Toledo’s Citizen head toward the release of their fourth record, Life In Your Glass World. A bold and brazen leap into the unknown, we spoke with guitarist Nick Hamm about uncertainty, newness, and creating in their own unique way.
Firstly, congratulations on Life In Your Glass World! Four full length albums is a feat that not a lot of artists achieve but by any measurement it’s been a long journey up to this point. As you prepare to release your fourth LP after 12 years a band, do you ever stop to think if this was ever where you thought you’d be?
Hey, thank you so much! It’s certainly been a longer road than I ever imagined it would be. In the early days, we never set out to be a career-type band. So this many years later it honestly defies my expectations completely, and honestly if you asked me even five years ago what the state of the band would be at this point, I don’t know if I’d have the answer. I’m just happy to exist at this point.
From the looks of it the entire process for Life In Your Glass World was brand new for the whole band. You recorded it in a studio built in Mat’s garage, starting at bass and drums, as a three piece – with so much of the process occurring in unfamiliar circumstances. Was there ever a moment when you felt that things just might not work?
Yeah, there was about ten of those! There were several points along the way where different things happened along the way that just threw a wrench in the whole plan, so there were times when I thought that this record was never going to come out. Once the pandemic hit it put everything into even more uncertainty and it felt like we were in a bit of a tailspin for a second. But you know, we have a lot of people that are helping us out and keeping us on the rails when things start getting a little chaotic so I’m glad that it’s all finally coming together.
The album is an act of self-definition for the band, and as you start this chapter of Citizen with so much that’s new do you think that more than ever it was important to seize that power back?
Yeah absolutely. We always reinvent ourselves to a certain extent on every album, we just have a lot of fun doing that and a lot of the artists we look up to the most have done that. We’d been a band for ten years when we started writing the album, and once you reach that point you stop and pause. You look around. You take inventory of the things you have, and you recalibrate and decide why are we doing these certain things, why aren’t we doing these other things. A big part of it was we’d been a band for ten years and we just wanted to get a little closer to what our personal visions of the band are. We always want to be playing music that we’re emotionally interested in and it was just a lot of fun. We honestly just decided that we wanted to have more fun with what we were doing. We didn’t want to feel like as much of a job as it was. So part of that big change was combatting that.
Do you think that the situation you found yourselves in, between the departure of band members, a global pandemic, and striving to define yourselves as a band, forced you, more than ever before to look inward as individuals, but also as a band?
There was a lot of things that changed during the making of the album. Like you said there were the departures of members from the band, the pandemic, multiple members of the band had relationships end, my brother and I’s father passed away around the tail end of the making of the album, and it was just a lot of things that cause you to change your perspective on the things that are around you. A major part of that is looking around and feeling like you’re wasting time. So, in doing an album like this, one that is a pretty noticeable shift and certainly is not intended to be appealing to the masses, there are a lot of easier routes that would probably be a faster track to certain popularity or income, but we kind of don’t care about that at this point. We want to just really enjoy however much longer we have in this situation and we’re trying to focus on that at this point.
When you find yourself looking at all these internalised thoughts and feelings, was it a difficult process to then externalise them in something that inevitably culminated into Life In Your Glass World?
Yeah, it is hard! I struggle with it a bit less now than I once did, but it’s always been hard to take these things that are very personal to you, release them to the world and now they belong to someone else. Personally, I can’t say in a lyrical way, but writing these songs and having them live on my phone exclusively for a year, they really feel like they belong to us and many of them are really personal. Even if I’m not the one writing the lyrics, it is weird when they become someone else’s or you have other peoples’ opinions on them. That’s a really weird feeling after so long only ever being an expression of our lives or whatever was going on around us.
It was a harder thing to deal with when I was around the age of 19 or 20, around the time that Youth came out. It was an even weirder thing back then, but that feeling informed the way we wanted to reinvent ourselves on every album. We always want to redefine ourselves all the time and push our own sense of identity and not let other people tell us what that is.
Through your entire life as a band, I feel as if the only thing that has stayed the same is that everything always changes from one chapter to the next. From an outside perspective, I feel as if I could never know what’s to come next. Is it ever daunting when you’re approaching the recording process to think “So what the hell are we going to do next?”?
I guess yes and no. Every change that we’ve ever made has happened fairly naturally. I think Mat and I are always on the same page about what we want to do next and there’s usually hints of it on the previous album. I think the biggest jump we’ve ever made was from Youth to Everybody Is Going To Heaven, but even then it was very simple for us to want to do that. We rejected the way we felt we were – I don’t want to say misunderstood. I don’t think we’re an obscure artist by any means, but we felt like we were placed into other people’s context and we weren’t very represented around the time that Youth came out. So it was easy for us to make something that was completely unlike anything we’ve done before. We don’t want people to compare anything we’re doing to something we’ve done before. It’s a little difficult to approach an album with very little to go off, but in this case I think this album was exactly what we wanted to make even last time around. So we’re constantly getting a little closer to the ultimate vision. And you know, we might never get there, but every album is another step in that direction.
