Sunflower Bean needed an outside opinion.
Singer-bassist Julia Cumming, guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber had been holed up in Greenpoint studios and the Glen Head basement of Faber’s mother’s house for nearly a year working on new music, with little input from the outside world.
“It was on the Wolf Alice tour and I was really anxious about the record,” says Cumming, sitting with her bandmates in the Manhattan offices of the band’s record label. “I kept thinking, ‘Is it good? What did we do?’ I made Theo [Ellis, Wolf Alice’s bassist] sit down and listen to the whole thing.”
“While we all stared at him,” adds Kivlen, laughing.
“You just have to tell me this is OK,” Cumming told the bassist from one of the United Kingdom’s hottest bands. “You just have to tell me that we haven’t lost our minds.”
They hadn’t. In fact, “Twentytwo in Blue” (Mom+Pop), which hits stores on Friday, March 23, is such a leap forward from the band’s already buzzed-about 2016 debut “Human Ceremony” in style and substance that sometimes it even surprises the band.
Kivlen tells his bandmates that he played the album in its entirety for the first time for a couple of friends and it shocked him. “It was so crazy,” he says. “It finally put it in perspective to me: ‘Look at what we’ve done.’ ”
Faber says he had a similar reaction when he first listened to it. “It was like, ‘Holy [expletive], we did good,’ ” he says, laughing.
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Sunflower Bean agonized over every bit of “Twentytwo in Blue,” from the creation of the songs to the imagery and the sequencing.
“We tried it a bunch of different ways,” Faber says of the album’s final order. “Now it almost starts in a clearing and moves into a dense forest and then toward the end, in ‘Sinking Sands,’ they come back out into a clearing. It has the feeling of a real journey through something that has depth.”
Cumming says they wanted to make the album an experience. “I think our record doesn’t sit in the background,” she says. “It’s definitely a thing you go through and I think that’s kind of fun.”
The intensity of the album experience — which runs from the wistful “I Was a Fool,” with its shades of Fleetwood Mac, to the angry “Crisis Fest” and the reassuring “Only a Moment” — reflects the intensity of the creation process.
After near-constant touring to support “Human Ceremony” in 2016, Sunflower Bean’s members planned to take a break before considering their next move. However, after a few days off, they found they had a lot to say, in part, because of the election of Donald Trump. (“I remember crying myself to sleep that night,” Cumming says of election night, which they spent playing a show in Oxford, Mississippi. “We were staying at someone from the label’s house and sleeping in their bed. I remember texting them the next day, saying, ‘Sorry I ruined your pillowcases.’ They were black from all my crying. It was definitely a moment.”)
Kivlen says they were immediately productive when they returned to the studio. “We were like a faucet that hadn’t been turned on in a long time and we just poured out all these creative ideas,” he says. “It was super exciting and super fulfilling. It really did feel like something was building up.”
Cumming says they quickly recognized a new approach to their songwriting. “It’s fun to scream and it’s fun to mosh and it’s fun to stage dive and those will always be things that we love,” she says. “But we needed to go deeper and be more vulnerable in order to actually get a different point across.”
And they definitely have a point to make. With “Twentytwo in Blue,” so named because all three of them are now 22, they wanted to tell the truth about what life is like for them and for people their age.
The single “Crisis Fest” is in some ways a call to arms. “It was directly inspired by all the different people we had met traveling across America,” Kivlen says. “We met a lot of people our age who were uncertain about where their place in America in the future is going to be. Being 22 right now, a lot of our friends are starting to graduate from school. And we’re still trying to get our lives together and figure out how this generation is going to survive and figure out what we’re going to do with our power.”
Because “Crisis Fest” addresses things they and their friends have experienced directly, it’s a protest that rings true. In a way, it’s similar to the protest of survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, that is set to descend on Washington, D.C. on Saturday, March 24.
“It reminds me of ‘I’m Eighteen’ by Alice Cooper,” Cumming says. “It’s the feeling of I’m not lost, but I know that where I am is not the endpoint. I know there’s things I don’t know, but I know I don’t want to die in school. There are things that I know. That’s the reason these kids are so smart as they try to understand what they have that they can use because they’re up against a wall.”
Sunflower Bean credits their parents and teachers — especially those at North Shore High School, where Faber and Kivlen, who still lives in Glenwood Landing, graduated — for encouraging them to speak their minds through music.
“We were so lucky to have people who supported us, who nudged us toward the arts in the city,” Faber says.
“No one gave us a map,” Cumming adds. “But they did tell us to try and find out things for ourselves.”
WHO Sunflower Bean
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. April 26, Bowery Ballroom, Manhattan
INFO $16; 877-987-6487, ticketfly.com
SCHOOL OF ROCK
Sunflower Bean’s singer-bassist Julia Cumming believes that every band has to find its own path through the music industry. “There’s no course that lands you here,” she says. However, the band does feel that it has learned plenty from the bands it has toured with in recent years. Here’s a look:
BEST KNOWN FOR Helping pioneer the alternative sound in the ’80s with classics like “Here Comes Your Man” and “Debaser.”
TOUR September 2017
LESSON “You watch where they put their time when they’re at the venue — The Pixies soundcheck themselves every night, which I thought was cool,” says drummer Jacob Faber. “Being around these legends, sometimes it’s hard to grasp it all. . . . It’s just surreal.”
BEST KNOWN FOR The guitar-driven debut “My Love Is Cool” that reached No. 2 in the U.K. and featured the Grammy-nominated single “Moaning Lisa Smile.”
TOUR November 2017
LESSON “The way they carry themselves at this level is really impressive,” says guitarist Nick Kivlen. “They’re still the same band we met three or four years ago. They’re just extremely creative people who have worked really hard to gain this level of fame and it hasn’t destroyed them. They’re really, really inspiring to us.” — GLENN GAMBOA