“Just show up, keep it open, keep writing, see what happens, and the more scared you are of what you are making, probably the better it is.”
This is a piece of advice producer Jacob Portrait gave Sunflower Bean while working on their third full-length, Headful of Sugar. Singer/bassist Julia Cumming recalls this moment while reflecting on the time she and her bandmates — guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer/engineer Olive Faber — spent decamped in Upstate New York sending new material back and forth to Portrait. It was a six-month period during the pandemic that allowed the trio to dive into whatever sonic pools struck their fancy, an exploration their collaborator encouraged.
The result is a truly genre-less 11-track effort that arrives this Friday, May 6th. All that time exploring different sounds has a led to an album that touches on electronic dance (“Post Love”), crunchy indie via Gwen Stefani (“Baby Don’t Cry”), industrial goth (“Beat the Odds”), dirty glam (“Roll the Dice”), and psych rock (“Headful of Sugar”) — all with a sweet pop edge. But that’s just one half of where the “sugar” comes from.
There’s also a running theme about the empty calories of the world around us, the things that keep our brains buzzing but leave us unfulfilled at the end of the day. “The sugar was both referring to the fast entertainment and communication that we were engaging in, that was heightened during the pandemic,” in addition to the record’s poppiness, explains Cumming. “[It was] our dream of wanting to make something in a dark time that was fun.”
At the same time, Kivlen was feeling “more in control of [my] abilities and more self confident in [my] ability to write”; Faber had taken up engineering/producing, giving her the newfound ability “to harness that fucked up magic that we have all in the box,” and guiding her towards better drumming as she “began to understand how they actually work in the song and what to do with that.”
Growing skills and the unexpected time to explore allowed Sunflower Bean to push themselves in new directions, even if it all led to one destination: making something truly sweet about things that were sickeningly sugary. Blending all those sounds and subjects with a distinctly pop edge gives the record, as Cumming puts it, “that feeling of your favorite playlist. It’s this kind of playlist that we’ve made for you that shows our tastes, our style, and is firmly living in the now and in the future.”
It is, in a caramelized nutshell, their most Sunflower Bean album yet.
Trouble viewing the video interview? Watch on YouTube.