Interview with Citizen guitarist/backing vocalist Nick Hamm | By Renaldo Matadeen
Around 2013—four years after their formation—Citizen were considered a novelty act. They, along with the likes of Basement and Balance And Composure, were one of a select few merging ‘90s grunge and emo bands to create an angsty, stone-walled sound of noise. Aggressive yet vulnerable, they put out their Will Yip-produced debut LP, Youth, that same year through Run For Cover Records.
Two years later, the Michigan and Ohio-based band collaborated with both parties again, this time reshaping their sound to be more shoegaze-oriented and melodically atmospheric for Everybody Is Going to Heaven.
Their latest record, As You Please—due out on Oct. 6—maintains the same creative engine of Yip and Run For Cover, however, it channels a musical stream of consciousness that can best be described as a middle ground between the two preceding albums.
Now, Guitarist and backing vocalist Nick Hamm speaks on the direction of Citizen’s third full-length.
Things get deep on the new record, so getting straight into the thick of it: what’s the main theme behind As You Please?
The album touches on a lot. There’re love songs, such as the title track. There’re songs that confront the fact that the band sometimes feels like something that no longer belongs to us. Other parts might reference a family that feels like it’s imploding.
What about the album’s title? What does it signify?
I think the album title itself is a more tender way to present an album that isn’t always so.
Youth had this neo-emo-grunge feel to it, while Everybody Is Going to Heaven took a more emo-shoegaze turn, but As You Please feels more like a middle ground of both. How did you approach this album stylistically?
I can’t say that influences are always conscious. Sometimes, I perceive a record to be totally different than a fan sees it. For example, shoegaze never really entered the mix for the last one. Similarly, As You Please wasn’t intended to be a compromising record, and I don’t necessarily see it that way. This time around, the songwriting is buckled down more than ever. I think the most interesting thing about As You Please is that we tried to push our creative limitations, without the danger or aggression of the last LP. It’s our most distinctive work, but also probably our most immediately engaging.
One of the standout tracks is definitely “Medicine.” What’s it about? It feels like vintage Citizen, but also a bit more progressive.
I don’t like to speak for [vocalist] Mat [Kerekes] on his lyrics, but I can say that [drummer] Ryland [Oehlers] brought this song to the table. It’s actually the first time that he was the main writer for a Citizen track, so it was really exciting hearing his voice come through. I think, lyrically, this one would fall under that “family” category.
You are known for aggressive yet anthemic music, but as time has passed, a lot of the tracks—like “Fever Days” and “Control”—have gotten a bit poppier. Could you elaborate on the reception to this evolution, especially from older fans?
Admittedly, there was pushback against the change in sound on the last LP. We expected it, though, and even wanted it. In my opinion, many of our peers avoid taking risks or releasing anything that might be polarizing. We wanted to do exactly that, and we did, and I’ll never regret it. It afforded us a lot of opportunities that we probably wouldn’t have if we released a lukewarm record that people may have thought they wanted. So far, people seem to be really excited about the sonic shift to “Jet,” [the album’s opening track]. I don’t think it necessarily reflects the whole album—I’m not sure any song out of context does—but it’s exciting to see people still onboard and still supportive of the pretty constant sonic changes.
Run For Cover Records are obviously still onboard. They’ve been with you for all of your LPs. How is it still being with this label?
Run For Cover is amazing. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember what a successful label it is, because it feels like we’re just working on a project with friends. Most of my communication with them is via text. They really enable a lot of creativity and ideas, and that’s amazing. They listen and steer us in the right direction, always.
And Will Yip is back again, producing for the third straight time. How has it been honing your sound with him since your days of Youth? No pun intended.
[Laughs] Will really understands how important the spirit of a record is. He wants the room to be comfortable with the exchange of ideas, and that’s a really good environment to work in. We came in with 16 songs, tracked 14, put 12 on the LP, and he just really made them come to life.
To close things off, what can fans expect from this record?
They can undoubtedly expect the best Citizen record yet.