Coping with newfound fame is never easy – particularly at a young age. But on occasion you come across young artists who seem to manage the attention, expectation, and rigors of tour life with impressive poise, comfortable in their own skin. By all measures, New York based trio Sunflower Bean seem to be doing just fine.
I had a chance to connect to drummer Jacob Faber on a rainy afternoon in May, while the rest of the band was out running errands and shooting promotional material. Considering Sunflower Bean’s electric sound and propulsive beats, I expected someone more manic and kinetic on the phone – instead I encountered a thoughtful, soft-spoken, and measured man with the world ahead of him.
Brightest Young Things: Your music addresses some difficult themes, and there’s a recognition of the challenges of growing up on the latest record. What drives the desire to take on these issues head on and address them through your music, through your songs?
Jacob Faber: Man, I think it’s just who we are. Nick and Julia do most of the lyric writing, but it would be unnatural to write about anything else. Julia says a lot of times she’s initially writing these songs to someone else – like a friend – but then when it’s done you look at it like and you’re like “oh this was kind of to myself all along,” so I think it’s working through these personal feelings through music and using these songs as a kind of way to reckon with life.
BYT: It takes a certain degree of emotional intelligence and self awareness to get to that point. As a caveat, I recognize that the concept of childhood in the U.S. is different to other countries – we’re also privileged to be still be considered kids at age twenty two – but do you think that the younger generation in this country is better equipped, from an emotional intelligence perspective, to handle these challenges than previous generations?
Faber: That’s a pretty interesting question. [Pauses] I don’t know – in some ways social media is a way of dealing with everything and maybe a way of being equipped to understand it all and kind of deal with it all. I feel like people’s emotional intelligence, if it’s not growing it’s definitely adapting in having to deal with things in just very different ways. That’s a good question though.
BYT: I ask this because I’m 31-years-old and I think about the way we communicate in this country, compared to where we were when I was 22. Obama was president and things were good, but this generation seems much more thoughtful and considerate than we were. The way we use language is night and day. I think Generation Z is a compassionate generation, and I can hear that in your music. Maybe I’m giving you guys too much credit, but I hear it.
Faber: Yeah – compassionate. That’s what I think history has shown; generally the goal is to move towards compassion and I think our generation is maybe more predisposed to evolve towards a more compassionate understanding. Obviously there’s a lot of forces popping up on the opposite end of that, even in this generation, and it’s tough stuff, but i think compassion is kind of the thing that’s going to keep moving everything forward.
BYT: Sunflower Bean encountered acclaim pretty early on. Has this attention and focus shifted the dynamics between the three of you? Has it affected the way you make music?
Faber: Not really. I think the cool thing about being in a band is that you constantly have these people you can lean on and help you out, and inspire each other. So I think as far as the interpersonal relationships, we’re just constantly growing as a unit and just constantly listening to each other – even when it’s just like everything everyone says and stuff. Really, it’s about respecting each other and listening to each other. We meet people after shows, and hear their thoughts about our music and that’s also a huge inspiration for us. Even on this last record – we still write music that we want to hear ourselves.
BYT: Remind me about the origins of the band. I know you and Nick (Kivlen, lead guitar and vocals) have known each other your whole lives, but what was the genesis of Sunflower Bean?
Faber: Yeah – Nick and I went to a preschool music class together; so I guess we knew each other as toddlers, but then he moved school districts and stuff. We actually didn’t become friends until tenth grade of high school and we started playing in his band. Then our drummer went to college and we became good friends through that. Nick had a couple songs that he was writing and we started jamming together on that stuff; that’s how that first iteration of Sunflower Bean happened. We had a couple different bass players from our high school playing with us, and then we played two or three shows as a two piece. We knew Jules (Julia Cumming, bass and lead vocals) from the scene and from playing shows and stuff. Nick asked her to join August 2013, and we’ve been going from there.
BYT: The band has previously talked about how people see Sunflower Bean through their own lens – and fans and critics often project qualities of their favorite bands onto you. How would you describe the band? What emotional or artistic space do you think Sunflower Bean occupies?
Faber: Oh man. Yeah, I think people try to understand things by what they already know, and can use their tools and their own references to make sense of something – which I think is a totally natural thing to do. It’s cool hearing everyone’s comparisons, and for me I feel like the space that our band takes up is one of a true band – we all write songs, we all play completely live, and we’re a band where the guitar is kind of at the center of everything. It was almost this unspoken thing; I don’t know if we ever really spoke about it, but it’s just like this feeling about trying to keep the guitar in the center of the songwriting. We always try to keep pushing that forward and using all of the influences from all of our favorite things, trying to make our musical world pretty large in a way. It’s about understanding the references and then putting them into our own songs and trying to bring that forward through our personalities.
BYT: I really like your statement of being a “true band”. It’s a nice reminder of the collaborative nature of your music – it sounds like you guys are really sitting in a room together and building off of each other’s riffs and motifs.
Faber: Collaboration for us is like catching each other when we do something that’s really cool. We joke around that Nick can be playing a million amazing riffs a day, and it’s our job to be there catch them. Or Julia will say “what you just played on the drums is really cool – take that.” Again, it’s a lot of listening to each other and just trying to keep that flow of communication and listening to each other openly within the group. There are some artists who work primarily solo, and that’s cool too – the home recording and looping is definitely a cool way to do it, but I think the fact that we’re really a collaboration is something that sets us apart a little bit.
BYT: That made me think of Tame Impala’s evolution from a collaborative band to really just being Kevin Parker’s project on the last record, Currents. There was no space for anything else. Sometimes that works for people and sometimes it doesn’t.
Faber: That’s exactly the band I had in mind when I mentioned it. It’s a cool thing to do for some, but not for Sunflower Bean at this time.
BYT: You released Human Ceremony on Fat Possum and you released Twentytwo in Blue on Mom + Pop Records. Does it matter to you who puts out your music, and is this something you thought about at length when you decided to release this new record on a different label?
Faber: Yeah, it definitely matters to us. Fat Possum – they’re a great label and a good group of people and I think they were good for us for our first release. But I think as we grow as a band we might be looking for something else in a relationship. Mom + Pop kind of has that – they just really seemed like they were down to maybe take something that’s a little left of center like us and try to nudge it a little more center, in terms of audience. I think that’s a good trait to have; it’s hard and I think they kind of have that ambition. It just felt like a good match.