I got a chance to interview New York’s Sunflower Bean when they came to Chicago to play a show with DIIV at Thalia Hall 10/12. Sunflower Bean is a psychedelic punk band featuring Nick Kivlen, Julia Cumming and Jacob Faber. Their debut album Human Ceremony comes out February 5th on Fat Possum Records.
Me: Do you guys want to introduce yourselves and say what instruments you play?
Nick Kivlen: Nick, guitar and vocals.
Julia Cumming: Julia, bass and vocals.
Jacob Faber: Jacob, Drums.
Me: How did you guys all meet and decide to form a band together?
NK: Me and Jacob went to high school together and we became friends in our senior year. We were playing in another band together, that I’ve been playing for in maybe 2 years. Our drummer went to college so Jacob filled in. Then me and him got to playing our own stuff in his basement. I met Julia about a year before that, as we became closer friends she was looking for a new band to play in. She naturally just filled right in. We played our first show August 2013.
JC: I was in another band before. Our old bands actually played together. That’s how we met and we stayed in touch. It all kind of just came to be.
Me: How did you guys all start playing your instruments and get into music in general?
NK: When I was really young my mom was a music teacher for babies. She had this class where she would play acoustic guitars and hand out maracas.
JF: I actually went to it.
NK: Yeah me and Jacob were in it together when we were three or four. My mom had an acoustic guitar around the house and when I was eight or nine she bought me my own.
JC: I started playing guitar when I was 13. Then I kept studying music in high school. I studied classical vocal music because I went to a performing art school. I was always really interested in music. My parents played music but not professional neither of them went on to be very successful in it. But I’m following in their in vaguely unsuccessful footsteps.
JF: I’ve always been playing music. I started with piano and then I played saxophone for a long time. I started playing drums around high school. I really learned how to play drums in the other band me and Nick used to play in.
Me: How did you guys know you were seriously in this?
NK: Me and Jacob always took this super seriously even when we were just playing in his basement trying to be the best band we could be. We have been involved in the Brooklyn music scene for over two or three years at that point when we first started jamming together. So I’ve been around a lot of adult musicians and played a lot shows when I was so young. The second I was ready to do my own band I took it so super seriously. I think that’s the best thing you can do if you wanna be in a band. Take the music and also your ambition so seriously because you never know what can happen.
JC: You don’t get that many shots you only are the age you are for a little while and naïve enough to take the risks. It’s a ton of risks. We’re not in school we’re just driving around the country. You have to go all in. If you think you have the possibility, you think you’re close to something right you should probably just do it. I think we’ve maybe made it a little bit out of the circle we started in. I feel like there is so much we can do. The album isn’t even out yet. This is a super amazing opportunity DIIV and No Joy are super awesome bands. I think we’re really far from where we even can be.
NK: We didn’t start getting lucky breaks until exactly a year ago this week during CMJ last year.
JC: Well not really lucky breaks. We played 8 shows for CMJ.
Me: Like being known as a buzz band kind of?
NK: I guess yeah. It probably started with Bob Boilen. He named us the number one band for CMJ day one. Then everyone was all of this sudden at our shows for all of CMJ. That really helped and then also SXSW was a lot of fun. It happens really quickly is the moral of the story.
Me: How did you guys get offered this opportunity to be with DIIV?
NK: Cole was one of the first people I met in Brooklyn when I was first started playing in bands around. I didn’t really stay in touch with him because he got so busy right away when Diiv first started. Through the music scene we have a ton of mutual friends. One of our closest friends who helped produced the album is also Cole’s closet friends so he reintroduced us to the whole crew.
Me: How would you guys describes New York’s music scene and is there a difference from Brooklyn and other parts in New York.
NK: There is a weird New York scene with the bands that exists without a scene. They play places in Manhattan like Cake Shop and Pianos. In Brooklyn there is a very cool DIY scene with a lot of great venues. A lot of them have closed at this point but there is some really cool spots.
JC: New York is so expensive so it’s harder to keep creativity going when everyone is trying to pay the bills. But I think the scene is working it self out right now because a lot of venues have closed. New York is a really special city and Brooklyn is a really special place too that the music world has only involved for only the past 15 years. It’s still a pretty exciting place.
Me: If you guys weren’t musicians what would you picture your lives being like and what careers would you think you would have?
NK: I don’t know. I would probably be writing fiction. I don’t know I said that once I’m not sure what I would be doing.
JF: I would be a taxi driver.
