Gear Talks: Citizen

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Gear Talks: Citizen

Citizen feature
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Evolving from what is deemed the 'fourth wave' of emo, Citizen have defined the genre's sound in the last decade.

Citizen erupted onto the global scene with the release of 2013’s Youth. Melding elements of emo, pop punk, rock and hardcore, their current catalogue spans a huge progression for the band, currently crescendoing with the release of their fifth album, Calling the Dogs. Produced by Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, Kurt Vile, Mdou Moctar), Citizen’s Calling the Dogs sees the band departing from more conventional emo and rock sounds for a more mature, refined palette of tones, colours, textures and arrangements.

The new album from Citizen, Calling All Dogs is available through Run For Cover records on September 18.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Ahead of the release of Citizen’s Calling All Dogs, we caught up with lead guitarist, Nick Hamm, about writing and recording the album.

How did Calling the Dogs begin?

There comes a period of calm towards the third quarter or end of a record cycle and we find the time to go to work or find the spark needed to put some songs together and Calling the Dogs went exactly like that. Once touring calmed down, ideas just started flowing.

How does a Citizen song usually start?

Most typically, a Citizen song will start with Mat [Kerekes, vocals]. He has an ability to think about music, melody, and lyric all in one swoop. Many times, he’ll send us maybe a minute-long GarageBand demo of a guitar and some vocals. Those generally sit for a while and more often than not, there’s so many ideas by the time we get together that they become fully realised quickly once we get together.

Calling the Dogs sounds and feels like a big progression for the band, the arrangements are sparse but sounds very refined. Was this something intentional or did it just come out that way?

I don’t think it was something we thought about too much. A lot of the songs are not terribly different from the form in which they started out. We didn’t overproduce and didn’t overwrite, so in that way it’s our most raw album. It’s faster, shorter, more aggressive. I think that’s just what we had the taste for this time around.

Why Rob Schnapf for this album? What did you hope he’d bring to the band?

We knew pretty early on we wanted to try something new this time around. The last time we worked with a producer was 6 years ago. I think we missed that outside ear and we missed the experience of working away from home. And of course we thought about what exactly this record was shaping up to be and who would compliment that the most. Rob’s name was one of a few that we had been tossing around and after talking to him, there was no doubt.

How involved in writing and producing was Rob? Or was he mostly an engineer? 

Maybe this is selfish but it was amazing working with someone who is so guitar-brained. Rob is a great player and there wasn’t a song that he didn’t have an idea on how to elevate chords or tones. He was very hands on with that. On a songwriting front, nothing changed much in the studio.

How did you record the album? Was it all isolated instruments or was any of it recorded live and then overdubbed?

It was all isolated instruments in the studio. We demo’d the songs live and occasionally kept a portion, but the majority of it was isolated.

Has any equipment you used to make the record made its way into your live performance? 

It hasn’t yet but I loved so much of the gear that Rob had at our disposal. I have my eyes on a WEM ER-15 which we used occasionally. The second he turned it on, it just screamed Bad Brains or something. Otherwise we used a lot of pedals that would probably not be something I’d want to stomp on on stage.

What’s next for Citizen?

Starting a record cycle feels like standing at the base of a mountain. There’s so much ahead. We’ve got a USA tour in the fall with Narrow Head, Modern Color, and some special guests at some of the shows. We’ve got a UK and Europe run in February. And we’re going to just be plugging away at playing as much as possible.

Keep up with Citizen here.