by Mandy McGee
Sunflower Bean is a rock band that pay homage to psych with some dreamy shoegaze mixed in. Jacob Faber (drums), Julia Cumming (vox and bass guitar) and Nick Kivlen (vox and guitar) met through the Brooklyn, NY DIY scene and released their debut album, Human Ceremony, in February 2016. I was able to chat with Nick Kivlen on the DIY scene, being an underage band in the music industry, how it was recording their album and where they plan on going from here.
They are all under 21 (Farber and Kivlen, 20 and Cumming, 19) and it can be a challenge to get shows in some bars or clubs based on the strict laws on the venue. Sometimes you are allowed to play a venue, but then have to leave as soon as you are done playing. There are a good number of venues and promoters that are nice and accommodating for underage performers. Kivlen recalls that only one venue in San Diego, while on tour with Diiv and No Joy, made them leave after playing their set.
Kivlen says, “I think that being so young is exciting because we only have room to grow into ourselves as artist and song writers. It’s really hard to find your sound and get your shit together, you look up and three years have already passed. Youth is worshiped in rock and roll, and is one of the things it’s most celebrated for. It’s music by young people for young people (romantically speaking).”
Being on tour is fun and hard work; being on stage every night playing the same songs and trying to have the same energy. For me, I still get super nervous before going on stage, but once up there I get in the groove and forget about the butterflies. Kivlen says they all feel the most comfortable on stage. “It’s sort of our collective happy place, so playing every night and meeting new people is very rewarding. The U.S. tour with Diiv and No Joy was a lot of fun. We also had a great time with our friends Honduras and Weaves on our headlining U.S. tour,” he continues. He feels that going on tour with bands who are more seasoned is a really good learning experience for them, and most bands are pretty friendly.
Another set back being underage and in a band is your underage friends or fans cannot see you perform if the venue is not allowing all ages in; this is where DIY spaces come into play. DIY spaces can be sustainable to keep open, but it is a lot of hard work and most are being pushed further and further out of city limits. Such was a sad reality for the DIY space that my friend Oliver Ackermann (Death By Audio Pedals, A Place to Bury Strangers) opened called Death By Audio. Developers forced this space to close in November of 2014. Sunflower Bean was so lucky to have their first official show at Death By Audio.
“It was great! I was really privileged to know a lot of great promoters from my previous band (Turnip King). So when we started we had a lot of opening slots at real venues,” Kivlen remembers.
Music being in the digital age and most things being at the tips of your fingers with a click of the mouse makes it easy to find what you want. I find most of my music through Spotify, 8Tracks and soundcloud; I like trying to find new music that I may not find through popular sites. The pro is you can post your music yourself and have control over it, the con is there is so much of it out there that a ton gets passed by. “With so much music out there, it can feel like you’re screaming into the void when you upload a track. You have to find creative or engaging ways to tempt people into clicking your track out of the millions of other bandcamp links,” says Kivlen.
What makes me feel a little old is Kivlen doesn’t remember the first CD or tape or record he bought. “Music was pretty digital by the time I started I listening and discovering on my own,” he says. However he does remember some CDs his parents gave him from a garage sale when he was young which included the Ramones. He fell in love with that one instantly. When we are young, what we listen to sticks with us, as we get older our tastes and influences change, but we never forget the nostalgia.
When Kivlen first started playing guitar he was very into hard rock and metal.The first songs he learned on guitar was “Come As You Are” and “Electric Funeral”. Speaking for the band, “We all grew up listening to a lot of the same classic rock.” Kivlen doesn’t have an extended formal education on guitar, but he did take a few lessons from the drummer of Agnostic Front when he was 10. Faber taught himself the drums, but learned to play the keyboard and saxophone while growing up. All through high school, Cumming studied classical music. Having parents that were really into music helped shaped each of them individually as musicians.
I love talking about gear and learning about new and vintage pedals. Kivlen tells me he only uses cheap equipment because he likes to Frankenstein different gear together. I personally don’t know how all that circuitry works. I’d like to know, but he says, “you can do a lot with little money if you know the hidden gems. I’d take my rig and Squire Stratocaster over any expensive tube amp or Les Paul any day. I pretty much only play Strats. Whenever I try any other guitar, I always come back to my Strat.”
Sunflower Bean still plays most of the same gear they started out with. They didn’t have a plan for the sound they were going for so they just used what they had and built it up from there. Kivlen did get obsessed with using vocal delays so he borrowed his friend’s Boss Vocal Processor and really loves it.
Their EP was recorded over the course of a year, and the album, Human Ceremony, was done in a real studio within a few days, with their friend Mathew Molnar producing it. They didn’t want to just go in and hit record without having a precise plan. So, they spent a lot of time writing and editing before going in the studio. “There was a pretty intense three month period of pre-production, including demo-ing and rehearsing,” Kivlen says.
I really love the imagery and emotions from the album and I love the videos that are out so far. “Easier Said” is my favorite; it’s so beautiful. It sounds hopeful and bittersweet. Then they have “Wall Watcher” which is so jarring and leaves me feeling anxious., yet it was so intensely beautiful. I learned from Kivlen that everything that Sunflower Bean puts out is carefully crafted and salved over, but it all still comes out naturally. Kivlen feels, “Albums are more than just sound recordings. Once you put vinyl in a cardboard box and slap an image on the front the songs take on an entirely different context. We can’t hear these songs objectively in a vacuum, being in a band is much more than just being a sonic artist, it involves a lot of multi-media.”
Sunflower Bean are going to be spending 2016 playing summer festivals and touring. They are always working on new songs and try to rehearse new material during soundchecks while on the road. There is one new song in their set right now so check out this band live. I saw them open for Diiv and No Joy, and I was very impressed!
They will be at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster tonight with Cave Paint and Saving Apollo. It is an all ages event. If you’re lucky enough to have access to this year’s NonComm Conference at World Cafe Live, you can see them tomorrow night at 8:30.