Recovering back home after the triumphant finale to their ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ tour, one of our favourite New York trios, Sunflower Bean, are showing no interest in wasting time. Despite it being less than a year since that release, they have made sure that 2019 is going to get off to a flyer with their new EP, ‘King of the Dudes’. Four bangers for the price of one, it is the sound of a band taking off into the stratosphere – the exact moment where Sunflower Bean realised just how good they can be.
For some bands, it would have been tempting to keep four songs of this quality back for album number three. But Sunflower Bean aren’t hanging around, and with themes of gender equality, empowerment in the mix, these songs are so relevant now that it would be crazy not to let them fly the coop.
“We wanted to philosophically go in the opposite direction to some old-school single roll-out plan,” explains singer-slash-bassist Julia Cumming. “Thinking about how technology works, we want to get them into peoples’ ears however they want it. After all, why can’t we write about now, and what we want now, and what we want to do about it now, and have it come out… now?”
Following a tour which wrapped only a few days previously, the band still took a little time to think about where they had come from. “That was probably one of the most historic and important tours that we’ve ever done,” reflects Julia. “We toured with really strong, powerful women and it was momentous to wrap up ‘Twenty-two In Blue’ in the UK of all places.”
For all that album (and their 2016 debut ‘Human Ceremony”s strengths, however, these new songs show that it was all moving towards something bigger. The title-track exudes the New York cool that The Strokes used to be guardians of, all swagger and bravado as Julia asserts her authority.
“Being called the king of the dudes started as a bit of a joke from Nick, he perceived what I think of as just being friendly backstage with guys in other bands as actually being me coming to conquer,” she explains, laughing. “Which isn’t essentially wrong…”
Exploring that sense of female empowerment and male entitlement, the singer continues by admitting: “I disliked the nickname initially because I felt it was a misunderstanding of who I am, but through the writing, I realised it actually disempowers the powers of a king and brings it into a space where anyone can play with the strength. If ever there was a time to play with that word and claim it in your own way, that time is now.”
Best of all, ‘Fear City’ will take some shifting from the top of the bangers lists come year-end, it’s that good. “We were working with that for a little while, then one night we had this weird conversation about politics and culture, and I got this sick feeling in my stomach and just wanted to get on my bike,” explains Julia.
“It’s the first time that I’ve spoken about it… I wouldn’t say falling in love,” she hesitates, “but certainly an interaction with an addict and that kind of experience that a young person in New York City has, in a way that we haven’t covered on any other record.”
As well as a growing confidence in their songwriting ability, another big factor in their levelling-up is producer Justin Raisen (Charli XCX, Angel Olsen, Sky Ferreira).
“We were in Justin’s garage in LA in the middle of the summer, exploring intent and purpose,” explains guitarist Nick Kivlen. “Every idea with him is outlandish, you never just do something in an orthodox way. He was piecing together all these tracks; it was really elaborate and crazy.”
With all the instruments in one room, the spirit and energy of a garage rock band transferred easily into the recording. “It’s amazing what you can do in someone’s garage these days; he made us sound like a punk band playing in a stadium, all in his garage,” he continues. That relationship sparked up in a suitably modern way, Raisen getting in touch via Julia’s Instagram account. “He doesn’t hesitate, and I think that quality of not being afraid is like the spirit of the EP,” ponders Nick.
Whereas the three preceding tracks take an existing Sunflower Bean sound and develop it further, ‘The Big One’ sees them in a whole new light. “We were thinking about hardcore, that sort of Jesus And Mary Chain sound, wanting to sound tough in a way we hadn’t before,” reveals Nick about a track that ends with a full-blooded thirty-second scream from Julia. Primal and raw, like much of the EP, it was literally the final moment of a whirlwind recording. “After you’ve let it out like that, what more can be said?” laughs Nick.
Plenty, it would seem. These songs may land at a ridiculously turbulent period for the world, but the messages contained within still demand to be heard. “So much of our existence is online; there really is a general feeling of women feeling fed-up all over the world. We are tired of how things have gone,” explains Julia.
“This EP is for our times, but also of our times. These conversations that are being had, the fundamentals of gender and humanity, they are questions that we are going to have until the end of humankind. I hope that culturally, its the sign of a shift that we are trying to make, amidst fear and hatred and the things that really prevalent in American culture today. And it never ends, but that’s the beauty of human conversation.”
That conversation may never end, but this one sadly does as the band head off for a well-earned break after months of touring. With UK shows already planned for 2019, get ready for the return of the king (of the dudes).
Taken from the February issue of Dork, out now. Sunflower Bean’s EP ‘King of the Dudes’ is out 25th January.
Words: Jamie MacMillan