Citizen: ‘We Could Pander, And We Know That. But It Wouldn’t Make Us Happy’

27 February 2024 | 10:00 am | Mary Varvaris

Ahead of Citizen’s first shows in Australia in five years, singer Mat Kerekes tells The Music about why the band never made 'Youth' 2.0, getting compared to Bloc Party, and what happened when jellyfish surrounded him in an Australian ocean.


Citizen (Source: Supplied)

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Since Citizen last toured Australia in January 2019, they’ve released two albums packed with some of their best material to date.

They featured on the 2019 Unify Gathering, appearing on the same day as Taking Back Sunday (who performed their classic LP Tell All Your Friends in full), I Killed The Prom Queen (making an exclusive festival appearance), Trophy Eyes, Turnstile, Waax, Clowns, Stand Atlantic and many more – their brand of pop-punk meets emo music ideally situated amongst heavier and lighter bands on the bill.

Citizen released their third album, As You Please, in 2017 and plugged a heavy alt-rock sound that Pitchfork writer Ian Cohen remarked listeners could “grow up with rather than out of”.

During their early years – from 2013’s Youth to As You Please – Citizen were Tumblr darlings, littering the dashboards of 12–18-year-old bloggers. Kids would make their own creations inspired by the flowery Youth artwork, share images of 2015’s Everybody’s Going To Heaven album art, and latched on to the Ohio-based band like nothing else. I would know: I was one of them.

In 2021, Citizen were rebirthed with Life In Your Glass World, an album that didn’t just flirt with post-punk and dance-punk like they previously had with post-hardcore but became engrossed in new-wave influenced music with their emo edge. Simply put, Life In Your Glass World is ambitious and quite possibly the best album from Citizen.

In an album review from Danielle Chelosky at Stereogum, she wrote, “Finally, the band has branched out, found movement, and imbued the songs with vibrant colours… This album may not capture Tumblr’s attention, but this kind of inventive impulse won’t go unnoticed — and maybe it will even inspire more emo bands to spice things up a bit.”

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Last year, Citizen released another album, Calling The Dogs. The release is even dancier than Life In Your Glass World, lending indie-punk grooves that have been described as “another delightful twist for a band that just can't stand still”, per Dork Magazine.

It combines the acoustic, chill feel of vocalist Mat Kerekes’ solo music and the dance-punk of their previous album, but as Kerekes shares, the comparisons to Bloc Party may be unwarranted: he’d never heard a Bloc Party song until after critics mentioned Citizen in the same breath as the UK rockers.

“It’s so funny because I don’t even listen to Bloc Party at all,” Kerekes laughs over Zoom, looking snug in a puffy coat ahead of the band’s upcoming headlining performances at the inaugural New Bloom Fest.

“Everybody in the band would say I’m the primary songwriter, so it’s funny because I don't even disagree. I remember when we released Glass World, and I never listened to Bloc Party, and I saw everybody saying, like, ‘This sounds like Bloc Party. And I was like, really?

“So, I went and listened, and I was like, ‘Oh, my god, this does just totally rip them off, unintentionally! At this point in my life, I like that band, and I don't get offended if people compare us to this or that… I'm not reinventing the wheel. I just want to play things that I'm excited about. I don't care if it's been done a million times.”

Kerekes insists that the band isn’t changing the world when it comes to emo or alternative music. “I feel like every Citizen record will always have a hint of what the next one will sound like unintentionally because we're not reinventing the wheel,” he says, explaining that the band are very present when they’re writing music.

When they’re not, though, you can find Kerekes involved in his hobbies: he’s a bodybuilder and cites enjoying martial arts and lifting weights when he’s not seeking out music or in the middle of writing and touring.

Kerekes, brothers Nick (lead guitar) and Eric Hamm (bass), Mason Mercer (rhythm guitar), and Ben Russin (drums) listen to “badass” music and want to try to make Citizen songs that sound like that, “and there’s no shame at all”.

For Citizen, the band is always whatever its members think is cool at that moment, making music in real time. “When we were doing Glass World, there were elements of garage rock, dance punk type of things in there. I feel like Calling The Dogs is an extension of that, in that we eliminated all the post-production tricks and went back to a more live rock band feel.”

After Citizen released Youth, they put out a ripping song called Silo, leading fans to think the follow-up record Everybody Is Going To Heaven would sound like it. And it kind of did – that album is packed with noisy dissonant chords, Kerekes screaming, and most definitely their heaviest release to date. “I feel like we're always doing that kind of thing, and that's not intentionally there. I think we're just, you know, predictable,” Kerekes chuckles.

It's not always so serious, being the singer of Citizen. Despite being a band known for expressing a lot of feelings, don’t expect them to make Youth 2.0 – that’s just not who they are. “We could pander, and we know that,” Kerekes admits. “We know a lot of people like Youth and stuff, but a lot of people [also] really like As You Please. We could just keep writing songs like that.

“But at the end of the day, it wouldn't really make us happy.” That doesn’t mean they’re not proud of those albums: “I love those records, and I appreciate those records a lot. But I don't want to keep rewriting them.”

Citizen are currently in a “really cool phase”, according to Kerekes, and part of the reason is having Mercer and Russin as full-time band members after their experience as touring members. Kerekes says Mercer and Russin bring a new energy to the band, citing Mercer’s “childlike wonder” and praising Russin’s ability to ensure Kerekes and the Hamm brothers don’t go through the motions.

On what Australian fans can expect from Citizen at New Bloom Fest and their two sideshows, Kerekes promises an “even” set that contains “a little bit of everything”. “We don't want to force people to listen to new stuff out of spite,” he says, “We have no ill feelings towards revisiting any stage of Citizen.

“We want to make everybody happy. And I know that's not possible; you'll always do something to piss someone off, I guess,” Kerekes continues, reminding us that many songs Citizen still play are songs they’ve been playing for years. “We've been playing a lot of those songs for so long. We know what goes over well, so that goes into it, too.

“We look at the comments, and we read everything. And people will say, ‘Play this song, play this someplace’. And we're like, okay, and then we'll play it. And it's like, no one cares. So, it's like, ‘Well, why would we keep playing that?’ We try to go off what we see people want. And you know, there's no pleasing everybody.”

Kerekes is excited to show everybody what Citizen have got on their upcoming Australian dates, but hopefully he doesn’t have another near-nightmare experience with a swarm of jellyfish in Australia.

As Kerekes animatedly recalls, he and his friend Alex planned to go to the gym and then for a hike before the band’s Brisbane show. “I thought we were supposed to play at, I don't know, six, let's say. But really, we were playing at five. So, I'm out doing my thing, having a grand old time.” Suddenly, his phone was blowing up.

“I was just nowhere to be found, so I got rushed back. I think we started the set very late because of me – I thought that was a pretty funny story,” Kerekes says. “And one time, I jumped into the ocean, on top of a school of jellyfish as they were rising,” he adds to the audible gasp and “oh shit” of this interviewer. “Luckily, I got out of there in time, but you know, I jumped in the water, I came up, and I heard everybody scream, ‘Swim, swim!’

“I was like, ‘What?’ So, I'm in the ocean thinking I’m about to be attacked by a shark. So, I'm swimming my ass off, and when I got up there and turned around, you just see… it looked crazy, the amount of jellyfish rising to the surface. That would have been a very bad day for me if I got hit by that. Australia, you know?”

Citizen will headline the inaugural New Bloom Festival alongside Touché Amoré and Movements. They’re also set to perform sideshows in Adelaide and Perth. Find all ticketing information via Destroy All Lines.