Julia Cumming

In the first of our Cult Figures series Alexa meets the lead singer of NYC-based band Sunflower Bean to discuss stage outfits, recurring nightmares and the most important things to pack when going on tour...

Having stalked Julia for a long long time on Instagram I was very happy to meet her in person in Paris this February, just before the quarantine curtain draped itself all over the globe. Her band Sunflower Bean has just released a new song 'Moment in the Sun', so I got to have a (transatlantically-distanced) catch up with her.

Cult Figures

Interview ‌by Alexa Chung

Firstly Hi! And congratulations on your new video! "You're the only music on my mind" is an excellent lyric. Now seamlessly I'm going to start grilling you with some super hard hitting questions. *warning* I watched Almost Famous last night because it's been twenty years since it came out so apologies if any of these questions have been directly lifted from that movie.

Photo by Andy DeLuca. Styled by Amber Simiriglia.

When you were young did you dream of being in a band?
Yes! It was actually the first thing I remember dreaming about. My dream was to start a band called “The Beatles 2.” I used to ask my mom why all their songs were about girls, since I wanted to sing about boys.

I save potential band names on my notes even though I know I will never be in one, one just says CRAZY. Do you have any band names or snippets of lyrics saved in your notes that you can share with us?
So many.. a particularly stupid one is Never Mind the Sandra Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols! A lot of other ones are intensely over emotional, like “The beauty of everything makes me feel insane” or “I couldn’t live in paradise forever.”

You've blended a career in music and modelling. At AC Towers we are always inspired by musicians and their style. How does fashion play into or enhance or hinder stage performance for you?
Fashion and style are also incredibly important for music videos and portraying songs on camera! For “Moment In The Sun,” we wanted to build this character that was slightly outside of my everyday self.…super romantic and dreamy. We dyed my hair this fiery pink color and I leaned into that summer-y suburban 90s vibe. It was so fun to mix in pieces from your collection to bring the character to life! That’s truly the magic of fashion and style! I feel like your lilac striped cardigan deserves it’s own video credit because it really brought so much to the visuals.

Sunflower Bean's new video 'Moment in The Sun'
Directed, Filmed, & Edited by Andy DeLuca & Sarah Eiseman . Styled by Amber Simiriglia.

Not to sound too Daily Mail but have you ever experienced a wardrobe malfunction on stage? Do the band ever disagree about a look or do you not talk about it?
Maybe one too many times. I can’t ever wear a 70s style chainmail top on stage ever again, no matter how cute it may be! I have now had two separate wardrobe malfunctions wearing those type of tops. Nearly two stage nip slips that I can think of. One was opening for Interpol last year and the other was a few months later at Glastonbury where my top nearly fell off and I was holding it onto my body with my bass. At this point, if I’m wearing something that my manager and I think might create an issue, she will stand side stage with an alternate top I can quickly slip into.
Julian Casablancas is a fan of yours, I adored The Strokes growing up and still do. Who is your dream artist to collaborate with and which bands are you a fan of?
The Strokes are iconic, no doubt. Is there even a word for their mega-influence on modern rock? I don’t think so. The last show we played this year was opening for them and Bernie Sanders so we really went out on a high note!

When you go on tour is there a packing list you adhere to much like Joan Didion's list of things she used to travel with inc. leotards? I've added it here for reference just in case.
That’s such a good list! I really need one like that. We actually have a large separate suitcase for stage clothes (this makes me very heartsick for tour) that I have left in a variety of places, including the Hong Kong airport. I didn’t realize until we were halfway into watching David Byrne’s set





What can you tell us about your new single? Where did you record? Who produced it? What's the optimum situation for it to be played in?
“Moment In The Sun” was actually written and mostly recorded in LA 2 years ago. I was in a long distance relationship with someone I loved very much and I was constantly confronted with the pain of having to say goodbye to them all the time. I was also exhausted by how demanding our schedule as a band had become. I wanted to express that just a little bit of time with the person you love is more rewarding than all of the time we spend worrying about superficial things.

Do you have to be in love to write a love song? (stolen from Almost Famous)
No, but I think for it to be real it has to come from a real place. Fortunately and unfortunately, dramas of the heart usually lasts years there’s lots of time to pull from it.
Your band mates refer to you as the King of Dudes. What is the best and worst thing about being a woman in music today?
Our song “King of the Dudes” is about me embracing that nickname, and turning the way that others view you into your own strength. The best thing about being a woman in music is all the things that make me a woman; my experiences, the way I love, the way I navigate the world. I wouldn’t trade any of that, especially as a songwriter. The worst thing is being underestimated I guess, but I don’t let that keep me up at night.
Name a song you wish you had written?
There’s literally too many. Every song I love I wish I wrote! But “Close To Me” by the Cure is a song I have tried to jack many times, but it is nearly impossible. Also “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac. What can I say? Sometimes I just want to dance.
Who has the best tour rider out of Beck, The Pixies and The Strokes?
I would say Beck. Usually all big tours have catering but the Beck / Cage The Elephant tour was by far the biggest production we’ve been a part of. It was like a traveling festival. Tons of outrageously delicious and luxurious catering beyond what I could have ever dreamed of. One night on tour with Beck, we had oysters and lobster. I don’t even know what to say about that. It was awesome!
A recurring nightmare I have is that I’m on stage as a drummer at Glastonbury but I can’t drum. Do you have an alter ego for performance much like Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce?
Lately, I have been feeling like the performer part of me is more separate from the rest of myself than I had once thought. I don’t think she has a different name yet, but she definitely exists and is much more glamorous than I am! She is definitely tougher, flashier, and more inflammatory than I am day to day. But I think she keeps me sane and protects my soul from the weird world of entertainment.

Some Proust ones for you:

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Right now it’s “iconic.” I literally cannot stop saying it. But I’m hoping it’s because everyone is doing such iconic stuff and I’m happy to see it.
Your idea of misery?
Being stuck in the freezer section of the Supermarket with no jacket and Supermarket radio blaring (by that I mean the mindless pop that makes you feel nothing but dull rage and depression)

What is your most marked characteristic?
I had to ask my bandmates for this one. They said driven! I think that’s fair, sometimes to my own detriment. Since the second I have been in bands it has been the driving force in my life, everyday..
Your favourite virtue?
Nonjudgemental. It is so powerful to have someone listen to you, accept you for who and where you are. Sometimes you need someone to not ask anything else of you in that moment.

How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as someone who put real and true things into the world that were able to reach people’s hearts. Maybe that’s cheesy, but I feel like I’m at a place where I know what’s important to me and what I need in my life. I’m so blessed to have had this life so far. If I can continue even at a tiny level and just express what’s in my heart to others, that’s enough

'Moment in the Sun' by Sunflower Bean is out now.
sunflowerbeanband.com