Crista Simiriglia

Sunflower Bean On Anxiety, ‘Human Ceremony,’ And Living ‘The Dream’

The Brooklyn-based trio talks about their debut album and their biggest influences with MTV News.

Much of Sunflower Bean’s debut album, Human Ceremony, shakes with the kind of impulsive and restless energy you’d expect from a band barely out of their teens. But the Brooklyn-based trio’s modern take on psych rock veers into sedated territory at times, like when bassist Julia Cumming and guitarist Nick Kivlen harmonize on “Oh, I Just Don’t Know,” questioning their “place in this world” over a sea of guitars. It’s a hypnotizing moment, and one that perfectly captures what it feels like to be young and bored and insecure.

Riding high off Human Ceremony’s release earlier this month, the band itself is grappling with that same sort of uncertainty. New bands don’t get much buzzier than Sunflower Bean, and they revel in the excitement of living their “dream” and doing what they love. At the same time, Cumming says, “Now everything’s getting pretty serious. But that’s OK too. It’s just different.”

Two days after touching back down in the U.S. following a European tour, Cumming, Kivlen, and drummer Jacob Faber called in from New York to discuss Human Ceremony, Twitter, the Beatles, and more.

MTV News: You guys have quite the live reputation, as being a band who’s gigged relentlessly over the past few years. What was your very first show like?

Julia Cumming: We actually played under a fake name. We were called the Champagne Taste.

MTV News: Really, why?

Cumming: It was kind of an inside joke between all of us. We played the show at a really, really small venue in Brooklyn called Muchmore’s. And I think Nick broke his strings in one of the first songs.

Nick Kivlen: The last song.

Cumming: Yeah, the last song. And then he ran into the audience.

Kivlen: It was a good first show actually.

Cumming: It was a good first show! It was a lot of fun.

Kivlen: We had our first show under the name Sunflower Bean two weeks later at Death by Audio, opening for that band Viet Cong. That was our first real show.

MTV News: How have your shows changed since then?

Cumming: I think we’ve mostly developed who we are live in New York, since we’ve played the most here. We only started playing and touring outside of the U.S. last year, so that’s still kind of a new thing for us. What would you say, Jake?

Jake Faber: I think it’s just practice. Because with anything, the more you play, the more you figure out what works and what doesn’t. We still have the energy that we started with. And we’re always trying to grow as musicians too.

MTV News: I read that you recorded Human Ceremony super fast; in like a week. Is that true?

Cumming: That’s how long it took us to track it.

Faber: Yeah, we spent a week in the actual studio itself. But the whole process, we actually really took our time with it and spent two to three months writing, demo’ing, practicing. Just getting everything set before we went into the studio.

Cumming: Yeah, the seven days thing is kind of an urban legend. Because we tracked it in seven days, but that doesn’t count the demos beforehand.

Fat Possum Records

MTV News: Seven days still isn’t a ton of time though. Did you like going in and getting it done in a week instead of leaving too much time and possibly overthinking things?

Cumming: I think that it’s good to do something on a timeframe because I think with art it’s really easy to kind of fuss around with it forever and never say it’s done. But with a time crunch, you have to say ‘OK we’re done’ at some point.

Kivlen: I think that there’s an easy kind of tendency some bands have to really… you know, when there’s creative people, nothing’s ever done. But there has to be time for you to stop and just say it’s finished.

Cumming: Yeah, I think you can worry all you want, but we just want to get better and I’m happy with the record we made, for sure.

MTV News: The first song I heard from the album was “Wall Watcher,” and I love it but it makes me weirdly anxious. It’s a good kind of anxious, but it’s definitely sort of tense and restless. Is that the mood you were aiming for?

Faber: We’re all kind of nervous wrecks.

Cumming: You know that song “Close To Me” by The Cure? And how it has all that huffing and puffing and stuff? And then in the video for it, they’re in like a wardrobe and then it falls? It’s a claustrophobic song and a claustrophobic video.

Faber: Did you watch that on the plane?

Cumming: Yeah, I did watch it on the plane. We all just watched a documentary on the plane about a bunch of Cure videos. But I think it’s true; that’s a song that always makes you feel kind of claustrophobic, and I think “Wall Watcher” is kind of like that in a different way.

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