Interview: Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming

At the start of Sunflower Bean’s UK Tour The Student spoke to frontwoman Julia Cumming off the back of their sophomore album Twentytwo in Blue.

Julia stresses that the difference between this record and 2016’s Human Ceremony lies in “find[ing] a deeper humanity within ourselves and hop[ing] that that reaches people in a different way. I think we were still really thinking about space and god and existentialism […] but kind of interpret them differently. I think that that’s really a defining thing between the two records.”

Twentytwo in Blue has been received as a political album. Julia sees it as more personal. She says that its perception in the press as partisan, “shows how little political feelings are factored into art right now.”

“I think that Twentytwo is a very honest look at young people in America […] the rush of the undoing of their complacency and our complacency […] if that’s all it takes to be a political record it just shows the climate.”

Julia does not consider apolitical music a bad thing, “Oftentimes music serves very usefully and powerfully as an escape from a reality that is very harsh and difficult and scary.”

However, Sunflower Bean are not pessimistic. Julia elaborates:

“Twentytwo is about coming into your personal power. You can obviously sense our feelings through the record, but rather than telling people what to feel, we wanted to give them the opportunity to know that you’re allowed to feel it […] It’s about understanding that […] (in a supposed democracy) the powers are within you to make the changes that you want to see.”

We discuss how the band’s touring America throughout 2016 impacted the album. When Donald Trump won the election “we were in the Deep South […] out of our comfort zone. We were seeing a lot of Trump signs, a lot of Trump stickers. You start to try and tell yourselves it’s not happening […] It was not until the evening of that we realised that was not the case.”

With hindsight she reflects on this:

“The country and the world will be what we make it. If we continue to be complacent – ‘oh, it’s happening over there’ or ‘oh, maybe it doesn’t affect me etc.’ we won’t have a planet. We won’t have a country. We have to do better. That was a big wake-up call that that was what happens.”

We turn away from politics and talk about the band’s operating within a genre that could be considered as having fallen out of favour i.e. classic rock.

“I don’t think that we ever saw an option. Guitar music and rock music and alternative music is what made me and made the boys who we are. What was I going to do, start rapping? You know what I mean? […] You’re right that rock music can often feel like something like your parents would like and not interesting or useful. The future of rock is in the hands of the people who want to play it […] I get so frustrated by people who say rock is dead. If you’re a musician who thinks rock is dead, do something about it!”

With Sunflower Bean one gets the impression that the “look” is important. Julia discusses the relationship she sees between music, art and fashion. She mentions Astroworld by Travis Scott as a particularly pertinent example.

“I think when you make a record […] you’re creating a universe; you’re creating a feeling; you’re creating a moment for people to walk into and opening a door into experience. That’s where fashion comes in. The music informs the style. The music tells us the way [..] We don’t really think about the image until the music is done.”

We close with a question about what the band would have done without music. Julia thinks for a moment and then begins:

“I think we would be in a band. At least in my case, I was always just looking for a way to do it. Looking for a way to be a part of it. When I joined a band at 13, I didn’t know how to play anything. I wanted to be in a band before I knew how to play music. I learnt how to do it by doing it for the past nine years,” but she adds, “I really hope to be able to produce records someday.”

Sunflower Bean’s latest album, Twentytwo in Blue is available now for digital download, on CD and vinyl.

 

Image: Andy DeLuca via Wikimedia Commons

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