Long Island’s Sunflower Bean is constantly evolving, and all by their own choice. Over the past three years, Sunflower Bean has dabbled in garage rock, bloomed into full out doom metal, and has currently faded into post-psych rock. As a previously DIY band on the NYC music scene, they’ve managed to go from playing people’s basements night in and night out, to having their debut record, Human Ceremony, released on Fat Possum Records in just over two and a half years after graduating high school. The lineup of twenty-somethings includes Nick Faber on drums, Nick Kivlen on guitar and vocals, and Julia Cumming on vocals. While getting to speak to Julia this past week, she and I tackled the band’s ever-evolving nature and why.
Back in 2014, Sunflower Bean was voted the number one hardest-working band in NYC by playing 50 live shows in the city alone. It goes without saying that their live show has been integral to their success, but it’s hard to categorize. When they were DIY, they’d get a text, get added to a bill, and show up at someone’s place and do a show nearly every night. Although it’s a bit more structured now that they’re headlining tours across the world, Julia adds, “I think if we had to do the exact same thing the exact same way every night, I don’t know if we would be able to do it as much. It makes it so we’re on our toes and that keeps it exciting. Every crowd is going to react differently, and you never really know what kind of show it’s going to be. It’s always a surprise.”
Julia tells, “When the band started, I was really interested in having us do that really crazy live show, and really putting a lot of work into that—screaming and letting it out and developing that. On the record we wanted to step back a little bit and develop harmonies and stuff. I’ve always been a huge Beach Boys fan.” Human Ceremony is exactly the combination of harmonies and their fuzzy rock n’ roll show. While there are a few fleeting moments of pure prettiness (see “Creation Myth”), the record shines at its hardest (peep “Come On” and “Easier Said”), showing that Sunflower Bean are rockers through and through. This evolution is not only seen in the lyrics and melodies, but on the cover itself. The image shows the three in a room full of clocks that is actually Nick’s childhood bedroom. Julia says it all represents “time, Long Island, growing up, existentialism, and all these things that are wrapped up in what this album is. It’s almost a little bit coming of age I think for us,” before adding, “We wanted to make a beautiful image and piece of art, but we wanted to be on the cover. We thought that was kind of old school and a little bit in your face; we didn’t want to hide.”
Old school in general is Sunflower Bean’s main source of inspiration. Julia adores The Beach Boys, but also women like Carole King and Joni Mitchell. She giggles and says, “I know they’re not big in-your-face-like typical role models, but [they are] women who are in control of their career and are in control of their songwriting, even at times when that was more difficult to do or more unheard of.” This fearlessness is what jumpstarted their career, and has kept it at a dynamic metamorphosis (they aren’t even afraid to try their hand at horoscopes for Rough Trade Mag, despite never doing them before).
Julia leaves our phone call with this:
“You know the beauty of DIY is you can’t be stopped and you don’t really need anybody’s permission. You just start it up where you can and you jump in; that’s what rock n’ roll’s about. Not necessarily being, not necessarily knowing the right away, kind of growing into it and pushing yourself. I think that’s definitely what we’ve tried to do, and we’re trying to grow all the time.”
Catch Sunflower Bean on October 27th when they headline at Chop Suey. Tickets and details can be found here.
And heads up: Julia said she wants to thrift and grab some coffee, so scour every Capitol Hill thrift store and coffee shop if you want to see them more than just on Thursday night.
ANNA KAPLAN | Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission | KXSU Music Reporter