Sunflower Bean are taking their irresistible tunes up a notch.
Sunflower Bean are back in the UK, but it hasn't exactly been a smooth ride. After a five-hour flight delay, they arrived at the airport to find all of their bags had been lost. They're surprisingly chipper about the ordeal, though. "We were only slightly hindered and stressed out, we've been lucky it hasn't happened more," says singer/bassist Julia Cummings, to agreement from singer/ guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber.
The reason those delayed flights and lost valuables aren't denting Sunflower Bean's happy-go-lucky attitude might have something to do with the imminent release of their new album, ‘Twentytwo in Blue'. It's been a long time coming, as Jacob explains: "We started writing it at the beginning of 2017, right after we got off of touring [debut album] ‘Human Ceremony'. We got the soul of all of the songs down in early 2017, and then we were able to craft them and give them a lot of love in the studio for the best part of a year." He pauses and laughs. "Which is a bit different from 'Human Ceremony', which we just banged out in a week!"
"That was fun in its own right too," Julia adds. "I think the intentions were different on this one. Making and touring ‘Human Ceremony' made us realise we knew how to be outward, how to put on a show and mosh. We still love doing those things, and they're still a part of us, but with the new album, we wanted to try to dig deeper and discover a different part of ourselves."
"We also saw a lot of amazing acts on the road," she continues. "Seeing so many great songwriters made us think about what we wanted to be, how dedicated we were and what we wanted the next few years to look like. I think we decided we wanted something a little bit more inward facing. All of our music marks a place in time, so that made it feel like more of a natural decision." It's a real change of pace for the band, and one which you can tell took a lot of guts to make.
"I think one of the main differences between this album and the first is that we wanted to shed some of that guard we put up on ‘Human Ceremony'," Nick explains, picking up from Julia. "We wanted to be a bit more honest and open up. Because the first album had a sly, winking sense of humour to it, and I think we wanted to stop using that as much and be a little bit braver. It was partly down to a change in attitude and a growth in confidence after the first album, but it also meant trying something completely new."
"We've grown as people," Jacob interjects. "Years of touring help, and just digging deep into who you are. It's always a work in progress, but on this record, we're definitely more confident, and able to live with that."
It isn't all about finding inner peace and ignoring the world, though. "There's always going to be outside influences in your music," Julia says, when asked if the album is completely inward facing. "A record that we've kept in mind is Fleetwood Mac's ‘Tusk', especially that experimental aspect of it. We're pretty tender about people making that comparison to Fleetwood Mac, but I can hear it more on this record than in our previous work.
"Bands like Gorillaz that have been making interesting, exciting work for a number of years have influenced us too. We worked with Jacob Portrait from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and he was great at keeping things weird and telling us not to second guess ourselves, which helped us stick to what we wanted to do."
"I'm always listening to music," she adds. "If there's music in a coffee shop I l can't help but listen to it, I can't turn it off! If we're sitting in traffic in the tour van and something like ‘The Idiot' is playing by Iggy Pop, I'll lose my mind. I like that record, but if we encounter slowdown on the highway and it's on, I can't deal with it."
"Speed has so much to do with it," explains Jacob. "There's this interesting thing I think, where if you're driving a car and you slow down it feels like the music should too. Some funny synaesthesia."
Citing Fleetwood Mac, Iggy Pop and Gorillaz as influences shows that Sunflower Bean draw from a wide range, but that doesn't mean they're indiscriminate. "I think a big part of the band has always been rejection," Nick says. "When we first started playing shows in the Brooklyn DIY scene around 2014, we wanted to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing, and now on our second album, we decided to completely throw out everything that we were doing on the first one! We wanted to see if we could run in a different direction with it."
Was this change in direction a response to pressure after ‘Human Ceremony' was released? "Honestly I don't think I felt any pressure," Nick replies. "When we got together to first start working out ideas in late 2016 we had this amazing creative explosion. Every day we had new stuff, and it was great, just this massive build-up from the year of touring when we didn't have time to write together. We made a lot of material very quickly, and it was a creative and fulfilling time.
"The audience we found on the first record fired us up to write the second one as well. Going on the road and meeting all of these people that were connecting with our music in places we had never even been was incredible, and I think we used that as a muse to write for and help conceptualise what we had learned on tour."
Jacob agrees: "I think there's outside pressure inherently there, but we're all very good at managing it. We knew we had a lot in us to put into the record, so I think the pressure was good, at least for me."
"I feel more pressure now," admits Julia, referencing the fact that the album is finished, but not actually out yet. "Annie Mac premiered our song ‘Twentytwo' on Radio 1, and all night beforehand I couldn't sleep. I just get so jittery and excited, especially because we didn't say anything about the record for so long. I think because of that the real excitement is getting it out there. That full circle of actually getting the songs into people's hands will be pretty awesome.
"We have been playing new stuff at shows though. We're in the UK for the album's actual release [23rd March], so we're treating that as the ‘Twentytwo in Blue' kick off tour. Expect us to be playing stuff live that we've never played before; it'll be really special."
"We've got Sorry with us on the tour too," she continues. "We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what's going on, that's how we found them, and we love their tunes. Oh, and we saw Dream Wife for the first time at Benicassim last summer, they're going on tour in the US with us. I just remember seeing them and thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this is so special'. We're excited to take them along with us."
"I've got this really bad habit on tour," Jacob begins sheepishly. "We'll be touring with a band, hearing their songs through a green room wall for a month or two, and then I'll go home and listen to them and get extremely attached. I should probably do it the other way around…"
Taken from the April issue of Dork - order a copy or subscribe below. Sunflower Bean's album ‘Twentytwo in Blue' is out now.