SUNFLOWER BEAN- An Interview
Updated: Dec 10, 2018
Indie rock trio, Sunflower Bean, have just announced the release of ‘King of the Dudes’, a brand new EP dropping on the 25th January, 2019. Since forming in 2013, the band have been moving incredibly fast, with two previous EPs as well as two stunning albums. Their most recent, Twentytwo in Blue, has gone down a storm; receiving 5* reviews from NME and making it into the UK Top40. I was lucky enough to talk with lead singer and bassist, Julia Cumming, to ask her some burning questions I had about the music and their journey.
How are you guys doing?
Good! We are just in beautiful, soggy Leeds. It’s cool, we’re here at the wardrobe getting ready for the day.
Didn’t you have a show last night in Cardiff?
Yes, last night we were in Cardiff, it was the first night! We have a lot of new things happening within the set and it’s our first time touring with Danny. We wanted to bring something new to the UK; you know the people who have been supporting us for a long time. I think it’s really fun.
What do you feel has been your greatest musical achievement so far?
I’m tempted to say the EP because I’m so excited about it, we’re always looking forward. I think the EP (coming out January 25th) is one our greatest achievements as songwriters, it’s really special. Also Twentytwo in Blue because of the amount of work and thought and feeling that went into it. I think musically that was the biggest undertaking we’ve done so far, and the fact that it got into the Top40 here in the UK was a really amazing achievement that went along with the creativity. Those things don’t always match up, so it’s really nice when they do!
When you started in 2013, did you ever believe you could be as successful as you are today? Do you have any advice for doubtful young musicians?
Okay well I just came up with this slang and I’ve only used it a couple times, but I’m gonna tell you because I feel like it goes with this question. It’s called the HGS, it actually kind of sounds like the NHS, like some kind of government part of the UK, so maybe it’s very fitting. It stands for Heart, Gut, Soul. I’ve been trying to understand where one’s creativity comes from and how creatives work, especially when you’re an independent artist, you’re asked 100 questions a day about everything. You’re in charge of everything, like Sunflower Bean, every decision is made by me, Nick, Jacob and our manager Christa. It’s like a four-person brain that just does everything and you get asked 100 things and you have to decide on them creatively. Those decisions are part of your art, so when I get asked, “What do you think of this artwork? Do you think it’s okay?”, I have to look inside of myself and use that to see if it’s okay. I think in order to be an artist who is out in the world, open to ridicule and have your whole life on the line all the time, you have to trust your heart, gut and soul that there's a reason you’re doing it. There’s a certain part of you that knows what it’s doing. It’s about understanding why you make those decisions and why you wanna do what you do. That’s your identity. So I think for anyone that’s feeling those doubts or doesn’t really know how to do it: you really have to trust that part of yourself with everything you've got. You can only be yourself and you might as well go for it.
Was there ever a time in your career when you didn’t wholly believe in what you were creating? If so, how did you overcome that?
Well I think that's the nice thing about being an independent artist, ideally there’s no one that can tell you what you should be creating except yourself. It's a really cool spot to be in and I’m really thankful for it. For everything we have done, I know the place that it's come from and when I hear people respond to it, I feel really good about that because it feels like a clear communication between us and them. I would say there is nothing that I’ve ever felt we’ve done and been creatively unhappy with. Some things are ambitious and it may take a long time to see if we can actually nail them, especially when you’re trying to make music that maybe is a little strange. You’re checking the HGS to see if it’s gonna work, if it’s gonna be able to be communicated with people. I’d say some things are difficult and I hope that we’ve been able to pull them all off, but once you put something out, it’s not really for you to decide anymore, it’s out in the world.
You’ve managed to complete quite a few things on a musician’s bucket list, but what else do you hope to experience?
