“The right kind of crazy”: Sunflower Bean’s Third Album ‘Headful of Sugar’ Is a Wellspring of Impassioned, Eclectic Individuality

Sunflower Bean © DrielyS
Sunflower Bean © DrielyS
New York band Sunflower Bean dig deeper than ever in their explosive and explorative third album, ‘Headful of Sugar’.
Stream: ‘Headful of Sugar’ – Sunflower Bean




I think within the songs and within the genres that we chose to play with, that there’s a lot of sweetness in the music.

Contemporary rock bands seem perpetually prefaced with prefixes.

Be it classic, psychedelic, punk, indie, alt, there’s no shortage of subgenres to group rock artists into. Yet in an age where you no longer simply gravitate to a genre-based section of a record store but are instead served hot and fresh vibe-based playlists by Spotify hourly, many bands don’t fit into just one category. Sunflower Bean is one of those bands.

“One of our strengths and our weaknesses,” says guitarist and singer Nick Kivlen, “is that we never really adhered to genre… but even though our band didn’t really have one genre we’d go out and see bands and take a little something from everyone.”

Headful of Sugar - Sunflower Bean
Headful of Sugar, Sunflower Bean’s third studio album, released May 6

If you listen through Sunflower Bean’s discography, it’s easy to see what he means. A song like “Come On” from their album Human Ceremony leans into a harder sound with distorted leading guitar and more powerful vocals, whereas “Easier Said” from the same album takes this psychedelic indie tone with ethereal, heady vocals and a more melodic guitar part. Then you’ve got a song like “Come For Me” that’s a bit more of that riot girl but not taking itself too seriously vibe, opposing something like “I Was a Fool” which has a more Fleetwood Mac-y style with a modern indie twist. Label-wise, Sunflower Bean are a bit all over the map, and yet they always sound like themselves.

In their third album, Headful of Sugar (released May 5 via Mom + Pop), that eclectic individuality that Sunflower Bean have always possessed is as present as it’s ever been. The title is a conglomerate of metaphors that the band filled the album with.




In some ways it was “a fantasy about doing drugs,” says Kivlen, “because I’ve never really done drugs so it was imagining a way to transport me to another world without looking at a screen.”

In other ways, the title speaks to the sweet flavor that radiates through the album, something ingrained in its general sound.

“I think within the songs and within the genres that we chose to play with that there’s a lot of sweetness in the music,” says bassist and singer Julia Cumming.

And though sugar lines the rim of the record, it’s a sweet way to confront less sweet realities. “The stuff that was really affecting us [when the album was written] was the fast media that we were consuming was the screens,” Cumming explains, referencing the pandemic during which the album was created.

“It felt like our world was getting smaller and smaller, our ways of interacting were getting smaller as we were furthering addictions into consumerism that we’ve been heading towards every moment. And I think there’s a lot of humanity on the record and a lot of the more personal moments, because I think for us our way of reckoning with these kinds of themes really is our friendships, our closeness to each other, and the things that grounded us to the real. And I think, for us, the smaller picture, which is just the real in our lives and what we make of it and the sugar is everything else.”

Sunflower Bean © DrielyS
Sunflower Bean © DrielyS




The band’s incomparability is due in part to their closeness and their ability to trust one another musically.

“I had always wanted to be a part of a strong band,” says Cumming. “I think that there is a lot of musical harmony between the three of us but our tastes are very different. And I think that’s the coolest part because no matter what, I don’t think we’ll ever end up sounding exactly like anyone else even if we tried. I think a combination of tastes and vision is what we’ve created.”

“I guess it’s just hard to find people who’re the right kind of crazy to be in a band with. So I feel like when you find those people you kind of have to hold on to them,” adds drummer Olive Faber.

“We’re anti sarcasm,” notes Cumming, “we’re anti cynicism. We’re extremely sincere in our love for what we do and what we do together.”

After touring their 2018 release, Twentytwo in Blue, for over two years while also supporting Cage The Elephant’s tour and opening for The Strokes at Bernie Sanders’ rally in New Hampshire, the band had prepared a lighter schedule at the start of 2020. When the pandemic hit, that schedule got even lighter. “We had a bunch of time allotted for us to write and record together,” says Kivlen, “and the pandemic made it much longer. And so the one resource we had was time.”

SUNFLOWER BEAN ON THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE AND REACTING TO ENERGY

:: INTERVIEW ::



We’re anti sarcasm, we’re anti cynicism. We’re extremely sincere in our love for what we do and what we do together.

And in that time, the band located to upstate New York, conducting the project in a house they lived in together. “The bulk of the record, when I think about it in my head,” says Kivlen, “was just the three of us upstate at this house, waking up every morning and all one by one coming down into the living room which we turned into like the control room. And the live room was the dining room where we’d taken out the dining room table and put a drum set in, the vocal booth was the bathroom and then the front porch was like the acoustic writers room.”

While the ever-present realities of COVID made daily activities and venturing out a challenge, the closeness that was afforded to the group at this time made the album’s creation so singular.

“It became very insular,” says Cumming. “I think for the sake of the art, and for the sake of the record, it actually made something that was just really interesting and unique to me.”

Working with producer Jacob Portrait, who had also collaborated on Twentytwo in Blue, brought a sense of intimacy to the artist, that it was from the hands of a small few.

