“I think where a lot of bands suffer on their second record is that if your first record did well, it’s really easy to become comfortable and content with where you are. We could’ve gone that way, but instead we had a drive to do something new and different.”
Citizen guitarist Nick Hamm is talking about his band’s challenging second full-length, Everybody Is Going To Heaven, and the decisions that faced the quintet after their promising 2013 debut, Youth (which Hamm refers to as their “coming of age” album) found critical favour, and a sizeable fan base, fast.
“We wanted to do something different to not just our own output,” Nick continues, “but our peers’ output too. We went against the grain a little bit, which was really exciting. For us to be able to do it at this point in our – for lack of a better term – careers, it’s earned us a spot to think that we’re here to stay. We’re not just a flavour of the week.”
Hamm and his bandmates – vocalist Mat Kerekes, guitarist Ryland Oehlers, bassist Eric Hamm, and drummer Jake Duhaime – formed Citizen when they were still in high schools across the neighboring States of northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. Nick had been playing with his brother Eric since childhood, and started practicing with his friend Mat at the age of ten. Nick and Eric grew up listening to their mother’s grunge records and the radio, but discovered hardcore in their teen years, which then became Nick’s primary focus.
“But even now,” Nick emphasises, “every day I feel like I’m shifting towards something new. It means that each Citizen album is going to be different to the last. I would hope that people don’t expect us to do the same record twice.”
Thanks to the range of influences, the recently released Everybody Is Going to Heaven combines the quiet-loud dynamics of hardcore greats like Poison The Well, with the nuanced dynamics of the darker side of grunge, like Alice In Chains. The end result is compulsive listening, thanks also to the fact that Citizen aren’t willing to adhere to modern music industry rules.
“The riskiest part of Everybody… is that we really didn’t write singles for the album, which at this moment in time is something you’re supposed to do” explains Nick. “On Youth, we had four or five songs that were clear standouts and felt like singles. This album, we were more concerned with making a cohesive and smarter record. We weren’t really worried about what would sound the best heard by itself, because we really had in mind hearing the record as a whole.
“Sonically, it’s more challenging,” the guitarist continues. “We did a lot of interludes because they take you right into the next song – which makes it a little more weird to just turn it off in the middle. In that sense, we’re like ‘You’re not going anywhere! You have to listen to the whole thing!’”
Having toured Australia in April for the first time (“The best time of my life,” Nick notes), the quintet are spending all summer slogging it out across America, on the legendarily hot and gruelling Warped Tour, a venue that, Nick acknowledges, doesn’t necessarily attract Citizen’s core audience.
“I think in terms of exposure, Warped Tour is definitely a really good idea,” Nick says. “I can’t say that the kids coming out are necessarily the ones that are really connecting with the record, but that’s cool because it’s fun to challenge ourselves.”
And so far, the battle is paying off. Citizen have stood out enough on one of the festival’s multitude of side-stages that they have been frequently bumped up to the main stage.
“Main stage is really different, because people will come out to Warped and head straight there, without knowing who the band is, and just camp out all day,” Nick explains. “ So we’ve played to a lot of new people. I think people are really excited to hear something that’s a change of pace.”
After Warped, Citizen will play a handful of US dates with Taking Back Sunday, before plotting their next move.
“We don’t ever want to be the band where we’re shoving what we do in people’s faces,” Nick concludes. “We just really want people to come to us. And, as the album cycle rolls on, I think a lot of new people are going to take notice of what we’ve got going on.”
For more information on Citizen, visit their official Facebook page.