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Fountain of Youth: Citizen on Staying Young With 'Calling The Dogs'

Monday, 13 November 2023 Written by Jack Terry

Photo: Jonathan Weiner

It’s been a long time since Nick Hamm has had to pitch his band but, even so, when prompted to do just that he hits the nail on the head. “Citizen is more or less a rock band, but the definition has changed over the years,” the guitarist says. “We are an ever-evolving group rooted in friendship.”

On one hand, the band can trace their roots all the way into the recesses of childhood. Hamm has known vocalist Mat Kerekes since he was 10. “The other OG member is my brother Eric, so we go as far back as we can,” he observes. “We’ve always been in each other’s lives, and we’ve always been making music together so it makes it easy.” As sweet as that sentiment may be, a smirk breaks out across Kerekes’ face. “And that just makes us cooler than other bands,” he says.

Now to the ‘ever-evolving’ bit. Across their 15 year career Citizen have constantly tried new things and pushed their sound into fresh realms, covering ground between emo, shoegaze and punk. “My worst nightmare for Citizen is to release a ‘liked’ album that disappears into nothing,” Nick says. “We’ve had albums come out that were hated when they came out, and it’s taken a decade before we’ve seen a total shift in the perception of it. But that’s how we designed it. What matters to us is the longevity of what we do.”

Earlier this year, Citizen played a string of 10th anniversary shows for their seminal album ‘Youth’. Released by Run For Cover in 2013, it landed at a time when Title Fight, Basement and Superheaven were co-conspirators in bringing together grunge dynamics with a post-hardcore sensibility, creating a seam that now runs through to bands such as Narrow Head. It says plenty about the band, though, that they only looked over their shoulders for a short time. Having relished the opportunity to let the setlist write itself for a while, they now have a slew of new songs to add to the mix thanks to their superb new album ‘Calling The Dogs’.

“We are always writing new stuff, especially when we are on tour, so one of us will write something and put it in the folder,” Nick says. “Suddenly we realised, ‘Hey, it's time to do a record.’” Mat adds: "Usually we cram everything together a month before recording, which is fine because we've always done well under pressure, but it was nice to have it together and be able to think things through a bit more.”

That added thought can be heard throughout the record as Citizen do what Citizen do best: their own thing. Whether it’s the stripped-back experimentation of Needs, or the fuzzy mean-mugging of Dogs, it is wholeheartedly, inextricably Citizen, even if it doesn’t sound like their early stuff. “We can be and do anything we want,” Nick says. “No matter what we do, it’ll sound like Citizen, because ultimately Citizen are the ones writing the songs.” 

“I think a lot of people are excited to hear the different sides of Citizen’s spirit,” Mat posits. And why shouldn’t they be? Time and time again, Citizen have charted a path that works out. But as the years roll by and streaming becomes more prevalent, and reactions more instantaneous, their self-belief has become an important tool. “For our lead single If You’re Lonely, there are people that think it’s too indie or too soft,” Mat says. “But we like it and it’s all worth the experience of writing things that are different from whatever we’ve done last time.”

For Citizen, change isn’t just a matter of finding something that takes their fancy. Instead, it’s a product of intense homework and horizon-gazing. “It’s about keeping your ear to the ground and never writing off what young people are interested in,” Nick says. “Young people rule the world — they dictate everything that is relevant and exciting.” As he speaks, he makes it sound as though listening to the kids is a matter of life and death — creatively speaking, at least. “The second you turn your back on that, you’re a dinosaur,” he says. It’s sad to see other bands do that and I never want that for us.”

Accompanying their latest change in sound is a change of the band’s DNA. ‘Calling The Dogs’ marks the arrival of drummer Ben Russin and rhythm guitarist Mason Mercer as full-time members of Citizen. Having toured with the band for years, they already knew that it would be a comfortable fit as a long-term thing, but for them to have a hand in the creation of new Citizen songs required some adjustments. 

“Me, Nick and Eric have been writing songs together for 10 years, so there is a process that we are used to,” Mat says. “It felt very different to introduce two people we’ve never written with and it’s a big thing to trust someone new, but they had lots of ideas we hadn’t thought of.” Nick adds: “The process hasn’t really changed, though, whenever we come to writing songs or putting tours together or designing merch, it’s a snapshot of what we like in that moment.”

It appears, then, that what they like at the moment is being busy. Currently on a US tour and with a UK tour planned for February, Nick, Mat, Eric, Ben and Mason will not be sitting still any time soon. “Every time a record comes out, you can count on us playing as much as we can,” Nick says. “We are always present and working hard. We’re still working on how the rest of 2024 shapes up, but we will be active.”

Citizen Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 06 2024 - GLASGOW St Luke's
Wed February 07 2024 - LEEDS Project House
Thu February 08 2024 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Fri February 09 2024 - BRISTOL SWX

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