In Conversation: Sunflower Bean

In search of "the golden song"...

Following ephemeral pleasures and euphoria, Sunflower Bean’s long-awaited third studio record is a masterclass in making the music you want, on your own terms. The New York band have ventured into the realms of hedonism and complete joy with ‘Headful Of Sugar’, using Coney Island as the fitting backdrop for the album’s cover.

Between the disco pop highlights on ‘Post Love,’ familiar grunge rock on ‘Roll The Dice’, and the atmospheric album opener ‘Who Put You Up To This?’ that floats on the periphery of psychedelia, genre is limitless on ‘Headful of Sugar.’

“I love to just walk and listen to music without worrying about where I’m going and just seeing where it will take me… When we wrote this record, I had that in mind.” Julia Cumming captures this sentiment perfectly on ‘In Flight’ – a track that helps you get away, “without running away.”

Windows down, hands sailing through the breeze of a fast car, ‘In Flight’ embraces the dazzling rush and agony of life around us; “Life is short, and the cliffs are high / I don’t have to close my eyes / To see us in flight…”

Sunflower Bean achieve authenticity with their divinely introspective record, creating music for the love of it, all while searching for freedom and meaning. Clash caught up with Nick, Julia, and Olive to discuss sweet escapes, the importance of visuals, creative influences, and a ‘Headful Of Sugar’. 

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In Conversation: Sunflower Bean

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Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for Clash Magazine. ‘In Flight’ is a standout on the album, is there a favorite memory you can share from when you wrote/ recorded it?

Nick: I woke up really early before everyone else at the house we were recording in. I took a walk around the small town and listened to ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ five times. Then I sat on the porch for 15 minutes and wrote almost the entire song. When everyone else woke up, we started recording it, and by the end of the day it was pretty much done. I love when songs come together super quickly and easy, it’s honestly such a pleasure. You can kind of feel the special magic when there are no roadblocks.

Olive: Recording this one was a very important moment for the album. We had already done a couple other songs like ‘In Flight’ but not as good. It came together really quick because I already had a formula down of how to record it, but this time we were doing it with a golden song.

The fast pleasures of every day life are captured stunningly on the record, especially on the euphoric ‘I Don’t Have Control Sometimes.’ It’s so important to follow your impulses and do things that ignite a little fire amid the mundanity of life. How was the track initially crafted?

Julia: Once we had this idea, we didn’t let it go. I really loved that phrase “I don’t have control sometimes” because it so perfectly describes that moment when you realize you’re out of control, but before you’ve decided what to do about it. It’s the first step, acceptance. I thought that was a cool moment to have a song about, especially for a record that dealt with impulsivity and pleasures.

Olive: This song came together a little earlier on, I think like February 2020. To be honest, we had The Cure on our minds, ‘Close To Me’ to be exact. The coolest thing about this song is that all the percussion is actually the original demo drum take, just like chopped and screwed. We ended replacing the drums with a different take about a year later. Jacob portrait added some drum machine hi-hats.

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In Conversation: Sunflower Bean

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Can you discuss the album cover a bit more and the inspiration/ meaning behind it?

Olive: Our art director Driely was really pushing for something other than a photo of us, since our other albums were photos of us. And we wanted that too! We tried like 5 different ideas… Eventually we just said, “D, you’re a fucking great photographer, let’s just go to Coney Island and fuck around and take some photos.” That’s where we got the cover. It’s funny, we tried to go back a second time and do it better, but there really was some magic that couldn’t be recreated in this image.

Julia: Once we had that image, we knew it was the cover. As a New York band making such a hedonistic record, Coney really felt like the perfect backdrop for it. I also loved feeling like this big figure, really aggressive but also obscured. There’s tension in the image.

Nick: We wanted the visuals and music videos around the record to be grounded in real life, the magical aspects of real life. How sometimes places like seven elevens and shopping malls can be surreal places. We also wanted to celebrate Long Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. Coney Island seemed like a natural fit for the title and the themes. It’s also very beautiful and photogenic. A huge fireworks display happened right after we shot it. We were just kind of walking around, eating ice cream and hot dogs, then snapped the photo.

A lot of people have discovered the band and ‘Moment In The Sun’ thanks to Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper.’ Is there any TV series or movie soundtrack that introduced you to a band/ song you love?

Nick: I love the way Adam Curtis uses post-punk and ambient music to score his documentaries. Martin Scorsese is the king of needle drops, and we listen to the ‘Goodfellas’ soundtrack all the time as a band.

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In Conversation: Sunflower Bean

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Are there any specific books, movies, or shows that you read/ saw around the time of creating the record that helped influence the sound/ lyrics/ aesthetic?

Julia: I was reading a lot during the recording. Cherry by Nico Walker, My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottesa Moshfegh, The Powerbroker by Robert Caro, A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking.

Nick: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy inspired me to eat a lot of black beans and tortilla when we were upstate at the studio. As far as movies, I would say American Movie, Richard Jewel, and Uncut Gems.

Olive: I randomly watched the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer and Type O Negative’s cover of Summer Breeze is a big song in the movie. It inspired a lot of the heavier guitar tones on the album.

You’ve nearly finished your tour! What’s been the best part about being back on the road? And what song do you love playing live the most from ‘Headful of Sugar?’

Julia: It’s so amazing to see people again. Making the records is just half of the whole experience. Being able to play it for people is really a privilege. It’s been so cool to see what songs people like live, the energy in the room! I love playing ‘Headful of Sugar’ and ‘Beat the Odds’. They are really great to just dig into.

Olive: Traveling and hanging with the other bands is the best. We just added ‘Post Love’ to the set and Nick does a tapping solo in it which is pretty sick.

I find that social media can create a frenzy over something completely normal, but are we wrong to hope that there is a potential collab with Miley Cyrus on the cards? My timeline (and I) may have lost their minds to her recent tweet – a set of cool photos with Julia.

Julia: Hahaha! Anything is possible…

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In Conversation: Sunflower Bean

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What’s been giving you joy lately?

Julia: Being on the road, seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones, trying new food and experiences on the road. I think we have a new gratefulness for the career we’ve had and are really taking each day as it comes. There were so many days without shows or action for so long, it’s a really pure joy to just be a musician again. Also, my dog Joy.

Your ‘INSPO’ Spotify playlist is brilliant. A fun one: if you could only listen to one album or song for the rest of your life, what would you listen to?

Olive: I couldn’t do that, lol! I would go mad.

What set of lyrics are you most proud of from the album?

Julia: I think I’m the most proud of the lyrics on ‘Otherside.’ They came together really quickly, but like Nick said earlier, I usually feel like that’s a great sign because it just means I’m connected to the idea. I think their simple vulnerability do a lot for the record. I felt like it really needed that moment where all the walls came down and could just capture the essence of grief and loneliness we’ve been experiencing for years at this point.

‘Headful Of Sugar’ is so cathartic. It speaks to those of us who are just as overwhelmed by information overload. It’s like a safe-haven to hide away from the intensity of life, but also a great way to analyze our surroundings. What is your go-to sweet escape in life?

Julia: My go to sweet escape is walking around New York City with headphones on and no set location. If I can get a few hours, I love to just walk and listen to music without worrying about where I’m going and just seeing where it will take me. It’s definitely a little escape from responsibility and human interaction! When we wrote this record, I had that in mind. I wanted it to be something people could take with them in that personal way.

Nick: Anything creative, that’s just for me. Painting, cooking, that kind of thing. Private creativity.

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In Conversation: Sunflower Bean

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‘Headful Of Sugar’ is out now.

Words: Sahar Ghadirian
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz

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