Following the well-received release of their 2013 debut album, Youth, Citizen have kept themselves busy, and are undoubtedly one of the fastest growing bands in the scene. Having recently completed their second LP with Will Yip, Citizen are preparing to head out on their first Australian tour this April. Killyourstereo.com had a chat with guitarist Nick Hamm about the upcoming tour, the new record, and getting in a fight involving a knife with brother and bandmate Eric.
You guys recently finished up your second album. What can you tell me about it at this stage?
Well, things are a bit different this time. When we were doing our first record, we were all pretty young and we were just kind of going for it, and there wasn’t a lot of planning or anything like that. We kind of went in unprepared, and this time around we just went in with a whole album ready to go and it gave us more time to just figure out the vibe of the record and make sure everything was perfect. So, this time around it just sounds like a more fully realised version of Citizen.
With such a positive response towards Youth, did you feel any sort of pressure going into this one?
You know, the only pressure I really felt is to do something different. A lot of bands, their first record or whatever record will come out and people will really enjoy it and they’ll try to do the same thing twice and hope that the results are the same, and I’ve just never really been into bands that do that. Generally, my favourite record from bands is the record where they kind of depart from what they were doing and just focus on creativity and not on painting with the textures of current times, you know? So, really the only pressure that I felt was to do something different and kind of explain our band in a more thorough way, and yeah, I definitely think we did that. If people are expecting the 2.0 of Youth, they’ll probably be disappointed. But I will say that I think it’s way, way better than Youth and I’m excited for people to hear it.
I know that you and Mat kind of split the songwriting. Was that the same for this record or was it a different process?
This time was definitely more collaborative, but in kind of a weird way. Before, the process was kind of, I’d write something on guitar and then it’d go through Mat’s filter – or he’d write something on guitar and it’d go through my filter. And it’d just kind of end up at this place. And this time, when Mat and I would first write a song, it would kind of go through everybody’s filter, so there are new personalities on the record that we didn’t have before. And as far as instrumentation and stuff, we were able to do new things that we’ve never done before and kind of focus on texturing the songs with everybody’s hand, and not just have each person perform it, you know what I mean? So this time it’s definitely more collaborative. You can definitely hear personal touches on the record, and I think that’s really cool, because the last time we were super collaborative was ‘The Summer’, and even though it’s the single off Youth, I think that it’s probably the best sonically on Youth. I think it still holds up really well, so it was fun to hear how things had come out totally different than we thought they would.
Youth had sort of a general theme. Does the new record have any type of theme?
You know, lyrically and sonically, I feel like it’s got more of a theme than Youth does. You know, the songs are about different things but the energy of the record and the spirit of the record is pretty cohesive. I don’t want to give away too much, but the lyrics are a lot more self-critical than Youth – Youth was kind of critical of someone else, and this time around, Mat wrote about different experiences in his life, both albums kind of just being a place in time, so naturally this one is about different things; different things affecting him at this point in his life. Sonically, we were just totally influenced by different things and we’ve all grown as musicians since the last time around, so I definitely think it’s a more cohesive and thought-out version of our band, that we didn’t really have possession of the first time we were doing a record.
It seems like as soon as a band works with Will Yip they don’t want to go anywhere else. Is that pretty much the case for you guys too?
Oh, absolutely. A flaw to many producers is, you know, a band will really like the way something sounds that that producer has done or whatever, and they’re like, “Oh, we should work with that person because I like the way that sounds.” And with Will, you don’t really have that luxury of knowing what it’s going to sound like when it comes out, but I prefer that and a lot of bands prefer that, because what you get out is something that you totally didn’t expect and it surpasses what you expected it to be. And I just think that’s awesome. You know, Will is so smart in general, but when it comes to songwriting and everything, if there are any weak spots, he’ll make sure to work with everybody to get those out and to make sure that the songs are to their highest capability. And besides that, he’s just got a great energy about him – and I think that’s probably the most important thing when you’re working with a producer, because when you’re recording an album for four weeks, you don’t want a personality that rubs you the wrong way or stops the vibe from being as creative as it could be. So I don’t think we would ever go anywhere else – I know we wouldn’t go anywhere else. He’s truly the best.
Particularly from around the time you guys were starting out, there’s become an even bigger focus on bands and artists utilising every social media site. How do you feel about that side of things?
I mean, there’s no denying that us and all of our peers as well, social media made it possible for us to be the band that we are and have the fan base that we do. But I think there’s a fine line between using it as a tool and using it as a crutch, and Citizen definitely tries to use it as a tool. There are certain bands that will kind of bait for retweets in my opinion, and kind of trail off and almost sound like they’re writing for Hallmark or something, and we don’t want to do that; when we have something important to say, we say it, and if not we don’t. So, you know, if you follow us on something, you’re not going to see us posting every day or anything like that, and I think that’s really cool, because my favourite bands and my favourite artists are pretty mysterious, and I think that’s a cool thing for a band to have. I don’t ever want to shove my band down anybody’s throat, so yeah, we definitely just try to use it when it’s necessary and not when it’s not necessary.
I heard that you guys had a zine that you were sending out. What happened with that?