“He kind of became our producer-slash-coach on this record. It felt like making a more classic record in the way that it was just us and him sharing ideas, sharing songs. It feels like in the way that things are right now, everyone wants a million people attached to a project so that it has more clout, and lots of great records get made that way; it’s a very reasonable, modern way to make a record. But it was a really beautiful time that I don’t think we’ll ever have again in that way.”

Sunflower Bean © DrielyS
Sunflower Bean © DrielyS



One aspect of the album that truly shines through is Cumming’s vocals and the sheer levels she’s able to ebb through.

“I studied classical singing in high school, but on Human Ceremony I feel like I really didn’t know how to access that. And then on Twentytwo in Blue I feel like I was really trying to convince even myself that I could sing. Here on this record it’s just a lot more free.” Headful of Sugar opens with “Who Put You Up To This?”, a song that makes the album feel like it’s flowing into existence. The song starts weightlessly, with light vocals and guitar layered over a simple synth. Once the drums roll, the song takes on this rhythmic motion that kicks the album off with energy.

If only I could feel so free
To call you now would be a breeze
So tell me when you feel the need (if only I could)
For letting go for real (if only I could)
I don’t know who put you up to this
I don’t know who put you up to this
But I’m gonna find out, someday (i’ll find out)
You got me driving to the airport on a Sunday (uh oh, uh oh out)
And I know you’ll give me hate for this
Yeah, they’ll burn you with the stake for this
I’m burning up all the obligations
And I’m gonna take a permanent vacation
If only I could feel so free
To call you now would be a breeze
So tell me when (if only I could) you feel the need (if only I could)
(If only I could) for letting go for real (if only I could)


As is Sunflower Bean’s way, there’s so much range to this album. Songs like “Roll The Dice” and “Feel Somebody” have a harder sonic edge offering the album moments of a more punk tone, while the lyrics showed off other nuances. “Feel Somebody” balances delicacy and roughness in its sound and in its lyrics, paralleling this gruffness about love in with the line “I’ve had some lovers and I swear I wasted all of their time” to the more vulnerable “If I say I love you will you forget it by tomorrow?”

“Roll The Dice” plays into its sound through its lyrics, stressing the need to go after what you want through powerful distortion, and blends with larger themes of the album, ones of dissatisfaction with modernity and perseverance.

“The record in general, aside from a few moments, really tries to stay like outside of moral judgment,” says Cumming, “I think, where we were recognizing that we’re a part of the things that we might intellectually want to change. Especially like on ‘Roll The Dice’ I feel like the most important part of that song is the whole “I just want to win,” because as much as you can criticize yourself or anyone else for their cutthroatness in getting what they need, you know there’s no way to survive without maintaining that within yourself. It’s also an admission in yourself of how much you want to win, how hard you’re trying.”

“And unlike ‘I Don’t Have Control Sometimes,’ the chorus is just, ‘I don’t have control sometimes.’ It’s not good or it’s bad, and I think that’s the truest thing about impulsiveness or recklessness: It can lead to different outcomes, but no matter what, you know, it’s there. And I hope that when people hear the record, that that gives them space to connect to it, how they need to and how they want to.”

I wanna roll the dice again and again my friend
Faith is child’s play, chance is my religion
I wanna roll the dice again
I wanna roll the dice again
Win big, win lose, that’s just how the game works
In this city money talks, that’s just how the world works
Making rich another man
Making rich another man
I just wanna win… I just wanna win




I think that’s the truest thing about impulsiveness or recklessness: It can lead to different outcomes, but no matter what, you know, it’s there.

“I think Headful of Sugar is our truest, deepest, most ambitious work. I mean it’s the project that I’ve worked the hardest on in my life for sure” admits Cumming. “But making it is really just one part, it’s really a really small part. I think my goal, as always, is that it reaches the people that it should, that we can do a good job, and that it gets to be part of the fabric of people’s lives. That’s what music is about, at least for us, it’s a way of interpreting life and it’s a way of dealing with it. It’s companionship when you’re happy when you’re sad. And the greatest part of being a musician, for me is when I hear about how music that we’ve made has been a part of people’s lives.”

“I want teenagers on TikTok to take it completely out of context and make it into a trend where they’re doing something insane” stresses Kivlen.

Sunflower Bean © DrielyS
Sunflower Bean © DrielyS



Headful of Sugar tests the capabilities of a band with a great deal of range, it shows a willingness to experiment and play.

It stays dynamic, never approaching mundanity or sameness but instead changes levels, tones, and energies even within individual tracks. Though Kivlen’s instagram bio reads “neo-psychedelic for the digital age” as their Facebook description did when the band was started, even that’s too limiting a label for all this band can do.

Description

New York band Sunflower Bean digs deeper than ever in their explosive and explorative third album.

Quotes

“I guess it’s just hard to find people who’re the right kind of crazy to be in a band with. So I feel like when you find those people you kind of have to hold on to them”

“I think that there is a lot of musical harmony between the three of us but our tastes are very different. And I think that’s the coolest part because no matter what, I don’t think we’ll ever end up sounding exactly like anyone else even if we tried.”

“There’s a lot of humanity on the record and a lot of the more personal moments, because I think for us our way of reckoning with these kinds of themes really is our friendships, our closeness to each other, and the things that grounded us to the real.”

“I think Headful of Sugar is our truest, deepest, most ambitious work. I mean it’s the project that I’ve worked the hardest on in my life for sure”

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:: stream/purchase Headful of Sugar here ::
Stream: ‘Headful of Sugar’ – Sunflower Bean



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Headful of Sugar - Sunflower Bean

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