Human Ceremony is Sunflower Bean’s first album, but it reflects nearly three years of constant workshopping onstage for the New York psych-rock trio. “We realized we needed to stop playing shows for a while and figure out what these songs were,” says singer and bassist Julia Cumming. “We had worked a lot on how to play together as musicians, but we had never really tried to produce something in a real studio scenario.”
Working in a Brooklyn studio last year, the group found new ways into material they’d thought they knew inside and out. “‘Human Ceremony,’ ‘This Kinda Feeling,’ and ‘Come On’ were all one song that we’d been playing live since the beginning of the year,” says drummer Jacob Faber, naming three of the album’s highlights. “It was, like, seven minutes long!” Cumming interjects with a laugh. “So we broke that down,” he says.
One major goal in the studio was giving the album a consistent mood and tone. “It’s not a party album,” Faber says. “It’s pretty sad.”
Cumming shakes her head: “I think ‘sad’ is the wrong word.”
“It’s melancholy,” offers guitarist and singer Nick Kivlen.
“It’s a few things,” Cumming says.
Hear Human Ceremony in full below — you can preorder the album here — and read on for Kivlen’s exclusive notes on each song.
1. “Human Ceremony”
“This is the title track of our record and really sets the tone for the rest of the album. ‘Human ceremony’ is a term to describe all of the different actions we put meaning into as a species. I like to think of it as the caption to a picture in an alien text book from the future. “
2. “Come On”
“‘Come On’ is a prayer word in rock & roll — it means ‘amen.’ This is the language of rock music. The first Rolling Stones single was called ‘Come On.’ … I found this fact out later. “
“This is the only previously released song and one of our personal favorites. I think it perfectly captures who we are as a band and all of our traits. This song could be our mission statement.”
4. “Easier Said”
“‘Easier Said’ is one of the last songs we wrote before going into the studio. I think of this song as a more upbeat counterpart to ‘2013.’ I like them side by side on the record to show both how we’ve grown and how we have stayed the same.”
5. “This Kind of Feeling”
“This is my favorite track lyrically. I think it can be interpreted to mean many different things and would love to hear your interpretation. I wanted the imagery to resemble a Hieronymus Bosch painting.”
6. “I Was Home”
“A lighthearted song about the mundanity of life. I couldn’t spell it out for you any clearer. We all have these kind of days, don’t we?”
7. “Creation Myth”
“I wanted to write a song discussing the paradox of free will. If god really is omniscient, then what was his intention when he created man?”
8. “Wall Watcher”
“‘Watching you’ (x10) … What’s it like when you’re all alone? Is there someone who is thinking about you? Can you tell when someone is thinking about you? Do you ever watch people?”
9. “I Want You to Give Me Enough Time”
“This is the oldest song on the record. I wrote it and recorded it in under an hour when I was 17. Julia and Matt took that demo and elevated it to become a kind of song we didn’t know we had in us. It’s the record’s most poppy and sweetest song, and also one of the songs we are most proud of.”
10. “Oh, I Just Don’t Know”
“This song is about loneliness. It was inspired by a quote from Jason Pierce. Religion is so ancient but is still a part of our language and who we are as a species. Religious vocabulary has almost transcended its original meaning. This is a secular song about the language of humanity.”
11. “Space Exploration Disaster”
“Human achievement and exploration in the face of danger and the unknown. Does god still exist in the 25th century? On spaceships in the year 3450, will people still seek help from the sky? Will there be anything left for the supernatural to explain?”