Sunflower Bean brings their dreamy rock sound to Oxford

Posted on Nov 8 2016 - 8:01am by Zoe McDonald
Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean photo courtesy: Motormouth Media

Sunflower Bean may have become indie darlings of the music world this year, but that’s not for lack of any hard work.

“Between 2014 and 2015, we played the most shows out of any band in New York City without actually meaning to,” Julia Cumming, singer and bassist for the rock trio said. “That kind of shows where our headspace is at.”

According to 2014 listings on New York City music website Oh My Rockness, Sunflower Bean had played 50 shows in the city. This year, they’ve traversed the world in the name of their first full-length record, “Human Ceremony.”

As the band drove north to Toronto to kick off the last leg of their U.S. tour, which will continue this month in spots in the Deep South, including Proud Larry’s on Tuesday, Cumming talked about their progression as a band while “the boys” sought to find the nearest Jimmy John’s.

The boys, singer and guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber, started out similar to Cumming, with a deep connection to New York DIY scene since high school.

“We were all in other bands before this — New York City local bands. The boys were in a shoegaze band, and I was in a pop-ish psychedelic band… When we started this, I was a senior in high school, and the boys were in their first year of college. But after that year we just started doing this full time,” Cumming said.

Cumming, a Manhattanite, shared a similar affinity for the city’s music scene as Kivlen and Faber, who are both from Long Island. Their involvement — playing and attending shows, dabbling in making their own music — turned into a sludgy psych rock trio called Sunflower Bean. The progression to that point, Cumming said, was natural.

“We thought we had — you know, since we had been playing together — we had something, and we just decided to pursue it with everything we GOT,” she explained, emphasizing the power of their dedication.

Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean photo courtesy: Motormouth Media

Now, Sunflower Bean has pared down their sound into something purely them. Their album, “Human Ceremony,” was released in February on Fat Possum, and it’s a product of exploration for Sunflower Bean, whose heavy sound and vocals had become their trademark until their second release on the Oxford-born label.

“Our first single with Fat Possum was called ‘I Hear Voices and The Stalker,’” Cumming said. “We were really recording our heavy sound and us as a heavy band. And we put it out and it was cool, but it wasn’t everything that we thought it could be. It was like having that experience, it kind of helped us figure out what ‘Human Ceremony’ was going to be.”

While hints of metal still glimmer in facets of “Human Ceremony,” the album sits at an intersection of dreamy psych-pop and rock-n-roll.

They explored layering sounds, creating harmonies and shedding some of their heaviness in making the album. For Cumming, this meant resurfacing her classically trained vocals, something she initially didn’t want to do. “I felt like I was rejecting that about myself for a while,” she said.

The sound felt right to the trio, and it fit for their growth as a group.

“I think it’s now been a little bit about adapting to the live show and making sure that some of that new development is a part of our set,” Cumming said.

Their live performance, Cumming explained, is often open to the trio’s improvisation. “It kind of keeps it fresh for us after all these hundreds of shows,” she said.

Recently, Sunflower Bean released a cover EP titled “From the Basement,” in reference to Faber’s family’s basement in Long Island. The basement not only serves as the trio’s favored, tried-and-true practice space, but also as a haven from the city’s hustle and bustle. The EP was released in September, but was made as a component of a Rough Trade exclusive they did in February. Cumming said they decided to cover songs they loved to, in turn, show a bit more about themselves.

This election-day show with Long Island retro pop duo the Lemon Twigs will be the first in Oxford for Sunflower Bean, and they say they’ve been wanting to visit since they signed with Fat Possum.

Once they wrap up this tour, they’ll head back to the basement to start working on a second album, Cumming said. Until then, they’re making the most of their tour across the states, where she said they value the experience in each show.

“We have a fun time here,” Cumming said. “It’s kind of rugged. It’s us in a van sort of driving around. [Our shows that have] a lot of kids there, it means a lot to us that they have the same interests as us. They’re interested in rock music. They’re interested in the same things as us, so we want to make it count. We want it to be special. I think every show is.”