Well, it kinda got crazy, because we started this thing and it was kind of like a fan zine, like a fan club type thing. And it was really cool, and the concept was, if you mail us and submit via mail only, four times a year we’ll send a zine out or a newsletter or whatever, and something will be thrown in. And I figured, all right, there’ll probably be like fifty people that sign up for this, which is totally manageable. We got a PO box and everything. So it started out really smooth, and then people kept sending in things, I think because they saw that there was something free to it, and before we knew it, there was three hundred people that had sent stuff in, and letters were getting lost, and people were bringing the letters to shows and we were losing them because there’s just nowhere to put them when we’re on tour. So, so many people signed up that it kind of got out of control, and we just weren’t able to manage it. But we did get one newsletter out that we sent out with a patch to a few hundred people. And it was really cool, and I’d like to do it again if we can. I just feel so bad because some of the letters are lost and we don’t have the PO box anymore, so it’s kind of just gotten crazy, and I don’t want people to be posting their stuff and then other people are like, “Oh, I sent my thing in and I didn’t get anything.” So it’s kind of a delicate situation, but at some point we’d definitely like to try to get it started back up.
Yeah, it’s a cool idea. So, is the band a full time thing for all of you at this point?
Yeah, I would say so. I mean, four out of five of us – and I’m the fifth guy – have jobs when we’re at home. I don’t, I just do freelance design work when I’m at home. But for the most part, it’s at least my main source of income, and we’re so lucky to be able to do it – especially because there are bands that tour six times a year, and we’re doing two, three tours a year, and it’s awesome that we’re lucky enough to be able to do it as little as we do but still be able to support ourselves. Everybody’s getting older, so it’s just awesome that we’re able to do that. The other guys, they have jobs when they’re at home – my brother, who plays bass, he works at Vans when we’re at home, and Ryland works at this Italian restaurant, and Jake, our drummer, he actually just quit his job to do the band full time. But he’s in another band called Freedom and they tour and stuff, he’s on tour right now with Turnstile. So everybody keeps really busy, but Citizen is definitely where we devote most of our time.
Mat’s done some solo stuff, and as you said Jake has Freedom, but are there any other side projects?
Not exactly. Eric doesn’t do anything else; Mat does a few things on the side as you mentioned; Jake is in like nine bands or something like that (laughs). He keeps really busy, and he does a lot of really cool bands – the newest one is a band called Spiked Collar from Detroit, and it’s just this punk band with a bunch of friends of ours. And it’s really fucking good. I started a project called Latch a while back that I really haven’t done anything with, besides release a couple of songs. But I have been talking with some people about getting some stuff started. I’d like to do a bunch of records this year, because the Citizen full length is coming out and I just feel like I have more juice in me, so I’m going to try to do some more stuff. Will and I have been talking about writing some stuff, so we’re going to try and make that happen.
Oh, awesome. You mentioned being in a band with your brother – what have you found are the positives and negatives of that?
Well, the negative obviously is we’re prone to bickering, which we definitely do (laughs). But the positive of that is that we can bicker and it doesn’t mean anything, you know what I mean? We can fight all we want and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter because we’re brothers, and there’s no risk of hating that person really or whatever. And we’re best friends, but there’s definitely times that our personalities rub, but, for the most part, we get along really well, and if we do fight, it doesn’t go very far because we’ll be bros five seconds later. And it’s also cool because as brothers we kind of stick together for the most part – you know, we could be fighting, but then if somebody comes at us we immediately get together and come back at that person or whatever. We have each other’s backs, so that’s cool.
I remember Mat saying something in that Small Talk video about you and Eric getting in a fight involving a knife?
(laughs) Alright, I was kind of waiting for somebody to bring that up, it hasn’t happened yet. There was a time that Eric and I got in a fight, and we don’t fist fight ever, but this time we did. And he like stomped on my stomach and I spit up blood, and it was probably the most mad I’ve ever been in my life, and – oh by the way, I was like ten years old, so this wasn’t like last year… so I spit up blood, and he was coming at me and I was in the kitchen so I just like, grabbed a knife and I told him to get away from me. And, y’know, in hindsight it was pretty fucking crazy, and I probably seem like I’m disturbed to people, but I was just a little kid and I thought my brother was going to kick my ass. I wouldn’t have stabbed him or anything (laughs).
How did it end?
I think my dad probably got home and fuckin’ spanked us or something like that, I don’t know. So yeah, it ended without any stab wounds.
So things are better with you guys now.
Yeah, I think we’re just getting past it.
Today in an interview, talked about chasing Eric with a knife when I was younger. As a 21 yr old, we just got finished massaging each other.
— Nick (@nickrhamm) February 19, 2015
(laughs) Good. Alright, well just to finish up, I wanted to talk about your first Australian tour. How are you feeling about it?
I’m really stoked. The thing with me that’s kind of bittersweet is that I hate flying, and it’s like a twenty hour flight, so I’m really, really dreading that. Flying is like my biggest fear, so that’s gonna suck. But as soon as we land, I’ll be so glad that we’re there and I’ll be super stoked. I don’t really know that much about Australia, so I’m really excited to see everything, because Australia’s one of those places that for me, the only imagery I see is Sydney Opera House and stuff like that. Which is cool, I’m really into architecture, so I’m excited to see that. And you know, every band wants to get a picture with a koala. That’s like a very typical answer, but I’m super excited. I don’t know what to expect from the shows, so I’m really excited. I’m really curious to see how it ends up and just really excited to play new places.
And do you know which bands are supporting?
We’ve kind of been figuring it out. We decided to go kind of a different route, and rather than having one band open up the whole thing, we decided to go through and we actually handpicked a bunch of bands to open up each show, which is really cool. We had a lot of fun doing that, just kinda listening to everything that Australia has to offer. I will say that Postblue will be on at least one or two of the shows, so I’m excited about that. They toured with our friends Pity Sex, so you know, it’s cool that we can kind of make that circle a little bigger. Yeah, so it should be announced very soon, but we kind of went through and picked a bunch of bands that we like to open up the shows. So it’s going be super fun just meeting so many people.
Catch Citizen touring this April. Details via Resist Records.