16th Annual Artist Survey: Sunflower Bean

Julia Cumming, Jacob Faber, and Nick Kivlen on #MeToo, Artificial Intelligence, Climate Change, and The Muppets

Mar 28, 2019 Issue #65 - Mitski and boygenius
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For Under the Radar's 16th Annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year, plus some fun personal questions. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2018 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from all three members Sunflower Bean, who released their sophomore album, Twentytwo in Blue, in March 2018 via Mom + Pop.

For our annual Artist Survey we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the midterm elections, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West visiting the White House, the #MeToo movement a year later, mental health conditions in the music industry, whether or not they have Flossed, childhood birthday parties and vacations, which Muppets character they are most like, whether or not they are going to The Good Place after death, and much more.

Top 10 Albums of 2018

Julia Cumming:

1.  Unkown Mortal Orchestra: Sex & FoodUMO's first record was one of the main albums that inspired us to originally start Sunflower Bean! They have an amazingly huge place in our hearts. Their ability to grow and create beautifully challenging music is incredible to follow. We bought this CD and had it in our tour van on repeat for entire month of June, and after the fifth or so listen the brilliance of the record really starts coming into focus... I don't know why UMO's albums have this strange acidic alienating effect, it's like eating a sour patch candy, jarring at first, but then undeniably sweet. "No one will fuck the ugly robot" has to be a lyric of the year. 
2. Cardi B: Invasion of PrivacyWhere do we even begin? This was Cardi B's year and this was such a strong debut. 
3. Yves Tumor: Safe In the Hands of LoveEverything involving the enigma of Yves Tumor I believe 100%, its an extremely amazing feat to keep such an aura of mystery like Yves' in the era of social media. The strange cover perfectly suits this amazing abrasive alien noise rock record that literally sounds like it fell to earth. "Noid" is easily my favorite song of the year. 
4. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really FeelCourtney is a real one. She's the best lyricist in indie rock! Excited to be playing some dates with her in 2019!
5. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!Parquet Courts is one of our favorite rock bands of the past decade. This one sits in a strange place of being fun and carefree while also extremely poignant and urgent. Great lyrics addressing serious topics that actually make you think in a serious way, Andrew [Savage] almost sounds like he's shouting a Poli-Sci student's thesis paper on one song. They are also one of the few bands that make me want to mosh like I'm 17 again. 
6. Superorganism: SuperorganismWhen I first heard "Everybody Wants to Be Famous" I didn't know what to think. It was super twee but also intriguing in a way. A few songs later and I'm fully in. This sort of weirdo Internet-collab, genre-less pop is a perfect lexicon for 2018. Orono [Noguchi]'s vocal delivery is hilariously deadpan and catchy. The whammy out stoner guitar also really shines along side the super catchy pop songs. Kind of sounds like if you took some unreleased MGMT tracks from 2007 slowed them down and pitched shifted them and then had a kindergarten class sing the back up vocals. 
7. Porches: The HouseWe've been following Porches for a long time and even though his sound has changed quite a lot since Slow Dance in the Cosmos. He has an extremely beautiful melodic fingerprint that permeates all his work. Love the minimal dance-y vibes of this new one, it's a darker more sparse transformation of 2016's Pool, which also slaps. 
8. Dream Wife: Dream WifeThis record rocks so hard and is so poppy and sing-a-long-able at the same time. We toured with them in the U.S. earlier this year and it was so fun seeing them melt the faces of unsuspecting Midwesterners.
9. Insecure Men: Insecure MenThis record is very special. There's truly nothing like it. It's a wonderful, weird experience of sounds and songwriting that one would never imagine work together, but do very well. "The Saddest Man in Penge" and "Cliff Has Left the Building" are mega highlights.
10. The Nude Party: The Nude PartyDefinitely one of my favorite records and live bands of 2018. We also toured with them earlier this year and by the end of the first night, all the songs were stuck in my head and I was embarrassingly humming them in front of all the boys.

What was the highlight of 2018 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point? 

Nick Kivlen: The highest point of the year was our Bowery Ballroom album release show. We had close friends of ours from an extended Sunflower Bean family band to play our new record in full. It felt like being Arcade Fire at Coachella or something. It was so much fun to bring the album to life in that way.

Jacob Faber: Another highlight for us was when Twentytwo in Blue debuted in the U.K.'s Top 40 album charts. It definitely felt like a proud moment for all of us.

And as for the lows, I mean we're a family you know. Of course there's tough times on the road or while making records but at the end of the day nothings going to stop us from making music. It's how we live and breathe.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. midterm elections have played out? What do you think the results mean for the Democrats' chances of taking back the White House in 2020.

Nick: I think its really exciting that so many diverse and young candidates were elected into office, and I am hopeful that the Democratic Party will become a more radical progressive party in opposition to the outright fascism of the Republican Party. I really hope that the Democrats are able to find the right candidate to beat Trump because I don't think it will be easy. We need clear leadership that offers people actual policy that will improve the lives of the 99%. I also think it is more important than ever right now to exercise political activism outside of elections, because there are many things inherently wrong with the entire institution.