JC: Jacob is a really good at driving. I would be doing something in the musical realm for sure. Maybe like music journalism or something I would still be involved in the music world. I think that’s a big sad spot right now, music journalism. The NME just became a free publication in the UK now it has Rihanna and Taylor Swift on the cover. Rolling Stone is a pop culture magazine which just has Kim Kardashian on the front. I feel like that’s what is really hard in the music world right now. There are more musicians now then ever, a lot of them pushing limits. There are not even good websites or blogs or magazines that are writing about it because no one is writing about music in a good way. I feel like that’s something lately I’ve been thinking like should I try to do it? Just for the sake of everything someone has to try and do this.
NK: And NME in England and their fascinated with rock and roll is so cool. It is upsetting to think that NME might be going in the direction of Rolling Stone.
Me: What are your current favorite artists?
NK: I really like Benji by Sun Kill Moon in terms of recent things. I really love Benji. I’m a huge fan of both bands were touring with.
JC: I really like Empress of. She’s from California but she lives in New York. She does what I call Beep Blop which is like computer music but she does it really well. She’s an amazing song writer and producer. She has an album out called Me and she did everything. She wrote every single note and thing. She produced everything. I don’t think anyone has to be any type of way but I think its cool she’s doing what she’s doing. It sounds really good.
JF: The new UMO record is awesome.
NK: The new Tame Impale record too.
Me: How do you feel about Spotify and streaming in general? I believe you guys put your music up on Spotify more recently.
NK: I think it’s really necessary. I think that we're lucky that the audience we play to are people who really care about music and are willing to buy vinyl. People who listen top 40 don’t buy vinyl of their favorite top 40 artist. I think it’s really cool that we can play to audience who will buy vinyl. So we don’t suffer from it as much as maybe more popular people might.
JC: I don’t know, I think it’s a real interesting time. The world is developing and it’s developing every single day. If it’s possible, it’s going to happen. Like if it’s possible for streaming services to exist, be someone who’s going to do it. There’s no way around it besides being born in a different time. It’s easy to be hateful because you make less money, but it’s not really useful. If it’s the way people can hear our music and it’s the way the world is moving you kind of have to go with flow and figure it out. I think everyone is hoping that they will start to get the ratio right and artists will eventually make more from the equations because on Spotify, for every single play you’ll get a penny.
NK: Half a penny actually.
JC: We were just talking to people in the industry about this. These websites wouldn’t exist without music or musicians.
NK: There is like a bubble that is going to burst eventually.
JC: I guess the bottom line we’re working with it, it’s a way to hear music, it’s a good thing but its not perfect.
NK: The more people that find you online and steal your album the more likely they are to come to your shows. So that’s positive. So if you steal our music, its okay as long as you take all your friends to see us.
Me: Julia, how do you find the time between modeling and being in a band?
JC: I find it pretty okay. I mean I think it’s hard because we’re all so dedicated. I think when anyone has to do any time constraint it gets difficult because ideally we would be playing and practicing 5-6 days a week and doing what we like to do. I think we all make it work. The amount I do it compared to a professional model who’s job to do it everyday is a lot less. There’s only a few projects and brands I would actually like to work with. I feel kind of conflicted about it because I think it’s a super intense and sometimes very evil industry and I can only feel good about as long as I’m not doing something evil. I feel like that line gets a little blurred sometimes. So you have to be very careful, I love style and I love clothes that’s my favorite thing about it and making a photograph. There’s tons of ways my involvement have made me feel good and something I don’t want to stop doing. You just have to be careful, it’s really dark. There’s other girls I know who have horrible stories that no one can even imagine. It really is a crazy and tough job and I’m lucky I can do it in the way I do it and I can still do what I love every single day.
Me: What are your goals for the next year?
NK: Just looking forward for the album finally coming out it should be out early next year. Touring more and supporting it. Just seeing what happens and what the reaction is, hoping for the best. We put a lot of work into it and I’m hoping people really like it.
JC: I feel like we all really believe in the album and at the end of the day that’s what makes us happy. Having it out there and having it be the way we want it to be. We’re lucky we’re working with Fat Possum who is super nice and we have full freedom control to do whatever.
NK: We also got really lucky with two guys who helped us make the record Matt and Jarvis. They were super great and they were the best people we’ve ever worked with in that realm. We’ve had a really good experience at Fat Possum. All the guys at the label we really like and like hanging out with them. They’re very rock and roll.
Meghan Magats, Music Librarian
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