Oh my gosh! Well that’s one of the weird things about being “entertainment”, just this world feels like constant mountains. There's always something more, always something on the horizon, always something you wanna get, always something better. I think that sometimes because you’re rushing around so much, it’s hard to really feel everything and experience everything the way that you want to. I think that we’re getting better at it, as I’m getting older. I remember me and Jacob had a really amazing experience this summer at a festival. I think it was in the Netherlands and all the stars were out, we went onto the beach at night and just looked at the stars for like an hour. It’s stuff like that, the places that you are. You could never have imagined you would be there. Loving the people you're with and just really feeling that moment is probably one of the most rewarding things besides the work itself. I mean, obviously Reading and Leeds was amazing and things like that are always really cool and great, but it’s the life that you wanna experience.
If you could collaborate with anyone (alive or dead) who would it be?
Lou Reed. It would probably sound super weird and bad, but that’s the best thing about Lou, there’s so many parts of his career. He’s an artist that never really wanted to stay the same, never wanted to get stale, he’d rather make something bad than make something stale. I think that we feel similarly and that it would be a really interesting, amazing thing.
What’s your favourite song to play from the latest album?
It changes all the time, I think Human For right now because we’ve just rearranged it a little bit and it has a jam that we’ve worked out and I love it. Sometimes Twentytwo is my favourite too, it kind of switches.
Do you arrange your music differently specifically for live performances?
Yeah we do! I think the live show definitely has things the record doesn’t have that comes from our background of DIY and live music. I think one of the cool things is, we don’t play with any tracks and we don’t play to a click. Let's say one night the crowd is really crazy and jumping, we have the ability to play the songs in a way that feeds that energy. We receive that from them and they receive that from us, and that’s really cool too. The set is arranged with flexibility to have every show be different. I think that’s one way to keep it interesting because you don’t get sick of it.
How do you go about writing, is it a group effort or does one of you lead an idea?
It really depends, I think that one of Nick’s biggest strengths as an artist is being a guitarist. I think he's a really neat guitarist and that's kind of been the leader of our different creative eras. Definitely bringing in Twentytwo in Blue, he was very adamant about wanting to not do what we had done before, to just not be pencilled into the chorus sound on guitar and the 80s thing. On Twentytwo in Blue, I brought in different songs on guitar and that was different. I actually started on guitar, but as I’ve been playing so much bass, that then became the forefront of my life. Jake has been working on a lot of songs too, so I think the process has been shifting over time. To simplify it, it’s usually an idea starting with me or Nick, and the expansion of that happens between the three of us just playing together.
I have a couple questions here from fans.
The first one is from Lauren. She loves how each one of you has your own individual look and wanted to know, aside from the music, who are your style inspirations?
I would say for Twentytwo in Blue, I thought a lot about Cher, who’s like hard not to love as a style queen. I think in general, I’m inspired by people who really go for it and people who are dedicated to an original look, not being synonymous with the music you make. For King of the Dudes, I’m already starting to think about what that will look like. I'm starting to hoard outfits that I wanna wear for it because they look like how the music sounds, but I'm gonna hold off until you get to hear those songs live!
The next one is from Lewis. He said that when he saw you support Wolf Alice, it was before the release of Twentytwo in Blue and you played only those new songs. Is it scary playing new material knowing that the audience won’t know any of the songs?
I think in that case we wanted to give people a taste of what was coming. There's so many perceived rules within music like 'you have to play only what people know' and 'you don’t wanna scare them too much with new things'. We were so proud and so excited about what we were doing and felt that if we shared it, there was no way that it could go wrong. I think that’s probably the HGS talking, but at the time it felt very natural and when you’re opening up anyway, you’re sort of just there to support the show and show what you do. With our own shows of course, we wanna make sure to show a lot of everything we’ve done in our career, but with that for some reason it felt like a no brainer.
You’ve announced an EP release for January, what else is in store for 2019?
Yeah we have announced the release! It’s January 25th, and a four song EP. I think that with any bit of music you put out, the goal is to just support it and do it justice. We’ve been touring for about a year and a half and now with this it’s probably going to be more. This tour is the last headlining tour in the books, there’s no planning for touring in 2019 yet, so if people wanna see us, right now is the definite time because the future is wide open.