Citizen Have Learnt To Trust Their Creative Process

Citizen tour Australia March 2024 including headlining inaugural New Bloom Fest.
David James Young is a music writer and podcaster, working in Wollongong on Dharawal land.

Mat Kerekes writes songs. No surprises there, given he's a singer-songwriter by trade, but it's the scale of which they're coming out that really drives it home.

The frontman of US emo-rock outfit Citizen has released four studio albums so far this decade: 2021's 'Life In Your Glass World' with Citizen, a solo album 'Nova' in 2022 and a further two in 2023: Citizen's 'Calling The Dogs' and Kerekes' 'You Look Like A Stranger.

According to the man himself, these dozens of songs are reflective of both his environment and his creativity. "I moved from Ohio to Virginia a little while ago," he says.

"I didn't really know anyone when I moved here, so my focus just became writing songs. We were sort of stuck with Citizen at the time – 'Life In Your Glass World' had been delayed a bunch due to COVID, so I had all this time to myself to just kind of create.

"The cool thing about my solo music is that it doesn't have anything tied to it – I'm not on a label, and I'm not working with anyone else on it. Outside of having a distributor, I'm a completely independent artist, so I can just sort of put out music whenever I want."

So how does Kerekes know if the song he's writing is a Citizen song or a solo song? "That's easy," he says with a grin. "Citizen has got some sass to it."

Said sass is in abundance on 'Calling The Dogs', Citizen's fifth studio album released last October. Indebted to the jangle of Britpop and bustling indie rock, it marked yet another sonic evolution for the Toledo band.

"We kind of just wanted to go back to the roots of jamming in the garage," explains Kerekes. "'Glass World' was very production-driven – I was messing with a lot of synths, and there was a lot of emphasis on the drums and the bass. 'Calling The Dogs' is much more of a guitar record, and has much more of a garage feel to it."

After recording 'Life In Your Glass World' as a trio – with Kerekes joined by founding members Eric (guitar) and Nick (bass) Hann, pulling double duty on drums – 'Calling The Dogs' saw the band revert back to a five-piece.

The album was the studio debut for Mason Mercer on guitar, as well as Ben Russin (formerly of erstwhile emo legends Title Fight) on drums. "It was really cool to roll into that process with them for the first time," Kerekes says of Citizen's latest recruits.

"We'd been touring with that line-up more or less since we did the tour for 'Glass World', but this was the first time we had written music together as the five of us.

"I feel like it gave the whole writing process a really fresh perspective. Not only was it really fun, but it was also really interesting to see what they're both like as songwriters. There were more than a few instances where they brought something to the table where I was like, 'That's definitely not how I'd do it. . . but maybe that's a good thing.'"

In contrast to the extensive year of new material across both 'Calling The Dogs' and 'You Look Like A Stranger', 2023 also saw Kerekes and his Citizen bandmates looking back upon their debut studio album 'Youth'.

To commemorate its 10-year anniversary, the band played a select run of shows in which they played the cult-classic 2013 album in its entirety and also reissued a remastered edition of the album on vinyl. "I love 'Youth' – and I've always loved 'Youth'," Kerekes says.

"We are absolutely not one of those bands who roll our eyes when we play old songs – or feel like we 'have to' play them. Everybody that plays in this band loves that record.

"We owe it a lot – Citizen wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for that record. Every 'Youth' anniversary show felt like a big party, and there was just a feeling about those shows that was absolutely magical.

"We didn't want to do a full tour, because we didn't want it to feel like a cash-grab. We wanted it to feel like a celebration, and that's exactly how it felt when we were doing those shows. We'll never be sick of playing songs from 'Youth' live."

At one point, Kerekes refers to 'Youth' as the "favourite child" among the five Citizen albums.

Though he's personally proud of all of Citizen's efforts up to this point, he is also unflinching in his observations on the perception of each record – especially given the band have never stuck to the formula of their debut and consistently pursued a variety of sounds including post-punk, slowcore and even dance-punk.

"We've never been a well-reviewed band, I don't think," says a smirking Kerekes. "When we put out [second album, 2015's] 'Everyone Is Going To Heaven', it felt like everybody hated that record.

"We felt like we were just getting sh.t on from above everywhere we went. That's why the internet is such a funny thing, man – when it came out, I felt like I only saw negativity.

"In more recent years, however, I've gotten a fair few messages from people who have out-and-out told me that 'Everyone Is Going To Heaven' is their favourite Citizen record. When you lived in a time of soaking in that negativity, it's surprising to hear.

"I think what we've learned from it all as a band, really, is to trust the process. It's a slow growth, but you have to have confidence that people are going to come along for the ride."

Said ride will next take Citizen to Australia for their first Australian shows in over six years. Last in Australia performing with a then upcoming band by the name of Turnstile, their 2024 return comes at the head of the inaugural New Bloom Fest – an emo-tinged mini-fest with fellow North American bands Movements, Touché Amoré, Fleshwater, No Pressure, and Softcult.

As the festival's headliners, Kerekes is taking the role seriously – not least of all because he wasn't expecting it. "When the offer came through and they told us who was playing, our immediate reaction was to say yes," he says.

"What I didn't realise was that, when the poster came out, we were up the top. It made me a little nervous, and if I'm honest it still does! Like, are we worthy to headline over all these incredible, cool bands? All we can really do is put on the best show we can. It's gonna be a really good time."

New Bloom Fest 2024 Tour Dates

Fri 15 Mar - The Fortitude Music Hall (Brisbane)
Sat 16 Mar - Roundhouse (Sydney)
Sun 17 Mar - Melbourne Pavilion

New Bloom Fest 2024 Line-up

Touche Amore
No Pressure

Brisbane Only

Eat Your Heart Out
Bad Neighbour

Sydney Only

No Brainer
Peace Ritual

Melbourne Only

Born Free
Better Half
Post Heaven

Citizen 2024 Tour Dates

Tue 19 Mar - Uni Bar (Adelaide)
Wed 20 Mar - Amplifier Bar (Perth)

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