Q&A: Citizen Won’t Stop Moving Forward

Whether or not the guys in Citizen planned on hitting the scene loudly with their first album Youth, released in 2013, it happened. It set the wave for them to go on to make two more distinctively different albums, both just as loud. Citizen has no issues ditching one sound and moving forward to something completely new while managing to still have the collection scream Citizen. As You Please, released on October 6, 2017, is their best example of that. The album takes a left turn to a more raw and gloomy place.

ALARM spoke with guitarists Nick Hamm about being a hands-on band, how they changed their sound and what influence they have in the scene.

ALARM: You’ve finished up tour with AFI and Circa Survive – two bands that have really made their mark in the industry. Was there anything you took away from that tour?

Nick Hamm: First off, they’re amazing because that’s exactly our generation. That’s exactly when I was younger. I would hear AFI on the radio and then eventually discovering Circa Survive/Saosin and whatnot. It’s exciting but It’s hard to review it from a perspective like that. I hate when people are like 12-year-old me is stoked. I try not to think about it like that because 23-year-old me is stoked. It was amazing just being able to watch them every night. Everybody on the tour was just so normal. It was mostly just business as usual. Everybody was really accommodating, which is all we can really ask for.

What were some of the more memorable moments while touring with AFI and Circa Survive?

Our stop at Red Rocks. We may not get an opportunity to play there ever again and just walking around and seeing pictures of The Beatles playing there, it was pretty surreal. We definitely didn’t take that for granted. It was very cool and felt like the designation of the who tour. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.  

You guys are headed out on another tour very soon with Sorority Noise and Great Grandpa, How is preparation going?

I think we all view it with great importance. It’s our first proper headlining tour since 2014. We are back on our own and we are both nervous and excited. It’s the first tour we are going to playing a bunch of songs off of As You Please. That’s been nerve-wracking. We have things planned that we’ve never done before. We have a bit of production that we’ve never really had before. We are excited about every aspect but also I think equally nervous about every aspect.

How did you go about picking Sorority Noise and Great Grandpa to accompany you on this tour?

We usually handle that. I know a lot of bands are a bit hands off when it comes to that but we make a list before tour. We reach out and if that doesn’t work out we go down the list. Luckily Sorority Noise was able to do it. It kind of seemed for awhile they were going to be doing another tour but luckily we were able to lock them in. We toured with them last year and I just loved them. We are excited to bring them out once again. Great Grandpa is an awesome band. I suppose you could say they’re up-and-coming. I think they are really going to kick off the show with a cool vibe. It’s all one show, you know. We try not to view it as just band, band, band. It’s all one tour. It’s all one experience. So we place a lot of importance on who we bring with us.

The big discussion we had was about how a lot of our peers don’t tour together for whatever reason.

Would you say that’s the main reason why you all choose to be a bit more hands on?

Yes, absolutely. I mean there are certain tours that I look at and I just kind of aspire to do something similar. This time around there was a lot of discussion. It’s my favorite part of being a band and my least favorite because it’s just dialogue for months and things not working out the way you want them to. The big discussion we had was about how a lot of our peers don’t tour together for whatever reason. I don’t know if it’s an ego thing, but we and everybody could be doing a lot better to help each other especially for fans. I think that fans would be a lot more engaged if certain bands were touring together and so we just really thought that a Citizen and Sorority Noise tour would pack a punch. It just seems like people would be pretty excited for that.

Any specific reason why you decided to work with Will Yipp again?

When we record with him, we like how much importance he puts not necessarily the quality of the record, but the importance placed on the vibe of everyone playing in a room together and bringing in everyone’s melodies into the album. That’s really important. It doesn’t feel like we are just going in and capturing something to just be good. The first two weeks are us just sitting in a room playing the songs together. We go back and forth thinking how can we make this better or should end the song differently. That’s really important but otherwise it’s just really important to have a lot of positivity in the studio and he likes that and facilitates that. It was a no-brainer to go back and work with him and it turned out amazing. I’m glad we did.

Citizen release the second single "In the Middle of It All" off their upcoming album

It’s been two years since your last album, Everybody is Going to Heaven, how has the band progressed and changed? How do you think those changes influenced As You Please?

More than you have time to listen to. We just felt  that we didn’t want to release an album that was anything like our first album. We kind of felt it was kind of placed into this thing that we didn’t really relate to and really kind of frustrating for a young band. There were a lot of things that we weren’t super happy with even though people really liked the first album and still do. We wanted to do something that was totally for us and not for anyone else. We did exactly that and it felt good. It let us do a lot of things that we couldn’t do otherwise. This time around we wanted to write a big record. I think that’s pretty obvious when listening to it but I also think it’s our most daring record. It’s not like we said ‘now let’s make an accessible record.’ It wasn’t like that at all. We just wanted to make a big record. We wanted to play big shows. We viewed the record as sounding like it was built for certain rooms. We just wanted to do something once again totally different. I think we did that and I think it adds to the idea of Citizen being a band that you don’t really know what to expect from.

How did the band decide that your new album would be something different than your previous work?

It’s kind of funny because at the time I guess we all felt similar without saying it because I remember talking to my brother about how I don’t want to play these songs anymore and how I want to do something totally left field.  I didn’t really express that to anyone else but him and then Matt started sending a couple demos that were exactly that. I think the cement? demo was the first one to come through and I was like this was exactly what I was talking about. I suppose we all feel the same way because it was darker, more abrasive and more energetic. It just kind of worked out like that. I guess it was conscious in a way but mostly subconscious and unspoken among us.

Why was As You Please chosen as the title track?

This was a whole process. There was probably a list of one hundred titles that we were going back and forth on. As You Please was an early one that admittedly I was not super into it when I first heard it. I wanted something a little bit more tongue and cheek. We were even considering the title ‘Please.’ And I liked that because I thought it was kind of similar to The Beatles’ Help. Then eventually we just all agreed As You Please was the best title here. It is a simple and tender wordplay that we liked and thought it marked change. It eventually came together but it was definitely a process.

The grunge/ punk scene has changed a lot over even the last five years, there are many different artists with many different styles, and being involved in the scene for a good amount of time, was there ever a time where the band felt as if they needed to contribute to the scene in the way with the style of music and the way you perform, make your albums or even dress?

I don’t know if we’ve ever consciously done anything that we felt was a step forward for everybody. Even last time around when we were writing this very dirty rock record, we acknowledged this alt rock thing that has a very grungy dirty sound but is not exactly where this scene is moving. In my mind, I thought maybe this will be the last record of this kind so we wanted to go out in some sort of loud way. As you can tell now the newer stuff is not really as dirty or abrasive and I don’t know if I would view that as contributing. I think there are other bands that are controlling that right now and that’s pretty cool. Pine Grove? Is probably the best example of that. Every once in awhile a band just comes through and changes things. I think that Title Fight was the first one that really affected everybody. At one point every band in this realm was influenced by Title Fight even if they didn’t know it. There are other bands doing that now like when Modern Baseball came through. Now I think Turn Over and Pine Grove are the red-hot bands that are really shifting people’s ideas of what this scene of music can be. We definitely keep that in mind. We think about if our peers have ever done a song like this before and last time around we didn’t think any of our peers have really taken a risk like that before. It’s such a left field record. Not to say that there are not bands that are being daring in our world. There certainly are. We definitely are self-aware. We know if something feels new or exciting or fresh for this world of music.

Listen to Citizen on Spotify.

As You Please is available now on Run For Cover records.