From left: Nick Kivlen, Julia Cumming and Jacob Faber. Photos: Brent Goldsmith
A grey van pulls up outside of the Hard Luck Bar on Dundas Street in Toronto. Its windows are tinted and the exterior is dinged up and scratched. It’s a cliché of the kind of van your parents taught you to steer clear of. But this particular vehicle is different. It’s how Sunflower Bean – the buzzy band made up of three New Yorkers just into their twenties – crosses the continent while performing their debut album Human Ceremony, a dreamy, psych-rock romp trough teenage angst.
The first foot (clad in a thrifted black Chelsea boot) to step out belongs to guitarist and vocalist Nick Kivlen. He’s followed by Jacob Faber, the drummer, and finally, Julia Cumming, the bassist and singer. Wearing a black velvet mini skirt, ankle boots and a long black Zara coat, purchased “on the side of the road for 25 cents,” the musician and part-time model looks like a hybrid of Twiggy and a woodland sprite – especially since the platinum bob she sported as the face of Saint Laurent has been freshly chopped into a (still platinum) pixie cut.
After the introductions, I learn that the van is lovingly called “The Boat,” “because it drives like one,” explains Cumming, who then quickly comes clean about not knowing how to drive. Despite the endearing nickname, the thought of being interviewed in “The Boat’s” cramped confines makes the group’s faces go pale, so we walk down to street to Lucky Shrike to sit on the bar’s patio and chat until it’s time for the band to load their gear into the Hard Luck Bar ahead of their midnight show. It’s their third visit to Toronto. After heading westward to tour across the US, the group is off to Europe and then Summer Sonic, Japan’s major music festival outside of Tokyo; Radiohead is set to headline and Sunflower Bean will perform on the same stage as The 1975.
Huddling into a wooden booth on courtyard patio, the trio mull over impending adulthood, personal style and the value of a good breakfast.
Kivlen: “Julia and I are pretty addicted to going to a thrift store in every city. And when you’re on tour for two months that quickly ends up becoming your whole wardrobe.”
Cumming: “Since we all spend so much time together our styles influence each other. I saw our manager get flared pants so then I got flared pants.”
Kivlen: “And then I got flared pants! I think we all are just really lucky that we formed this band and no one looks like the odd member out. Sometimes you’ll see a band and three of them will look like they’re wearing costumes and then there’s the one member in a T-shirt.”
Cumming: “When you make art, things can get too expected. Style means something to me and its part of how I express myself–that’s why I cut my hair. It got too boring. I’m more than just a hairstyle.”
Kivlen: “I feel like fashion in itself isn’t a genre of art but a natural by-product of art.”
Cumming: “I think that’s really important that fashion is the industry that facilitates art. Working with Hedi [Slimane] was really exciting. He’s quiet. He’s cool. He’s private so I don’t like to talk about him that much. I also like to say that style can be your art form if you don’t have a lot of other ways to express yourself.”
Kivlen: “You said the same thing about Facebook statuses!”
ON GROWING UP
Kivlen: “25 is the new 16 and 32 is the new 18, especially when you’re a musician.”
Faber: “Once you’re in second grade your luck is pretty much over. The first 6 years of your life are bliss.”
Cumming: “Being a teenager is really stressful. All of the songs were written when we were teenagers. The band is a collaborative project, so it’s not just one of our experiences. What the band takes on conceptually is more than what each of us would take on individually.”
ON THE POWER OF MUSIC
Kivlen: “Sometimes I forget that being in a band is actually a worthwhile thing because I’m so bitter. It’s really important to remember [the feeling you get] when you see a band that you love and you realize that it makes people happy. We went to see this band, Sheer Mag, that we really love and the entire time they were playing we all couldn’t stop smiling and to think that maybe you’re doing that for other people, it actually makes your life not seem so selfish.”
Faber: “Because art is very self-indulgent.”
Cumming: “We saw Fat White Family last night and that was like going to church. When you see a good band it feels like it’s resetting you a bit.”
ON BAND LIFE
Cumming: “Breakfast is the big meal we get in a day, so in most cities we’ll research the best breakfast. I want to have a show on the Food Network where we review breakfasts in the United States as we drive in our van.”
Kivlen: “We call the van Julia’s little spa because she doesn’t drive and she also goes to sleep the second it starts moving. So if we’re driving, Julia is asleep.”
Faber: “I love when people ask ‘what are you guys touring in? Where is your bus?’ Any rock band in America right now is in a van; no one can afford a bus.”
Kivlen: “I think we’ve entered the age of micro explosions. Take the ’80s, when people would say, ‘oh the early ’80s was all about this’ or, ‘oh that’s so ’90s.’ Now it’s, ‘that’s so 2009, that’s so 2010.’ Each year is a different phase. I think that the word of the year is ‘meme’ and the item of the year is the selfie stick.”