Citizen’s Nick Hamm Talks Heavier New Record + Playing Vans Warped Tour
If you're familiar with the melodic hardcore realm, you've certainly heard of Citizen amongst bands like Title Fight and Diamond Youth. The Ohio-based outfit's incredible new album, Everyone Is Going to Heaven, which is out now via Run For Cover, stretches all of their youthful boundaries, delivering intense yet catchy hooks and the heaviest instrumentals they've procured to date.
Produced by legendary alt-hardcore producer Will Yip -- who also had his hands in the band's 2013 breakthrough debut Youth -- the new album paints the picture of a band who has finally reached a certain level of comfort in its career that has only just begun.
We had the chance to chat with guitarist Nick Hamm about the new record and sound, as well as what it's been like to play this year's Vans Warped Tour. Check out our exclusive conversation below:
Why did you go with the title Everyone Is Going to Heaven for the new disc?
It's actually a reference to the way we sequenced the album. I know most people look for a really good reply to this question but unfortunately it's a bit of a let down of an answer. We were in the studio with Will Yip who became a sort-of sixth member [of the band] so every idea we have we all discuss together rather than just the five of us. We just thought it was a nice title. It's not necessarily directed to religion.
Since you've worked with Will Yip before, did you guys do anything different production-wise on the new record?
Yeah, I'd say so. We kind of experimented a bit with noise which I think is evident on the record. You know, it became more about sounds and less about just doing different things with our guitars that we hadn't done before. There's a song that we recorded each drum separately. So just little things like that I think added up to make it a big step forward, especially sonically. We had our sights set on doing a really big record and I think everybody did a pretty good job of making sure that it got to where we envisioned it to be.
Would you say that this is your heaviest record yet?
I think sonically it's definitely the biggest. It's naturally heavier than the stuff we've done before, but I also think it's lyrically the most heavy. Mat [Kerekes] really stepped his game up lyrically and I just think in general he nailed everything. I think it came across the most genuine he's ever sounded which I think is really important and really cool. When we were in the studio, every band that we were listening to and looking at as inspiration were bands that sound nothing like the record. I was really into the latest Iceage record which was pretty new at that point, as well as the latest Swans record and stuff like that. The record definitely doesn't sound like them but I think they drove us to do something a little more left than we previously had. So yeah, I think it's definitely the heaviest thing anyone has heard from Citizen yet.
Why had you so abruptly changed your sound away from pop-punk in the beginning?
I mean, I don't want to make it seem like we're pretentious or whatever. When we were 16 and started the band, that's what we liked and we wanted to make a pop-punk split with our friends. At this point in my life, nobody in the band listens to pop-punk so it's just not what we want to make right now or for the past few years. It does feel really abrupt to listeners because it's just one release away, but to us it's more gradual. People think that it's nothing like Youth, but to us, it's been two years of growth as a band and changing as a musician or person who listens to music. You can even hear it with Young States because I was 17 when we released Young States and you can hear that we were hungry to be a rock band but we didn't know how. I think Youth falls somewhere in-between where I think we liked specific records and we wanted to be in the same conversation as those bands but we didn't know how to make an album. I think this album is the closest to being the band that we have wanted to be for awhile. It's all about perception and it's totally different for us, but I can also understand why people might be caught off guard by it.
How has becoming a serious artist helped you to grow up and become an adult?
Well, since Youth the band has been growing and it's forcibly become a job even though we still handle it like an art project or something. We're constantly concerned with everything we do aesthetically. It's very meticulous and we don't ever want to compromise anything but at the same time it's become a job where we can't commit to other things the way that we have to with Citizen. I think when something like that arises it definitely forces you to accept responsibility. It's really easy for touring the world and meeting so many different people to change a person. There's so many people that we have met since starting Citizen that have helped shape the music that I listen to, which definitely plays a factor in our sound. It's all about the people you meet and the friends you make who totally change your life.
How have you been fitting in with the Vans Warped Tour repertoire?
I don't think we really fit in, to be honest. [Laughs] It's kind of obvious. When we decided to do this tour it was before we made this record and we just decided it was the best thing for the album, to do a really high-profile tour. It was either do this or do nothing. We didn't want to put out an album and then just sit at home. Being on it, though, it maybe feels weirder than I think it did two years ago. Maybe it's because we're playing new songs and stuff. I don't think the kids who really love our new album are coming to Warped Tour, I think it's a small percentage. I think we're playing to a lot of new people. I think a lot of Citizen fans are a little turned off to Warped Tour right now, so maybe they're not coming. That being said, we're still playing to a lot of people, so that says a lot. All the kids we meet will come up to us and say "Great job on the new record" and that's really cool. Sometimes I doubt whether we did the right thing by playing [Warped Tour] but then I'll meet people who are supportive and it restores my faith a little. I definitely say that we stick out a little bit.
Do you have any ridiculous stories from this year's tour or have you seen any really cool sets yet?
I don't know if this is a ridiculous story or not but I think it's pretty funny. We have a driver named Darryl who drives our bus and he's a man of few words. Pretty much anything you say to him he responds with "Alright, alright," even if you just say hi to him. But today, he grabbed a Citizen shirt to rock at the show and when I complimented him on it he just said "It's going down." [Laughs] I thought that was pretty good. In terms of bands I've been watching, I really like the band Paris, I think they're doing really cool stuff. They're the perfect story of being a young band who has made a huge splash. I think young bands are generally discounted until they make some noise. To me, they're just making pop music, which I really like, so I think that's really cool. I think the circle of bands that they tour with isn't really a good example of the type of band they are and I think that I can relate to that a bit. They're all really nice too and a few of them really like Citizen.
Did you ever think you would be charting with Billboard at this stage in the game?
It's definitely crazy. I remember the first time that any band in this realm, I think it was Title Fight, charted on Billboard and I thought it was crazy because that would have never happened when we first started becoming peers with these bands. So for us to be in a place now where it's almost guaranteed to happen with a lot of the Run For Cover releases, it's super cool. I didn't expect such a successful first week of sales. We did something that we really wanted to do for ourselves and when you take that kind of risk, you have to prepare yourself for people to not be into it, but we've had nothing but support. We doubled what Youth sold in its first week which is huge to us! We definitely didn't expect it but we're all super happy that even if people don't like it, they're at least giving it a shot.