INTERVIEW: Sunflower Bean Reveal How It Feels To Be A ‘Real Band’

Sunflower Bean are no longer New York’s best kept secret. Fresh out of school, the young band has just dropped their debut album Human Ceremony. Laden with dreamy melodies, dark hooks and all the fuzz you could ever need, the album is an exhibition in the fusion of song writing and atmospherics. We took the time to chat to bassist and singer Julia Cumming on how it’s felt releasing a full length and touring full-time.

Where am I catching you guys?

We are in New Jersey right now. We are just finishing off the East Coast leg of our tour and enjoying a few days off before we head of South and go around the rest of the country. We are on tour but we are having a little breather.

What do you get up to in your off time on tour?

Just seeing family and running errands really. We don’t have heaps of time to hang out. More just keeping things chilled but moving.

When the band was getting started in high school, did you anticipate that things would grow this fast to the point that you are on the road straight out of school?

It’s funny because a few things happened fast, but we had been jamming in different bands for a while. I had been playing around since I was 13 and the boys since they were like 14, so we have been doing this kind of thing for a while now. We’ve played a tonne in our city and all, so we all had our hearts fully in it, and as soon as I graduated we started doing it full-time. It’s definitely gone up in intensity these past few months in the lead up to the album, but it’s exciting and feels amazing in a lot of ways.

What made this band work out more than your previous projects for each of you?

I think that it just takes time to develop and figure out what you want to do with your skills. It did take us a while to come to this, but we knew what it was that we wanted to do. I think a lot of problems with bands that people have are to do with egos and people being overly intense and stuff- we had kind of already been through all of that. So it was cool to come together and know how to keep the relationships good.

I saw that in 2014 you clocked up around 50 hometown gigs alone. How did you not get bored with playing the same material while building a fan base over that period?

We practised five times a week as well! We would always try to introduce new material while we worked stuff out, and basically we just loved to play. We developed a very strong identity onstage and with each other, and got really lucky because the guys who booked the venues in Brooklyn really liked us, and they would have us open shows that would sell out because we became a kind of house band around the place. That also really helped us develop as musicians, and I’m really thankful for that. We didn’t really know that we were clocking up so many shows! We just thought we were doing what we should do, but we definitely over-played a little bit. But now that we are a touring band, we get to play to new crowds of people every night.

How has the band held up doing shows all through the week as oppose to just weekends?

It’s hard, but it’s really good. I do find that I get really tired, but it’s a dream for us, and we do enjoy playing live. We have dates booked up until October which is a little daunting when we think about it, but if we just take it one day at a time it’s very nomadic. You wake up, you drive, you eat, you play the show, you sleep and you repeat. It’s a weird job but it’s great!

How do you think it’s you grow as a musician this past year?

A lot to be honest. I grew mainly when we went into the studio to produce the record because it was the defining thing for how the songs were gonna come alive. We found that we really had to know how we were gonna record our song because that is where the song will live forever. I think it was important for us to learn how to do that, and it’s made me really excited for when we do the next record, and the process that will be involved with doing that.

So you’re already thinking about the next record?

There’s one song in our current set that’s new that we haven’t recorded that will probably be on the next record, and we have three or four other songs in the works, but we haven’t had much time to work on them because we haven’t been home. However, I think in April when we are home we will have time to sit down and figure them out.

How was putting out an album in real life different to what you imagined?

It was just really exciting because an album is an album, and we wanted it to sound concise and like a dynamic piece of work. We didn’t anticipate all the press, especially in the digital world. There are so many apps and things you have to adapt to. But we now know that’s just part of it. For the most part it’s been good because more people have faith in the music, and we have been able to travel and it’s been really great overall. It’s very different from just having an EP. It feels like we are a real band and not just a high school band.

You guys were on the red carpet at the NME awards recently. Was it strange being in that environment?

That was our second time doing a red carpet event, and it was very surreal. I hope it gets easier…if we are ever again in that situation. I think just doing what we do, we don’t have to worry because we are outside the mainstream, and we always come back to the merch table after the set and talk to the kids that have come to see us, and we are all kind of the same person. It’s really nice to keep that environment going to be able to meet and talk to people, and ask how they feel about our music and stuff. I think we try to keep it in mind to be down to earth and sometimes you play an amazing show to 600 people, and the next night you could play at a college and nobody shows up. It’s just up and down all the time, which is crazy.

I know you met each other through that Brooklyn underground scene. Now that you have started touring around both America and the world, have you noticed anything that makes the New York scene stand out?

I think it’s where you go to follow your American dream. There is just so much happening there. It has a very intense feel to it, and that creates intense people who move at a very fast pace. It’s a great place to get stuff done, but it’s very expensive to create art, so you have to think outside the box of how you are going to find spaces to create what you want to do.  

Human Ceremony is out now. Stream the album in full here.

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