bean grounded, even in the public eye.
Sunflower Bean’s debut album, Human Ceremony, is available on iTunes, Amazon and in selected record shops.