When you talk about not feeling like you were represented, Citizen seem to be a band that are comfortable in ambiguity. Do you find that you’re more comfortable as well in a position where nobody can really pick your next move? For some, the label is comfortable – it’s an expectation or requirement that they can cater to. But for Citizen it seems like it’s never been there because you’ve never been a band you can describe in a couple of words.
Honestly, I think it’s been easier for us at this point because a lot of the people that really anticipate Citizen records are probably hoping to hear something that they haven’t heard from us before. If we were to release an album that sounded like a past album, I think that a lot of the people that matter most to us would probably be disappointed. It’s definitely made our lives easier that we’ve gotten people accustomed to the fact that that’s just how we operate, even with our label I think it’s the same. If we delivered a middle of the road album that sounded like one we released five years ago, we’d probably get some comments about it. But we never have that problem because every time we send them new songs, in my opinion anyway, they’re somewhat fresh and exciting. Everybody is just always down for that and we’ve been lucky that we have some good people working with us, and some good people on the receiving end of our music that really support and enable that constant reinvention of ourselves. I think that we’ve been really lucky to afford ourselves the ability to be ambiguous.
Just to follow on from what you mentioned, Life In Your Glass World seems to have these hints and flavours of a lot of the things that Citizen have done before, but the comparison between this album and any others you’ve released stops there. It’s very much its own individual chapter and a real defining moment in the band’s history.
I hope that people view it that way. I certainly think that it shares a lot of the emotional anchor of our other albums; there’s sadness in the same way that people saw it on Youth, there’s a lot of aggression in the same way that we did on Everybody Is Going To Heaven. I think Mat’s ability to write songs is just getting better, even better than As You Please which I thought was some of his smartest song writing ever. Life In Your Glass World shares a lot of those things with those albums but it’s also sonically on their own page, so I hope that people can find something they can love about it no matter what they’re starting point with Citizen is.
This might be something better suited to Mat but there seems to be a recurring motif of glass through the album whether it’s in the title or subtle mentions throughout lyrics. I would imagine on some level it’s a nod to Toledo’s title as ‘The Glass City’, but is there a deeper meaning to it, such as the fragility of glass?
I think fragility is a large part of that. In the past two years, and I’m sure everybody could agree with this, but approaching the latter half of our 20’s you start to notice that a lot of things are more fragile than you once believed. I think a lot of the album is coming to terms with that lyrically, and how we find these things out more every day. As well, the title is somewhat a reference to Toledo but it’s also referencing the fragility that we weren’t ever considering, or that nobody ever considers until they hit a certain point in their life. The record is reflective of that in a way.
Life In Your Glass World is an album that has a lot to say about a lot of things: It’s frustrated, angry, vulnerable and so much more – but did you find that once the recording process had finished that you left thinking you’ve said all you wanted to say?
For sure. I think that an album, or at least a Citizen album is everything we want to say at a certain point in time and a few months later there’s plenty that we want to say in the future. There’s a lot of things that have happened since the album has been done that have given us things that we’re going to want to say next time around. At that given point in time, both stylistically and in terms of the album’s narrative, we got out a lot of the things that we needed to as a band and that Mat himself needed to. I never really look back on Citizen albums in a way where I think too hard about what I would do different or what else I’d say given the chance. I’m down with letting things be representative of a certain place in time and not really thinking about it beyond that.
Citizen has always been a band with something to say, but on the new album did you feel like you really managed to do it with an immense sense of purpose?
I think that as time goes on, much like as anybody gets older, our ability to represent ourselves and understand our own identities becomes a little clearer, so I think that’s the point that we’re getting to. In one way I think that Life In Your Glass World wraps up a chapter of Citizen, I think it’s a good ending to the past decade of the band, but I also think it opens a lot of new doors. I think the next chapter of Citizen, whenever that may be, is going to look a little bit different to how it has looked before, and I think that’s exciting. The things that we do over the next couple of years are going to set in motion an exciting new change and new dynamic for us and that feels like a really good place to be this late into being a band.
You say that, and the last song on the album “Edge of the World” feels like the perfect summation of a decade of Citizen on one hand, but on the other it’s almost this visceral visualisation of the band standing on the edge of the unknown where listeners virtually see Citizen diving into the unknown headfirst – which I think has always been the case with Citizen.
I think “Edge of the World” is probably my favourite song on the album for that same reason. It perfectly wraps up the album in a literal sense, but it also does have this oddly optimistic outlook compared to the rest of the album and the rest of our catalogue as a band. It really feels like the sun coming through the clouds a little bit and I feel like that’s right about where we are as a band. I think every time we release an album we’re relieving a little bit more pressure, giving ourselves the ability to do even more of what we want, pushing a little bit further and really enabled us to get ourselves out there. This album, more than any, has afforded us that for the future and I am so excited for that.
Life In Your Glass World releases on 26th March 2021 via Run For Cover Records/Cooking Vinyl. Pre-order here: http://smarturl.it/LIYGW