Sunflower Bean's Headful Of Sugar
“That's one of my favorite things, the record throughout all of these dilemmas around it is a very real thing with a lot of heart”
A few months ago we got the first taste of New York-based outfit Sunflower Bean’s forthcoming album Headful Of Sugar, with the laid-back groover of a track Who Put You Up To This? an incredibly infectious tune that danced the line of gritty and devine. Fast forward two more single releases with the loud and heavier offering Roll The Dice written in response to the Gamestop debacle, and the most recent jangly and up-beat I Don’t Have Control Sometimes a song written in a period of recklessness and instability by singer/bassist Julia, and today we have the full albums release. A cohesive and beautifully produced release commentating outsiders disillusioned with the modern world, and the search for freedom and relief in interpersonal relationships - in spite of 24-hour news cycles, a daily barrage of cheap entertainment and convenience.
Co-written by Julia, Nick and Olive, Sunflower Bean utilise their alternating writing styles to create a body of work that is reflective of personal experiences as well as masked in alter-egos and characters created, like archetypes in a film to convey stories and themes that are both relatable and intriguing. Starting out as teenagers in a New York City scene that was oversaturated by indie, their sound has always stood out, being heavily rooted in rock. With Headful Of Sugar though, the trio didn't look to the ‘rock canon’ for inspiration, but rather “what inspired us in the moment,” shares Nick. Leaning into their DIY approach to things, the album was largely recorded at home, Olive trying her hand as an engineer for the first time, working alongside producer Jake Portrait to craft a record that was ‘self-sufficient’ Olive explaining that this approach “helped us tell the story we wanted to tell.”
To fill us in on more about the album, and what the band has been up to whilst on tour, Julia joined us via Zoom for a chat. Be sure to indulge yourself with Headful Of Sugar and take a read of our chat below.
So I heard that your band name comes from Nick's obsession with sunflower seeds and Olive's love of coffee and coffee beans and I just wanted to fact check that?
Yeah I mean Nick had come up with the name before I joined the band, and I think he just liked the combination of the two words. It felt sweet but not too sweet, I mean band names are always stupid, but when I heard Suflower Bean I was like “that’s a band I want to be in”.
Your North American Head Full Of Sugar tour just kicked off on the weekend, how did the first show go?
Really well, we’ve been touring for a while now, the album was meant to come out a month ago and the tour was booked around that, so we’ve been touring for the past couple months. We’ve got one more show and then the album’s out. We’re really looking forward to playing Webster Hall, that’s always been a dream of ours, so really looking forward to that.
This year has seen quite a bit of touring so far, what do you enjoy most about being on the road?
Well I’ve been touring, pretty much since I was 11 I was on tour selling merch for a friend's family’s band, so for me being on tour has felt like home in a way. We’ve been very fortunate that the band has always had a very big live aspect to it, we’ve been able to tour lots. We’re also back to just a three piece which is nice, just a trio on stage performing, which feels right with the album and our DIY approach to things.
What’s your setlist looking like for the shows? Are you playing mostly tracks from the new album, or throwing in some older tracks?
Yeah, we’re playing mostly the hits live, what people like the most. Once the album’s out and people know the songs it’ll be good.
With the new album, you were tapping into alter-egos that could resonate with listeners - are live shows informative of what you thought might resonate, or did you have other guidance?
I feel like there is a difference between the recorded element of the songs and the live element. We’re very fortunate that we are a band that performs live a lot, and that kind of energy that is there live is different to what we’re doing in the studio. In the studio and when we’re writing, a lot of the songs do draw from our own personal experiences and I think as a writer it’s hard not to have an element of that in the songs, even if it is hidden in an alter-ego or a character that we’re constructing and telling the story of.
So it’s part autobiographical but also utilising these alter ego’s to express it?
In a way, I think writing the album together as a band, we took Nick's approach of writing things from a character's perspective, and my approach of writing things that are more personal, and put the two together throughout the tracks. I really like the juxtaposition of the two. There’s a lot of songs that are written from these alter-egos, but draw from our experiences, or friends' experiences, so have this underlying truth and relatability to them.
In the press release Nick shared that when writing the album, you wanted to write about the lived experience of late capitalism? Can you share some more information on what that entails, and maybe what sparked this idea?
Yeah I mean it was written at a time where things were changing, with the pandemic and just the state of the world. We were online and just communicating and messaging one another like that. We just reflected on that and made a recording that sounded just like that, just the way that we did it. That's one of my favorite things, the record throughout all of these dilemmas around it is a very real thing with a lot of heart, and I think that's kind of the biggest stance that the record contains, in the way of fighting for things that are real in an environment where that seems harder and harder to find I guess.
The album was recorded largely at home, engineered by Olive and produced by Jake right? Did COVID/restrictions play into this, or was it purely that you wanted to be self-sufficient?
I think it was a combination, Olive was already working on trying to engineer the demos before the pandemic had started, and then it just kind of grew into this thing. We were just working every day, we had no time constraint. We worked on it all the time and you know, a lot of the sounds that made it onto the record is just stuff that she taught herself how to do by just doing it over time, and a lot of the process was sending tracks back and forth to Jacob Portrait. He and his wife just had a baby so he couldn't be in studios a lot until later. Suddenly we're at home, we’re at Electric Lady, we were at his studio in Greenpoint, but the whole thing was made in New York City, which I’m very proud of.
How do you think this self-sufficiency shapes the sound of the record compared to Twentytwo In Blue and Human Ceremony?
Yeah, definitely. This time we were working a lot by going straight into the computer, and a lot of the writing was being done with more production, and that was very different from us being in a room together at all times - just standing around with an instrument waiting for a song to happen. It's a completely different process that actually is better in pop music. But the record is meant to kind of be enjoyed in a lot of live experiences. You know, a song like Post Love it's meant to be danced to at a club or like Stand By Me is meant to be played at a festival. The kind of stuff like that.
I also noticed that both of your previous albums and Headful Of Sugar all have 11 tracks, is there something significant with that number?
I feel like we just think that's the right number for an album (laughter) you know, ten’s too little and twelve is too many.
Did you have all 11 songs mapped out, or were there some that didn’t make the final cut?
Yeah, so there were about eighty songs in total we chose from. But I think a lot of that was us just working through so many things, a lot of songs we’re saving for other records and just what is going to make the most sense together. With Headful, we chose the songs that had the right energy together and felt like we were coming from the same ego, and once we kind of had the idea for Headful Of Sugar we were able to kind of use that as our guiding force.
Will they be making it to the live show?
Sometimes yeah, we definitely play some songs that aren't out. The problem you know is that we have too much material, well not too much, but I feel like we should probably work on playing more songs that people know. We've already been playing so much from the new album without it being out, but I guess in a few days, it'll be out so, yeah.
Well congratulations for the album's release Friday, and best of luck with the rest of your tour!
Thank-you so much.
Sunflower Bean's new album Headful Of Sugar is out now via Liberator Music / Mom+Pop.