Despite compelling testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and sexual assault allegations from other women, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in a Supreme Court Justice and many Republican women didn't believe Ford's story. What does this tell you about the general state of the #MeToo movement in 2018?

Jacob: We watched the whole thing on a long drive through Texas while we were on tour and it was pretty sickening. It tells us that a lot of people still don't care about women and what they have to say when they stand up to tell their stories and experiences. We see that a lot of people are driven by power over human compassion. There is still so much work to be done. But the first step, is listening to women, believing women, and supporting women.

A year after the #MeToo movement, do you feel things have gotten better or worse in terms of issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in the music industry?

Julia: This is a big question that I am unqualified to answer for anyone but myself at this point. I would say I've noticed a lot of men and people in general being more thoughtful about how they interact in that realm, and the women I know are beyond fed up with letting things slide. So, in my life, I've noticed that the boat is being steered in a better direction, even if it's small steps.

Be honest, did you Floss in 2018? (Meaning the dance craze, not the dental care.)

Nick: I haven't, but as far as another craze we've experienced, we have played Fortnight a few times with friends' younger siblings. It's a really interesting game; the duality of the silliness and violence is really confounding. I read an interesting article about how it's actually a game about climate change and the escalating crisis of resources created by capitalism. I think the young people playing it subconsciously pick up on that, build your fort and hide in it as the circle of habitual land gets smaller and smaller. Really, frightening stuff. 

Which Muppets character are you most like and why?

Jacob: Animal... duh.

Nick: Gonzo.

Julia: Miss Piggy!!!! The glamour!

Are you less of a fan of Kanye West now that he's visited the White House and has in other ways supported President Trump?

Nick: I think it's really disappointing. A lot has already been said about the whole thing and I don't want to repeat others. I think it's pretty clear that Kanye only likes Trump on a surface reactionary level.

Jacob: It's frustrating because he released one of my favorite songs of the year ("Ghost Town"). I appreciate the fact that he is creating conversation and chaos but it's not cool when he just gets things wrong. Sometimes people talk about things like they are experts but aren't even educated on the subject and I think that Kanye is one of those people when it comes to politics.

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit tragically took his own life this year. What should be done to improve mental health conditions for musicians?

Jacob: I think a lot of it is getting rid of the stigma of seeing or talking to a therapist. I just started talking to one this year and it has helped immensely. Musicians are often highly sensitive people and predisposed to depression and anxiety and being on tour especially for long periods of time can really intensify all those things. So I think it's just a lot about having open communication with your band mates, management, label, etc.

In 2018 there were more dire predictions about climate change and we witnessed some of its likely effects firsthand with various deadly storms and forest fires. What should touring musicians be doing to better offset their carbon footprint? How bad do you think it needs to get for governments and corporations to take stronger actions to fight climate change?

Nick: I don't think individuals should take the brunt of the fault for climate change; it is a product of our institutions. Unregulated business and massive corporations are at the root of climate change, not DIY musicians driving in a van.

Julia: I do think musicians can do more (including myself) to reduce it even slightly. The amount of water bottles a band can go through in a night is truly wasteful.  

Are you ready for artificial intelligence and a more automated future? Some predict that it may come sooner than we think and will lead to massive job losses. 

Nick: There are more then enough resources on Earth for everyone to be supported. I envision a utopia where we can all live happily. 

Julia: I think human creativity and love are not at the risk of being lost, even with the growth of artificial intelligence.

What's your favorite birthday party memory from childhood? 

Nick: For my 22nd birthday the band threw me a surprise Sopranos themed birthday party with lots of Italian meats and pizza, we played Pin the Cigar on Tony. It was my best birthday ever.

Julia: That was also my favorite birthday, even though it wasn't mine.

What was your favorite family vacation as a kid? What was your least favorite?

Julia: I liked going to Wisconsin with my mom and playing baseball with my grandma. She was wonderful at many things, including sports, and I feel lucky to be from a line of strong women, my mom especially. Wisconsin also gave me a love of cheese.

What's been your most surreal experience in the music industry?

Nick: Whenever I think about how many physical vinyl copies have been made of our music it kind of blows my mind-that our songs are really worth reproducing that much in a physical form to take up space. You never can actually ever imagine that when you're a kid.

When you die, do you think you're going to the Good Place or the Bad Place? 

Nick: I think that when you die its the exact same feeling you had as before you were born. I think that kind of silence is not a bad thing.

If you were Nancy Pelosi, what would you do with the Democratic control of the House over the next two years? 

Nick: Turn the party into a more radically Socialist party that actually has real policy to combat the fascism of the Republicans.

Did you ever sneak out of the house as a teenager? If so, to do what and did you get caught? 

Jacob: I snuck out once and got caught right as I got where I was going. After that I realized that if I just communicated with my parents things would be easier.

[Note: A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in Under the Radar's Issue 65, which is out now. This is its debut online and the full version of the interview.]

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