Citizen Talks Making Music on Their Own Terms for ‘Life in Your Glass World’ « American Songwriter

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Citizen has always been a rather mid-tempo guitar-driven band. As they look back since their 2009 formation, they have gotten a bit too formulaic for their own comfort. With their fourth LP, Life in Your Glass World, they are finally breaking that pattern and pushing passed their own self-imposed boundaries.

Life in Your Glass World is lead by the bouncy, pop-centric single “I Want To Kill You,” which offers a kind of poetic justice highlighting the exit from all that they were.  Moving onto their next persona, the trio; multi-instrumentalist Mat Kerekes, guitarist Nick Hamm and bassist Eric Hamm left the familiar behind and embraced experimentation, by ditching their traditional songwriting approaches and instrumentation while also changing the scenery and building their own scared space to explore all that they constructed on Life in Your Glass World.

“Citizen’s a pretty mid-tempo band,” Kerekes tells American Songwriter. “So we wanted to explore different mainly faster tempos. I started setting BPM’s and writing drum lines to it. It was like okay this is, this is the song and there’s no getting away from it. So that just opened up a lot of avenues that we wouldn’t normally take.”

Citizen also gracefully parted with longtime producer Will Yip for ‘Life in Your Glass World’ and went a completely DIY, self-produced route. Building a makeshift studio at Kerekes’ Toledo home, allowed them to grow their skills and make music that was purely impulsive, with little re-writes or changes. They weren’t overthinking things, and they weren’t second-guessing their own abilities either.  They had complete confidence and freedom for possibly the first time ever.

“We learned to trust our gut,” Kerekes said. “We worked with Will (Yip) for a longtime and we love him. But it was just time to kind of break off with him. This time was all about us and we had to really trust our gut because at the end of the day it’s our band and it’s our songs. Whatever makes us happy is ultimately what we want to do. Whatever flowed naturally is what ended up making it on the record.”

“And It was just nice to have full control,” he adds. “It was the truest version of Citizen whereas before ideas were kind of being filtered through other people and  I’m grateful for all that creative experience and whatnot, but it was nice to change it up.”

Citizen’s intense touring cycle was often a primary aggressor for the stifled feeling they had been feeling for so many years. And it propelled much of the jaded attitude they began to form towards the music industry. In fact “I Want To Kill You” despite its buoyant, dance-worthy identity is actually a stab at the music industry that too often tried to steer the band’s creative path and lives.

“At the end of like a pretty vicious touring cycle we were all burned out,” Kerekes said. “And I was just honestly sick of people telling me what I should do and getting backlash when I wanted to take a break.  Or fans like feeling like they have ownership over you. I had people calling me an asshole because I didn’t play certain songs. And at the end of the day, this is our music and we’re going to do whatever we want. And so ‘I Want To Kill You’ became about reclaiming that control.”

Other songs like “Thin Air” and “Blue Sunday” offer a more introspective and calmer look at music from a more personal perspective.  Both songs pose an important but honest point about how it’s ok to be bored by something and it’s ok to find enjoyment in something other than music.  These unhealthy feelings were often perpetuated by the brutal touring cycle Citizen had been engulfed in while promoting their last album As You Please. And after  awhile it even came to a point where they were questioning if they even wanted to be a band anymore. And they weren’t too upset about it either. It was an honest realization among the band that everyone understood.

“It all just comes down to the things that make you happy,” Kerekes said. “ And music’s not the only thing about Nick, Eric or I. We all have other things we like to do and at the end of the As You Please touring cycle, none of us wanted to be a band anymore.”

“It wasn’t like we were lost,” he adds. “It was kind of like, ‘Oh I want to stop playing music and I want to you know build 3D models or play video games. So now whenever I feel defeated about music I go do something else for a little while until I feel like doing music again.”

The relaxed attitude Citizen has embraced with their music and taking personal breaks to enjoy other aspects of life is what energizes the music. It is also what keeps the Citizen circle close-knit and authentic and fends off outsiders. 

“None of us are people that practice,” Kerekes said. “ I don’t like to write a song every day as an exercise We only do band stuff when we feel like we want to. And that’s frustrating for people that work with us, but that’s just how we operate. I’ll pick up the guitar when I feel like it and if something comes out, awesome and if it doesn’t, I’m putting down and I’m going to, you know Xbox or whatever. So I never really feel too crazy defeated because I’m always doing something.”

For Citizen whether it’s music, video games or art it’s about progression and momentum while finding joy in life on your own terms. And that is precisely what they have encompassed with every song on Life in Your Glass World. And they have every intent to continue making music when and how they want to.

“I’m just along for the ride, y’know,” Kerekes said. “I obviously don’t like leaving my house. So it’s great when we record here, and I just have to walk to the garage. But whatever keeps band morale high and keeps everybody excited is what I want to do.”

Life in Your Glass World is out on March 26 via Run For Cover and it’s available for order here.

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