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Citizen 01

Citizen are telling a different story

14 October 2023, 09:00
Words by Ashwin Bhandari

Original Photography by Jonathan Weiner and Tracy Nguyen

As alt-rock group Citizen release their fifth album Calling The Dogs, vocalist Mat Kerekes and guitarist Nick Hamm tell Ashwin Bhandari about their ever-evolving sound.

Formed from the ashes of a metalcore project that had listed Kerekes and Hamm in its ranks, Citizen’s fast-paced and angst-laden songs about loss, relationships and coming of age frustrations, garnered an underground, cult status, sped along by the digital blogging age.

With the release of debut album Youth, 2013 saw the band become synonymous with a particular era of online fan culture. Alongside the likes of Basement, Tigers Jaw and Seahaven, their artwork, lyrics, and designs became an aesthetic in their own right, plastered around Tumblr, forums and online communities.

Ruminating on Youth’s success at the time and the continuing fan support it seemed to launch, Hamm and Kerekes to this day are very proud of what they achieved. Sitting down over Zoom, states across from each other but both coincidentally in similar outfits, they recall fondly the experience of gaining such traction at a young age. “I definitely didn't think that 10 years down the line we would still be doing this. Looking back, I'm just surprised that we were able to get through it. We were just lost kids, figuring it out as we went along. That's what I think whenever I look back on that time in my life,” Hamm admits.

In agreement, Kerekes adds, “there were good times, but there were also really rough times in terms of whatever was happening in life. I have really fond memories of that time, but I wouldn’t want to re-experience it though, to be honest.” Whilst Hamm and Kerekes remain as the original members of Citizen, Ben Russin of Title Fight recently joined as a full-time member. Having effectively managed the group and toured with them, Russin’s presence seems to be a natural fit. His punchy, raw drumming is ever-present on Calling The Dogs, with the album itself clocking in at just under 34 minutes. For all the embellishments that Citizen add in their sound, Hamm still uses the same guitar amplifier that he’s had since high school. “I can’t imagine using anything other than my Marshall JCM 800. I think gatekeeping your pedal setup is weird, so I don’t mind when fans want to take photos of it at shows or ask me a bunch of questions about it, I'm not too precious about it!”


With rhythm guitarist and frequent touring member Mason Mercer also committing to join full-time, the band’s adapted lineup has seen them merge all their individual writing styles – and it’s produced their most free-spirited sounding record to date. Whilst the record characteristically still boasts influences from mid-2000’s garage rock and indie punk influences, as well as the short run time, the songs on the album almost feel on the nose for its brevity. Kerekes is quick to clarify that the length of each album is never goal-oriented but very much whatever fits the vibe at the time. “On Calling The Dogs, it just happened to be that the songs are just faster, so that’s why it feels like they're over quicker, it’s as simple as that!” he grins.

On the tracks, the album’s debut single, “If You’re Lonely”, is an instant hit of dopamine that hints at a huge impact in a live setting. Elsewhere, cuts like “Hyper Trophy” and “Can’t Take It Slow” demonstrate perfectly that Citizen are leaders in creating sticky, ear-worm melodies over hip-shaking inducing rhythms, a far cry from their easycore, pop-punk origins.

In keeping with consistency for every album, Citizen explain that they’ve found comfort with changing their styles based on what the members thought was cool or loved at the time. For Kerekes, initially paying attention to negative fan feedback was something he eventually learned to filter out, even as early as their second recordEverybody Is Going To Heaven. “Realistically, Youth was a snapshot in our lives. We know some of the fans weren’t happy and sometimes we paid too much attention to everything going on to a fault. So, we said to ourselves, ‘do we want to make music that we’re proud of and love or are we going to pander?’ Ultimately, we chose the first option.” Hamm backs up this notion wholeheartedly: “when you think of movie directors, most of them want the opportunity to tell a different story, and that’s very much how we view Citizen. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you do the same thing over and over again.”

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Alongside Calling The Dogs, Kerekes released his 4th solo record, You Look Like A Stranger in April 2023, his most “hashed out” record to date that skipped the conventional songwriting method of working on demos over and over again. To this day however, it’s hard sometimes for critics to differentiate between the projects despite the sonic differences. “Citizen is always gonna be heavier hitting, faster paced with all our voices coming together. That being said, I think people wrongly assume that if I’m not screaming my head off people are just gonna compare it to my solo music,” Kerekes shrugs. “They’re gonna think what they think, and if it's incorrect there’s not really much I can do about it, right?”

One of the stand out cuts from Calling The Dogs is the frantic but stripped back “Needs”, still dripping with Kerekes’s self-described “sassy” lyricism that fans are so fond of. Kerekes says Hamm wanted to keep the rawness of the Iphone demo that circulated in the band’s box of ideas for months, but with bigger production values.

Closing cut “Takes One to Know One” is arguably one of Kerekes most scathingly personal tracks to date, a musical response to his mother who he describes as a “textbook narcissist.” Fans were taken by surprise when in 2017, Kerekes took to Instagram to post an angry account of the upset and frustration she had caused his family. Whilst he is able to recognise now that at that time he was explosive and had a “big temper,” stand out lyrics such as “I was made to be a man, a grown man at thirteen while you’ve never missed a meal” seems a pointed message.

“I don’t speak to her anymore at this time in my life,” Kerekes states, with a clear sense that he has long since made peace with the situation. “Growing up, she was always out for herself… So that particular line essentially means that me and all my siblings had to raise ourselves. My mom would come home with food but just for her. We would always just be stuck eating the cereal that was in the cabinet. I didn't have a bad childhood by any means, my mom was definitely not a good parent.”

Despite their global success, Hamm and Kerekes still have a lot of time for their local scene and continue to keep an eye on new bands still trying to find their feet. “Matt just took a band called Equipment out on tour who are doing amazing stuff. We love bringing our friends across the world with us. The Drug Church tour in the UK is going to be a very special time for us – we love coming back to places and relearning how to fall in love with them – and the people that make them up – all over again.”

Calling The Dogs is out now via Run For Cover Records.

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