Sunflower Bean Get Aggressive on New EP ‘King of the Dudes’
‘Why can’t I call myself the king for a second?’ says singer Julia Cumming. ‘Why can’t any woman?’
By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Sunflower Bean move fast. Two years ago, the New York trio turned heads with their sleek, dreamy debut, Human Ceremony. On this past spring’s Twentytwo in Blue, they sounded even cooler and more confident. Now, less than a year later, they’re leaping forward yet again with King of the Dudes, their fantastic new four-track EP, due out January 25th on Mom + Pop Records.
“Over time, we really just give less of a fuck,” says singer and bassist Julia Cumming. “That’s what rock needs in 2018, and that’s what the EP is saying. We’re free to be aggressive and fun and weird.”
King of the Dudes is all black-leather-jacket strut and New Wave sneer, as heard on “Come for Me,” the EP’s first single. “Do you really wanna come for me?/You know I got all night,” Cumming taunts. “Do you really wanna waste my time?/If you do, then do it right.”
“It’s about having my fists up — intellectually, proverbially, ready for anything,” Cumming says of the song. “Women are fed up. The public is fed up. Shit’s really bad, and we needed a way to express that. And, obviously, there are some sexual undertones.”
Sunflower Bean were on tour this past June — “driving around the United States, where we do most of our thinking,” Cumming says — when they first considered a swerve in direction. She had been texting with producer Justin Raisen, whose work on Angel Olsen’s My Woman (2016) and Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time (2013) had piqued the band’s interest, and later in the summer, Cumming, singer-guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber paid a visit to Raisen’s Los Angeles studio.
They didn’t have much of a plan beyond capturing the spark they were all feeling, but that was enough. “[Raisen’s] energy was really different from a lot of other indie rock producers,” Kivlen says. “Much more savage and vital. We were very measured with our last record, and we took a lot of time looking at each detail through a magnifying glass. Then we went to L.A. and just steamrolled right through this, working more on instinct.”
They knocked out the EP over a quick week in Raisen’s studio-converted garage. “We rented all these crazy amps, and tracked with about four amps going at the same time, with all these different aesthetics,” Kivlen says. “It’s the most happy I’ve ever been with my guitar sound on a record.”
“You could hear it down the block,” Cumming adds. “It shows that you don’t need a big studio with a bunch of isolation chambers to make something real.”
Cumming points to the EP’s wild closing track, “The Big One,” as an example of how free Sunflower Bean are feeling right now. “There’s a whole verse on that song that’s just a scream,” Cumming says. “When the world is so chaotic and apocalyptic, sometimes you just need to scream in its face, you know?”
The title track on King of the Dudes originated with a semi-contentious band nickname for Sunflower Bean’s lead singer. “We would be backstage at a festival or wherever, and all the bands hanging out backstage would have this front on,” Kivlen explains. “And Julia would just completely disarm these cool indie-rock dudes with her sharp personality.”
“So Nick’s like, ‘king of the dudes, king of the dudes,’” Cumming continues. “And I was like, ‘Stop fucking calling me that! It’s so rude and annoying!’ I hated it.”
At Raisen’s encouragement, they developed the phrase into a song, and now Cumming says she loves the title and all its implications. “I felt very ‘Material Girl’ about it,” she says, laughing. “It’s really all about understanding female power. Why can’t I call myself the king for a second? Why can’t any woman?”