"This record is about reclaiming control; it's us venting our frustrations." Citizen vocalist Mat Kerekes is discussing the Toledo, Ohio-based three-piece's decision to take full ownership of their creative destiny for their fourth full-length, 'Life In Your Glass World'.
"People tend to expect a lot out of you, but also at the same time, you have to do exactly what they want you to do, which is frustrating when you're always on tour, and the people that are sitting behind desks are yelling at you to do more. You kind of accept being pushed around for a little bit, but when you take a step back you think, wait, I'm the product here, I'm the one that is providing you all with this, and for some reason I'm lesser than you? Urm, no."
For Citizen, the solution to that feeling of being powerless was to become fully self-sufficient. With the help of his brother, Mat built a studio in his garage, allowing the band to take charge of every step of the album-making process. The convenience of having a home studio also allowed the band more time to flesh out their ideas, rather than "hauling ass for 6 weeks", as Mat puts it, in a professional studio.
"If we didn't feel like recording, we'd leave it and come back to it. We started recording in the first week of December 2019 and didn't finish until March 2020. When you're doing something creative, as long as it's flowing and feels good, it's probably going to turn out to be something you're proud of, but if you're pushing and pushing and seeing it as a job, then it becomes less fun. If it took months to record with us stopping and starting, that's just the way it is; who really cares?"
'Life In Your Glass World' is the first Citizen record that wasn't recorded with producer Will Yip, who is known for his work with alternative artists such as Tigers Jaw, Title Fight and The Wonder Years, to name but a few. Mat insists there's no personal beef and that it was all part of Citizen's desire to own all aspects of the record. "It was time to try something new, this time it was about us trusting our guts. Sometimes when you're doing the same thing all the time, you just want something new and fresh, and it felt good to be in a new environment."
This self-sufficient approach to recording seems like the logical next step for a band who have always been unwilling to compromise when it comes to their sound. Citizen have always refused to be defined by genre, following their instincts rather than other people's expectations. This has seen them exploring a vast sonic landscape as they have evolved, from the post-hardcore and emo leanings of debut 'Youth', to the grungy noise-rock moments of 'Everybody Is Going To Heaven.' 2017's 'As You Please' saw Citizen tread further into anthemic indie and pop territory, while still maintaining a sound that is unmistakably theirs. Unsurprisingly, this genre-hopping has polarised opinion along the way, though Mat remains steadfastly unapologetic.
"People like a certain version of you, and they just want that over and over again. At the end of the day, you get older, your influences change, and you're also not the same person. It's easy to pander to people and be accepted rather than take creative risks and do what you want to do and not be accepted. Citizen has always been a band where we grow the way we want to grow, whether a certain demographic likes that or not.
"I think a lot of people feel ownership over artists and bands when it's really not their place. If you don't like the new record, go listen to another one. Go listen to a different band; it's totally fine. While it's a wonderful thing that people really support the band, and I truly appreciate it, you make music for personal satisfaction. If the band ended tomorrow because no one liked the new record, well... I like the new record."
Of course, there will always be the naysayers, but with 'Life In Your Glass World', Citizen have created the most wonderfully liberating and dynamic record of their existence thus far. While 'As You Please' hinted at a poppier sound, 'Life In Your Glass World' takes this groove and runs with it to explosive effect. Look no further than comeback single 'I Want To Kill You' for evidence: a punchy and defiant return if there ever was one. Second single 'Blue Sunday' is irresistibly slinky with hazy synths, and this rhythmic, beat-driven approach is on display throughout the rest of the record. The huge guitars and sing-along choruses are still there, just wrapped in danceable energy.
"The focus on rhythm was a very conscious decision," explains Mat. "A lot of the music we were listening to was more upbeat, whereas Citizen has been known for being a notoriously mid-tempo band and kind of droney. So instead of writing with an acoustic guitar, I'd pull up a BPM and write a drum line first, a drum line I wouldn't normally write to, then we would force ourselves to write to this new pacing. I didn't want busy rock drums with big fills, I wanted to almost emulate the feel of a drum machine flowing and driving the song."
Despite it being Citizen's most upbeat record to date, Mat and his fellow band members, guitarist Nick Hamm and bassist Eric Hamm have stated that lyrically, it's perhaps their angriest yet, though Mat points out that 'I Want To Kill You' is not a threat aimed at anyone in particular but something he named the original demo for a joke and it stuck.
"It's funny because there's never any discussion before any record about lyrical content - everybody trusts me to say whatever I want to say. But by the end of the 'As You Please' touring cycle, there was a collective feeling of being pretty burnt out and frustrated about a lot of things, and I started writing songs about that. It's definitely an angrier record in terms of lyrics; it's very straight-forward and not too cryptic or introspective or anything like what I usually do."
Listening to the lyrics of 'I Want To Kill You', as Mat acerbically spits 'I'll keep it coming if you want some more, I'll keep on running, but it gets so tiring," it certainly seems he is alluding to feeling sick and tired of being seen as a commodity. This sense of disillusionment seems to creep into several of Mat's comments. How does he combat that feeling?
"Time, it's just about taking time. I was so tired of touring, so tired of being told what to do by everybody, and it was really frustrating; we went home, and I started doing other things and didn't think about music for a while, then one day I felt like writing a song, and then, boom, I started writing more songs because I felt excited again. After that none-stop touring cycle, it felt like the band was going to break up at one point because we were all just so over it. Music is something we really enjoy doing, and that's never going to really change unless it starts to feel like a job, and it was starting to feel like a job. Time is the best way to remedy that, so you can take a step back, and it becomes fun again."
Taken from the April issue of Upset. Citizen's album 'Life In Your Glass World' is out 26th March.
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