Sunflower Bean push past convention on its forward-looking, ‘anti-pandemic’ third album

The band comes to the area next week with shows in NYC (May 12) and Philly (May 14) on the heels of the May 6 release of their third album, 'Headful of Sugar.'

New York-based rock band Sunflower Bean is moving forward. Cognizant of how their perceptions of what constitutes a rock and roll band shaped some of their previous work, the band has evolved toward a sound on their third album, Headful of Sugar, that’s made in, of and for the present and beyond.

“We never wanted to be a nostalgic band,” says Julia Cumming (vocals + bass). “But I think when you’re a band, you inherently reference something nostalgic. Even when you’re a kid you know what a band looks like with bass, drums and guitar. You see Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and it’s a space that exists. When you are working within those tones you are going to reference that kind of stuff. But this is the first record that we made that firmly exists in the now, and in the future. I think it’s made for how we listen to music now and how people listen to music. It’s kind of like we put together this really tight playlist.”

And focusing on the present also means addressing current societal issues. In “Roll the Dice,” the band explores the state of politics and finances in America, and this disillusionment many of us feel about “getting ahead” in today’s society.

“I guess ‘Roll the Dice’ is a cynical look at how so many people I know and how we feel is that we are never going to get ahead unless we are extremely lucky,” explains Nick Kivlen (guitar + backing vocals). “And the American dream and economic stability is becoming more and more unavailable to people. It’s just that people are turning to doing other things to try to get ahead. Like buying cryptocurrency or investing in meme stocks, doing OnlyFans or doing whatever it is to take a risk to get ahead. This song is a cynical embrace of it in a way. When we say, ‘I just want to win win win win win,’ it’s obviously sarcastic, but then there’s a part of you that does feel like you have to do these things.”

Sunflower Bean is no stranger to caring about social and economic causes. The band performed for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020, and Cumming once interviewed then-Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

“I used to do a lot of activism when I was a teenager,” says Cumming. “I was really into animal rights activism, and I had an online radio show. We try to be true to ourselves and use our platform when appropriate and applicable. I personally kind of find it annoying when people wait until they are big celebrities to use their platform. We keep our beliefs within us, and obviously American politics do influence our art. So it makes sense to keep it within ourselves. With this record it’s a very political record without ever mentioning politics in a way.”

And even though the album was written during the height of COVID, Sunflower Bean says Headful of Sugar isn’t a pandemic album; in fact, it’s the opposite. 

“The album was made during the pandemic, but in a lot of ways when we were writing it we were trying to get out of that reality,” says Kivlen. “A lot of those songs are about going to new places and meeting new people and living life to the fullest instead of being insular and alone. It’s kind of like an anti-pandemic album.”

During the loneliness of the pandemic, Sunflower Bean envisioned crowds singing along and dancing to songs on Headful of Sugar

“On Side B of the record, there’s ‘Post Love’ and ‘Stand By Me,’ which is influenced by this DJ club night that I used to host and I would see how people would respond to music,” says Cumming. “I really wanted to make a song that you could dance to, and those are songs that are meant to be enjoyed in a live space with other people sweating, dancing and moving. ‘Stand by Me,’ I call that genre ‘festival’ because it’s meant to be played loud and with people. I feel like we used genre to reference places that we wanted to be and places where we wanted the songs to be heard.”

Even though Sunflower Bean didn’t want to make a nostalgic album, they do have a song on the record that touches on the feeling of nostalgia with ‘Baby Don’t Cry.’  

“’Baby Don’t Cry’ is a radio-rock big chorus song that is trying to focus and maintain the things that feel real in your life,” says Cumming.  “Like memories of being in the back of your car when you were a child listening to music and how much that influenced you and how important that was to us as artists. It’s important to hold on to that, especially in a world where a lot of music is made by groups of people in order to keep you shopping at H&M.’’

Sunflower Bean has returned to the road and is playing in New York on May 12 and Philadelphia on May 14. Playing live is something that the band doesn’t take for granted.

“We kind of figured it might never happen again,” says drummer Olive Faber. “We are just all really grateful that we are back on the road seeing friends again, and getting to go to new places.”

Due to scheduling conflicts, Sunflower Bean won’t be playing in Asbury Park on May 6, but they still have a lot of love for the Garden State. 

“Nick and I are from Long Island,” says Faber. “I feel like Long Island and New Jersey are connected at heart.” 

“In the past two years I would always meet people in NYC and become really great friends with them, and I would ask them ‘Where are you from?’’ says Cumming. “And they would be like ‘Jersey’,  and I realized that every good person in New York City who is cool and has a soul, and has a personality is from New Jersey.”

Sunflower Bean plays at Webster Hall in NYC on May 12 and the Foundry in Philadelphia on May 14. Ticket information can found here.