Thanks to the beauty of technology, Millie Hopcott interviewed Sunflower Bean's guitarist, Nick Kivlen, when he was nearly 5000 miles away from her in Dallas, Texas.
Waking up just 30 minutes before our interview, Nick was very calm and relaxed; he seemed like a very collected kind of person. This threw me off slightly, and I became a bit flustered in the face of his coolness! He wasn't phased when I stumbled over my words slightly, though, or when I lost track of where I was at with my questions. He was a very patient guy. In the midst of their current tour and after a ten-hour drive, Sunflower Bean had found themselves in Texas, in a hotel with very good coffee, according to Nick. "It's been amazing", he smiled, despite just telling me how they had to endure a ten-hour journey, something that doesn't sound too amazing. "You know the drives aren't that bad," he reassured, telling me about how the band just hangs out, listens to music and podcasts, and gets to stop off at convenience stores along the way to "eat junk food"- the dream! I asked more about the best part of touring; Nick said he loves being able to "see the world and feel completely free", embracing the "whirlwind of travelling".
With Sunflower Bean's new album Headful of Sugar out on 6th May this year, I was curious about how the album came to be created. I had read online that the band had recorded the album themselves in one of their homes. I asked Nick about this, and he said, "We recorded probably the bulk of it in our home studio at our practice space in Long Island that we've been working at like the entire band. And then we also brought that entire studio to a house upstate for three months in the summer and recorded there as well, so it was 90% home-recorded." I wondered why they had decided to do this, and Nick told me that their drummer Olive Faber had been developing their music engineering skills and wanted to try it out. Of course, though, coronavirus meant that people couldn't do things in a usual fashion, so they felt like this was their only option, too, as they couldn't go to the studio or collaborate with different people.
"It is very bright and loud and lots of primary colour to it, there's not like a ton of layering to it or complicated arrangements, it's a lot of like bump and bass and very like bouncy groovy drum beats"
We talked about the new album, and Nick said they wanted to create a fun record to be played loud and on shuffle. Speaking of the vibe of the album, he said, "It is very bright and loud and lots of primary colour to it, there's not like a ton of layering to it or complicated arrangements, it's a lot of like bump and bass and very like bouncy groovy drum beats." What was most important to the band with their third album, was the lyrics and the vocals, "We didn't wanna make something really ornate or academic, we wanted to make something which was fun but also secretly imbued with a lot of meaning." He laughed and said, "I don't know if we succeeded, it's up to everyone to tell us, but that was the headspace we were in." On listening to a press release of the album, I would say they achieved this pretty well, especially with their song In Flight, which Nick and his experiences inspired after touring non-stop, and the feeling of loneliness in a small city.
In the middle of his explanation of the song, In Flight, he paused to give me a quick geography lesson about Long Island and New York! After we had established the geographical arrangement of Long Island, Nick told me about how he wrote the song when he was living back home with his parents after he had been on the road for so long, not having anywhere else to live. Every day whilst living there, he would go to the gym around midday, seeing lots of senior citizens, kids, and families, but never anyone in their 20s like he was. He said this felt "kinda lonely", so he wrote the song In Flight which features the lyrics: "Nothing ever changes in this town, the people die, or they move out/ everyone but me." Being from a tiny village, I found this very relatable, and I think many others can too.
Talking more about Sunflower Bean's third album, I asked Nick what his favourite song is off the new record. He said his favourite is constantly changing, so he can't really say for definite, but Who Put You Up To This?, one of their most recent singles is his current favourite. Especially to play live, as they have "revamped it and added a jam section". Speaking more about their live shows, Nick said the fans had been liking their new material so far. He and the band have loved adding "big musical interludes" to lots of their songs, making the live show more energetic and rockier. I was curious to see if the band gets a better reception across America, seeing as they are an American band, but the answer was a pretty hard no. Nick said the biggest factor that changes the audience vibe is what day of the week it is, with fans being rowdier on weekends, which makes sense.
"It just popped into my head one day, and I liked the way it sounded phonetically, like it sounded very positive"
To finish the interview, I just had to ask where the band name Sunflower Bean came from because it is so adorable. Nick said, "It just popped into my head one day, and I liked the way it sounded phonetically, like it sounded very positive. It didn't seem like it was trying to be really cool or anything." He laughed and said that often with naming bands, you want it to fit the style of the music. However, he thought the name Sunflower Bean invoked images that were perhaps the opposite of their music: "Like you might think Sunflower Bean would be this hippy-like folk, slow jam band and then we are whatever we are!" So now you know!
Edited by: Gemma Cockrell
Featured image courtesy of Sunflower Bean via Facebook.