Sunflower Bean Is on a Mission to Save the World From EDM

A good rule of thumb for music writers is to avoid referencing one band to describe the one you are writing about. The Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean makes it easy to break that rule. They have a song titled “Tame Impala,” which they admit is meant a reference to the Tame Impala song “Led Zeppelin.”

“It all started out as a joke really,” explains vocalist/bassist Julia Cumming. “We thought about the reference and thought we would go for it. Little did we know how silly it really was. Tame Impala is one of the only really big rock bands around right now that we really listen to. It’s following down the line a little bit.”

One listen to their EP Show Me Your Seven Secrets and you can hear the blatant nods to Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, and The Velvet Underground. You certainly can’t argue with the musical tastes of Saint Laurent model Cumming, Nick Livlen, and Jacob Farber. “We’ve been music fans our whole lives,” Cumming states, “All of our parents showed us where rock music started out, and that influenced our lives a lot. I think what’s interesting is that all of these bands were as relevant to us as children as they were to our parents. One of the reasons we do what we do is we want to keep rock and roll alive.”

They formed the moody psychedelic rock band two years ago when they were teenagers in an attempt to save the music world from electronic dance music. This stems from a trip to a rainy EDM festival they experienced when they first started out. Cumming acknowledges her poor psychologist skills, but recalls her impressions of the festival’s audience. 
“People go these festivals to take drugs and get away from reality,” she says, “[EDM] is more about escapism than experience, and that’s okay to have that experience. It doesn’t really work for us. It will be interesting if future generations will find it touching later on. … There’s an improvisational element to playing instruments; even the possibility of musicians making mistakes is really interesting. It’s just a different thing.”

They fulfill their mission by playing entrancing, raucous guitar tunes that feel like a soundtrack for your evening out, provided that your plans were created with some trouble in mind. This is the music that kept your mom up late when you were a teenager as she waited for you to come home. There’s an irony to the fact that Sunflower Bean is inspired by musicians who indulged in the same drugs that they claim EDM audiences use to escape. It’s certainly not lost on Cumming. Since all members of the band are under the legal drinking age, they cannot lawfully hit the bottle for inspiration.

“We don’t do drugs either,” she adds, “When we’re home, we spend time in our practice space trying to make our songs work. Who knows that the future holds, but right now we’re not interested in that.”

As Sunflower Bean puts the finishing touches on their full-length debut, critics will have their noses in the thesaurus in anticipation of its release. Meanwhile, has Tame Impala talked to Sunflower Bean about the song that references them?

Cumming replies no with a slight laugh. “I hope they never ever do,” she continues. “I just don’t know what we would say.”
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil