SXSWorld February 2016


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1 8 S X S W o r l d | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M unflower Bean's past year sounds like a dream. Following the Brooklyn-based trio's rave reception at SXSW 2015, Fat Possum Records signed the band to a worldwide record deal, and this month, after touring and wowing the media in the U.S. and Europe, the band's debut LP, Human Ceremony, is being released to considerable buzz. But one single event—albeit taking place over several SXSW 2015 showcases—doesn't define how Sunflower Bean reached this point. As a case study for similarly ambitious artists, this seemingly self- possessed trio grasped the basics early on, honing their songs and stagecraft, and utilizing both real and virtual spaces for maximum public availability. Before arriving in Austin, Sunflower Bean, which includes Jacob Faber (drums), Julia Cumming (vocals/bass), and Nick Kivlen (vocals/ guitar), found high media praise at New York's annual college radio event, CMJ, in 2014. But that came after they had already built a high profile on the city's club circuit. "Honestly, I think it's the amount of shows we played," says Faber, when asked what he thinks helped the band most. "We played every week for about a year and a half to get our name out there ... This is the first time for us doing any of this. We have been lucky having a manager guiding us, and we have more of a plan now than when we started. Back then the only plan was to take it seriously, make smart decisions and not take things for granted." It wasn't just down to hoofing the streets, though. Of course, the three, who formed straight out of high school in 2013, fully took advantage of the Internet. That's where their agent, Zachary Cepin of High Road Touring, which books the likes of Ryan Adams and Wilco, found them: "I didn't go to CMJ in 2014," Cepin says from his office in Sausalito, California. "Instead, I spent a full week on my computer watching what was going on, and I watched Twitter and kept seeing their name. So I clicked on some video of theirs. I freaked out right away and emailed the booker at Baby's All Right, who I knew well," he says, referring to the Brooklyn rock club, "and asked, 'Is this band the real deal?' He said, 'They really are; you have to see them.' " Stephen Pietrzykowski, Fat Possum's European Label Manager who signed the band, also first con- nected with Sunflower Bean after hearing them online. "I heard them on Bandcamp, which has been a consistently useful tool in hearing unknown bands." The next step was the same as Cepin's: see the band live, in this case at SXSW 2015. "The first time was impactful," he continues. "They had this chemistry and a singer who was very compelling. They were fully formed live. They'd already played numerous gigs in New York, and it gave them an edge." Using the Internet is a given these days, but a keen grasp of the basics is key: write great songs, play great shows. "Our main focus wasn't getting signed and reaching out to labels," says Faber. "Our focus at first was on being a good band and writing great music. We consciously try to write songs that are unique and people latched onto that. Being in New York, you can fall into a scene and sound like everyone else. I was uninspired by doing that, so we tried really hard not to." "The fact is, they write good songs," Cepin says. "They could have totally been based any where. They had made a commotion in their home town, which is exactly what you should do." Even as interest in the band grew, Sunflower Bean stayed indepen- dent and in January 2015, self-released an EP, Show Me Your Seven Secrets, which only added to their cachet. "We knew we would not take the first deal we were offered," says Faber. "We wanted to get as far as we could without a label. The more you can sell on your own, the more reasons you give a label to sign you." Still, Faber says mistakes were made: "Some things didn't go so well, and we learned from that and didn't do it again. Still in the long run, whatever we did helped us onto the trajectory that got us here. So I have no regrets." "I don't think there's a blueprint of how to make it work that's the same for every band," says Pietrzykowski. "But though it might be a cliché, it's true that you only have one chance to make a good first impression." Sunflower Bean returns to SXSW this year with a label behind them and a debut album in stores. The goalposts have shifted, but the gameplay hasn't, Faber says, "It's a little different now, but we have a general rule to always do as well as possible and be one of the 10 bands that gets talked about and gets something out of it. Don't get lost in the melee." T Sunflower Bean will be one of the nearly 2,000 acts slated to perform at SXSW Music 2016. Visit in the coming weeks for more details. Emerging from the Undergound: Sunflower Bean's Big Year by LinDa Laban S C R I S TA S I M I R I G L I A Sunflower Bean

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