Sunflower Bean’s Rock Evolution

It might seem strange for 21-year-olds to be gushing over bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but the New York-based trio Sunflower Bean draws a wealth of inspiration from the classic rock era. “What makes Sunflower Bean who we are is that we have a core group of interests that we really love, which is like having a degree in classic rock,” explained vocalist/bassist Julia Cumming. “And then we each have things that make us special—different phases we go through that are a little more on the outside.”

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For Glen Head native Jacob Faber, that phase was jazz. He began playing the saxophone at seven and studied it intensely throughout grade school. But messing around on his brother’s drum kit led him to join a friend’s band while at North Shore High School. “I was auditioning for music conservatories at the time,” Faber said. “Playing drums in a rock band proved to be a lot more fun.”

The band was called Turnip King and Glenwood Landing native Nick Kivlen was the bassist. Though more shoegazing soundscapes than rock, it was the launch pad for Kivlen and Faber to start playing around New York and eventually form Sunflower Bean. During this period, Kivlen wrote the demo for “I Want You to Give Me Enough Time,” which appeared on Sunflower Bean’s 2016 debut full-length, Human Ceremony. “Around 2011, there were so many bands in Brooklyn that influenced us like DIIV, Night Manager, Total Slacker,” recalled Kivlen, now the group’s vocalist/guitarist. “The biggest thing that inspired a lot of our songs was just seeing bands [live] and picking up on what we liked about what they were doing.”

Previously a member of acoustic-psych pop group Supercute!, Cumming joined in 2013 and the trio was complete. A Manhattan native, Cumming studied classical music and singing at a performing arts high school but her love for 60s and 70s pop music won out. “I’ve always really loved choral music,” Cumming noted. “I’m also a huge Beach Boys fan and I think that influenced us when it comes to harmonies and things.”

Although Sunflower Bean’s music is often classified as neo-psychedelic or psych-rock, they see themselves as more of a “creative” rock band. Their 2015 EP Show Me Your Seven Secrets featured Sabbath-like riffs on certain tracks and whirling post-punk guitars on others. Human Ceremony contrasts that sound with more melodic, dreamy guitar sounds and harmonies à la Lush with a rock edge. “Our first EP is the closest we came to making a psych-rock album,” said Kivlen, who shares an uncanny resemblance to Bob Dylan. “There’s a lot of chanting on it and a pretty lengthy jam. But as soon as we started going into the pre-production for Human Ceremony, we decreased those elements.”

The rock evolution will continue on their second full-length, which Kivlen described as more escapist in sound. And while Human Ceremony includes subjects like religion and outer space, the band’s next effort could have a more political bent. “I think everything that happens affects us pretty deeply as we make a conscious effort to stay informed and involved,” Cumming said. “Sometimes [the lyrics] could feel political but it could also just be growing up and feeling anguish or empowerment.”

The group is honored to be touring with the Pixies this fall, stopping at The Space at Westbury on Sept 22. When they perform, Sunflower Bean puts on energetic shows that often include Cumming crowd surfing and stage diving whilst playing the bass. “On records, we may have things to develop some sounds a little bit, the colors and flavors,” Cumming noted, “but when you see us live, the guitar leads can be really heavy—we’re a rock band.”

lisa heffernan

Lisa Heffernan received a master’s in Communications from Emerson College before moving to New York. She has worked for publications such as: Details, Nylon, Rolling Stone, Time Out, Newport Mercury, American Songwriter and W magazine.