Citizen – ‘I don’t resolve problems, I hold on to them, they make you stronger’

“They’re probably going to be shocked,” smiled Citizen guitarist Nick Hamm. “If the last time they listened to Citizen was 2013, and then they listen to Calling the Dogs.”

The Michigan-based rockers last released an album in 2021 – Life In Your Glass World – and it had its critics, at first. It was different, powerful, and a shock to the system, when compared to the band’s previous work.

Compared to their upcoming album, Calling the Dogs, that was nothing. But Nick and singer Mat Kerekes know that. And they made it abundantly clear while chatting with me on Zoom earlier this month.

“Calling the Dogs reveals itself to you the more you listen,” Nick continued. “I think Calling the Dogs, lyrically, is beyond that. I think it’s more introspective than any Citizen album. And you might not think that if you think about it as an album of bangers or punk-rock songs. I still think that there is an emotional core that is very potent.”

Having an emotional nucleus is what Citizen are so well known for (and why they’ve been a mainstay in the alternative scene for over ten years, now). Their groundbreaking debut record, Youth, just celebrated its ten-year anniversary and is a centrepiece in the genre’s endless playlists. But, as wonderful as this no doubt is for the band, it does make things a little more difficult for them.

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Buy tickets to Citizen’s UK tour here.

Nick and Mat try not to let that pressure creep into their writing process, though.

Nick said: “I quite literally think about if a certain song is going to especially connect or be a hit or whatever – but I wouldn’t say we ever write with that in mind. In fact, I think sometimes we write despite what our fans might be interested in naturally.”

Wait, so Citizen actively write music their fans might not even like? “I don’t know,” Nick went on. “I guess that is part of the challenge too – how do we provoke [the fans] in some way? How do we challenge, how do you leapfrog what you’ve done in the past? And I think that that might be frustrating for some fans, but I think it’s really rewarding for other fans who have come to expect the unexpected.”

Regardless of how daring Nick and Mat feel their music might be, their lyrics are still as powerful as ever. Options, the penultimate song on Calling the Dogs, is a powerful and sombre exploration of inferiority and expectations.

Mat pens most of the lyrics, and although his art paints a picture of a downtrodden, unhappy lad, he insisted that’s not his day-to-day persona.

Headtrip, the album’s opener, is a perfect example of this, Mat explained. “I think it’s kind of cheeky and goofy in a way, and I think the lyrics to that song kind of reflect my personality more than any lyrics than I’ve ever written before. Because I’m not the most serious person, and I’m not sitting around upset all the time. I’m also not very angry all the time! And I think the lyrics to Headtrip really have a lighthearted – serious – but lighthearted, making fun of the problems you’re having, kind of vibe.”

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Still, a lot of palpable aggression and fury remains in Calling the Dogs – but like Nick said – it reveals itself to you over time, rather than bashing you over the head with it. 

These songs still come from Mat’s anger, and – although he wrote these songs well over a year ago – he’s about to start playing them every single night on tour. As a result, he may find himself screaming down the microphone to someone who has since apologised and made up with him after an argument. “No,” he confirmed, resolute. “I don’t resolve problems. I just hold on to them forever. It will always ring true.” Breaking into laughter, he added: “It makes you stronger!”

Citizen has more anger to share with their fans in the near future. “We’re always moving,” Nick said, subtly teasing the band’s next album. “And I think, even though to the public eye it’s like this album is new, to us it’s been around for so long. So we’re definitely still moving and writing and, I don’t know…” he shrugged. “That’s the Citizen way. We never slow down.”

Citizen – Calling the Dogs is out tomorrow, buy it here.

Buy tickets to see Citizen live here.

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