SUNFLOWER BEAN | To the Angry Young Believers!
Smack in the middle of the music video for Sunflower Bean’s rebellion anthem “Crisis Fest,” the guitar riff cuts off and the screen gives way to one of the many fans invited to be filmed for the video that day.
A voice off-screen asks the fan, and presumably several others, “What’s it like being young in 2017?” The answers are both hopeful and dire.
When I ask Sunflower Bean the same question, slightly edited for the times—“What’s it like being young in 2018?”—it takes them a moment to answer.
“The word that I wanted to say was ‘ominous,’” says bassist and lead singer Julia Cumming. “But I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s just how it feels.”
She would know. The band has had a close-up look at the United States during turbulent times over these last two years. They’ve been immersed in the energy of the youth flocking to their shows, both back in 2016 while on the road for their first album during the presidential elections, and just this summer, during the Kavanaugh hearings, as they toured their newest album, Twentytwo in Blue.
And Sunflower Bean found that the kids are angry. Sunflower Bean is angry; you can hear that in their music. Like in “Crisis Fest,” an unvarnished truth-to-power ballad in the same vein as The Clash’s “Clampdown”—upbeat and emboldening, with gutsy lyrics like, If you hold us back, you know that we can shout/ We brought you into this place, you know we can take you out.
But Twentytwo in Blue can be soft and ethereal, too. Like youth itself, the album is at times moody and at others sweet, part manifesto and part love letter. All three members— Cumming, drummer Jacob Faber, and guitarist/vocalist Nick Kivlen—are twenty-two themselves, and their age, passion, and talent put them in a perfect position to speak to the power and the beauty of being young.
Sunflower Bean found their footing in the New York DIY scene back in 2013. Faber and Kivlen were in a band together originally, a group with an inclination toward shoegaze. Faber had been playing instruments since picking up the piano at five years old, and Kivlen was breaking out intense guitar solos his bandmates now describe as “sick.” Together they created Sunflower Bean, just around the time Cumming’s first band broke up. And so the trio was formed.
It’s been a prolific pairing. Proof of that is easy to find: only six months after the release of Twentytwo in Blue, Sunflower Bean is ready to put out a four-song EP called King of the Dudes. While Twentytwo in Blue took the band nearly a year to complete, Kivlen calls the new EP “a burst of spontaneity,” that they finished over the span of this past summer.
They’ve committed to trusting their instincts and not second guessing themselves. “As we’re getting older and making more music together, we’re just figuring out how to do what feels good,”Faber tells me. “We thought a lot about taking those initial guttural feelings, whatever’s making it so that we have to write this song, and just making sure that’s still intact when the song’s finished.”
This sense of urgency only builds upon the Sunflower Bean energy. With King of the Dudes, they are taking their current experience of the world, their understanding of the young people they interact with everyday, and capturing it in real time.
“If Twentytwo in Blue is about finding your power, I think the EP is about using it. Owning it,” says Cumming. “King of the Dudes is aggressive and it’s fun, and I think that’s what life is like right now. It just slaps you in the face all the time.”
With the new EP in tow, the trio says the year is “far from over” for them. They’ll be touring the UK this November with Miya Folick and Jesse Jo Stark, then on to Asia before returning to their original stomping grounds to play Warsaw in New York City on December 7th.
In the midst of all of this, Cumming will be working more with her political project “Anger Can Be Power.” Throughout the next few months, we can expect to see the organization produce live events like “Youth On Fire!” which they hosted last April after the Parkland shooting. The goal of “Anger Can Be Power” is to give young people in the community opportunities to get engaged and speak out about current affairs.
So, yes, Sunflower Bean is angry, but they are using that anger to create music that speaks to how they feel, and to create a platform for other young people. Their pursuit for a better world is relentless, and brings to mind the chorus line of their title song “Twentytwo”—I do not go quietly/ Into the night that calls me/ Even when I’m alone.
Now. What’s it like being young in 2018?
“I believe in progress,” says Kivlen. “I think that it’s slow and incremental, but the world becomes a better place as time passes. I think it starts with education and understanding.”
With that, Cumming edits her previous answer. “I will say ‘ominous,’” she says, “but also, ‘optimistic.’”