Citizen Is Going to Heaven, and So Are You
We talked to the band about the new record, spaces, and heaven.
Photo: Andy Wells
On a hot late afternoon in Mountain View, CA, the bigger stages of the Vans Warped Tour were taken up by a myriad of well-synchronized scenecore bands. On a small stage coated in advertisments for the horror movie Insidious: Chapter 2 in between the main stages and the merch tents was Citizen, While the band was no slouch on dropping incredibly catchy choruses and sing-alongs fans wait all year to engage in, the band employed something few other bands on the tour did: quiet moments. These were the small moments that forced people to drift over to the stage from whatever they were doing. In an ocean of vague anger or disappointment, Citizen summoned a swell of emotion to wash over all the onlookers. The quiet part of "The Summer" sent a wave of chills through everyone, and the group exploded to finish the song. For the album cycle of Youth, their 2013 debut album, Citizen shifted and juggled the different forces of their music, the joy and the reflection.
In 19 days, Citizen will release one of the most ambitious albums to hit the scene, Everybody Is Going To Heaven. The record's hooks and catchiness manifested in way more shapes and colors than what came before on Youth or Young States. The band has moved from a group of late-teenagers to young adults, with the writing chops and musicianship to match. Tracks like "Cement" carry a new texture and weight that's a result of pushing their writing abilities to the limits.
We talked to guitarist Nick Hamm about the record, and a bunch of other stuff.
Noisey: What kind of a music listener were you when you were a kid? What really struck you at a young age?
Nick Hamm: The first album that I really loved was Dookie. My friend was listening to it on the bus when I was in maybe third grade. He showed it to me and I was hooked and that's when I started wanting to play music.
Looking back at Young States and Youth a couple years removed now, has your opinion changed on those two releases since you recorded and released them?
Yeah I mean it definitely has. I feel like bands are expected to reminisce fondly about old stuff but I really just don't have much of an emotional connection to those releases at this point. We're a young band and Young States was written/recorded when I was 16. Youth was written when I was 18. I don't feel like myself at 18 anymore and I certainly don't feel like myself at 16. It's hard for me to connect with that.
The record is titled Everybody Is Going to Heaven. What does that specifically mean/represent for you?
The album wasn't originally going to be titled that. We had three different options. One of which being Dive Into My Sun after the song of that title. We decided on Everybody Is Going to Heaven because we wanted to build the record to sound like it was dying towards the end but closing with the brightest song on the record. The title is literally a reference to the songs themselves. It just sounded the most like a classic title to us.
What inspired the cover artwork? It’s very minimal, and the eyes are trapped in a very tight space with no context for the person’s location. How do you read it?
I actually had the idea of the teaser video we made, first. I wanted a projection of staring eyes to move along buildings while we were still moving. I thought it was just a striking visual. I wanted it to feel like the eyes of God. We were approaching the deadline for the album artwork but I knew I wanted something that felt like a Factory Records cover meets a Touch & Go cover. I'm not sure if that comes through or not but I made the artwork, sent it to everyone, and that was that!
Have your listening habits changed for the writing of this album compared to the writing of others?
Oh yeah! I'm always thinking, "Man, what if I knew this band when we made the last record?" and things like that. I listen to things now I would've hated as an 18 year old. In a couple more years, I'm sure I'll be on some other shit I would hate at this current point in my life. That's alright though. Literally every day, I'm listening to new things which I think is really important. It only means that the next record will have different influences than this one.
Many of the songs on Everybody Goes to Heaven are a lot heavier than some of the tracks on Youth, although the catchiness is still intact. Was it a natural progression in your writing (it’s also found on “Silo”), or was it something that carried intent behind?
I think it came pretty naturally. I think it's what everyone wanted to and was ready to write.
Do you pay attention to genre tags at all?
Not particularly. I would call us a rock band. I think over the past few years, people have become obsessed with dropping whatever buzz word they've heard other bands referred to as. The words are so misused that they've lost meaning. I mean... there are actually people that called the new songs shoegaze. It's crazy to me that someone can be so concerned with stamping a genre on something that they are just wrong.
How have your and Mat Kerekes’ writing developed since the beginning of the band?
At the beginning (even up to Youth), we just wanted to be in the same sentence as the bands that we liked. There was really no concern for discerning ourselves from the rest of the pack. I think our writing has become smarter in the sense that we have a better idea of what we want to execute. I think, on this record, we executed it pretty well.
What went into the writing of “My Favorite Color”? That track is so huge and sinister sounding, I’m really curious about it.
I think that's the only song that we didn't alter in the studio. The structure is exactly like the demo version. It ended up really cool because I don't think we've offered that sort of feeling in a Citizen song before. Mat started the process for that song and we were all really surprised by it. Will Yip of course helped in making sure it sounded as huge as it deserves.
One element I’ve noticed in the record is there’s a greater use in space to evoke more resonance. It was played around with in songs like “The Night I Drove Alone” or “How Does it Feel” but when compared to something like “Yellow Love” the band seems more comfortable with quiet moments. Was space something you took into consideration in the songs?
Absolutely. There's a quote, that of course I'm forgetting now, from designer Rick Owens, essentially saying that negative space increases the importance of what is within it. It allows the content to be viewed with more attention. That resonates from the album artwork to the songs. I think negative space is one of the most important aspects of the record. It definitely is represented best on "Yellow Love."
Did the reaction to and fans you gained with Youth mess with your head at all when writing the record?
I wish I could say no. But yeah it definitely did. Not necessarily the reaction from fans but the opposite. We wrote Youth when we were 18, released it, and were sort of launched into a space where there were so many opinions on our band. I was reading things on the internet about some person hating our band... even people that I thought were cool or whatever. We were (and honestly still are) just normal, insecure kids. I wasn't really prepared for that and it bothered me a lot. I think this may have come into play in terms of writing a less vulnerable record. We wanted to be aggressive rather than be discouraged by it.
A lot of bands considered in the space you occupy, like Turnover and Title Fight, have all released albums that really pushed the limits of what previous music sounded like into new territory. What place do you think this comes from?
I think it is due to a couple of factors. Age is definitely one. These bands aren't going to write the same records at 23 that they did when they were 18. They can't be expected to. I also think bands in this "world" feel discredited. I think that keeps everyone on their toes... always wanting to push the limits and go further than they did before. I think it's a really good thing. It's always strange to me when people complain about us or our peers changing. We should encourage bands to constantly want to push further and further... keep banging on the door.
Who’s the first person you show new music you’ve written to?
Probably my friend Charlie, who is actually the handsome model on the cover of our record. Jake, our drummer, is probably second in line. We share a lot of interests so I'm always curious to see what he thinks because I think he understands where my style or influence is coming from.
You guys are playing Warped Tour this summer. How do you think some of the newer songs are going to translate to a big summer festival like that?
Honestly, I have no clue if they will translate well or not! I mean... the songs are bigger than any of our older stuff but we'll have to see if that sort of outside vibe really accommodates. I picture things songs in a pitch black room easier than an amphitheater.
Have you felt misunderstood in the band?
I'd say yes. But I'm not sure if that's just because we're still searching for our voice. I think we're closer... but not quite there yet. I'd just hope that people are curious or interested enough to look forward to where we go and how far we're willing to go. I think we're placed in a context that we don't place ourselves in. That's frustrating.
If you could give this record to someone that hasn’t heard what you’ve been working with on “Silo,” but was really into Youth, what would you hope they would get from listening to it?
I'd think that they would find the record really catchy, still. I mean... these are the strongest Citizen hooks we've ever written. They'd hopefully agree that Mat's lyrical game has been upped quite a bit.
Are you happy?
Happy, never content.
You can pre-order 'Everybody Is Going To Heaven' right here.
John Hill is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnxHill