Before their concert at the Observatory in North Park, I got the chance to interview guitarist and original member Nick Hamm of Citizen. A long time staple in the post-hardcore, emo, and shoegaze scene, Citizen is touring to celebrate 10 years of their debut album “Youth” along with their most recent album “Calling The Dogs”.

Citizen has been around for almost 15 years now, what would you say has been the key to the band’s longevity?

The early years almost don’t count for me, because we were just friends messing around. And I think the longevity is in that because a lot of bands will start with the intention of being a band, whereas for us it was just kind of second nature. If we weren’t doing Citizen we’d probably still be doing other music with each other, it’s kind of like the only thing we know.

Was there ever a plan B for you, or was it going to be the music and nothing else but the music?

It wasn’t necessarily that it had to be just the music, but I didn’t have a backup plan. I knew that music was what I would ideally like to do, but I think I speak on behalf of everybody that we didn’t really plan for the music thing and we didn’t really plan for anything else. It was kind of like we all went blindly into this and then things started to happen, like signing to Run For Cover Records. It started to look like, well maybe we can do this full time which was really hard for a long time because we made no money doing it for a lot of the time we’ve been in the band. We just kept going and just tripped and fell into the life instead of trying to go into it.

Talking about signing with Run For Cover Records and the earlier days, when you guys released “Youth” your debut studio album, would you say that was the we made it moment as a band?

Honestly at the time it wasn’t, because it has taken a long time for that album to become what it is now. People probably think that when Youth came out we started playing venues like this and sold out shows, but we weren’t. Youth came out and we were still in the trenches I thought. We were still playing small shows to small crowds and as the years went on and we released more albums it became more clear that this is a special album to people. There was a movement at that time that in hindsight, Youth was a part of. The whole tumblr thing, and Youth entered that whole realm of music and culture. But we really didn’t know what Youth was until we did shows celebrating it this year, that it was bigger than I ever realized. 

Since Youth, you guys have dropped four more albums. Would you say writing has gotten easier over time or more difficult to write new music?

For me it’s harder. It was easier for me when I was young and hungry and now Matt and I don’t live in the same city so it is more difficult. But for him it has gotten easier, he can just pump out songs like it’s nothing and I’m jealous of that. I think part of it is the aspirations change. Now I’m thinking about writing things I never would have thought about at 18. Now I am thinking of how to redefine Citizen where as just trying to sound like what inspired me when we were just starting.

Your brother is also an original member of the band as well, what’s that like having him there?

Every major milestone I’ve had my brothers been right there with me and that’s been sick. The other pro honestly, is that you’re going to butt heads being in a band. When I butt heads with Eric it’s more intense than anyone else, but we make up 5 minutes later. And if anyone else jumps in then we both turn on them. That’s my guy and I love being in a band with my brother, and I think that’s another key to longevity as well. We are tethered together for life anyway, why not make something cool out of it.

Is there a difficulty between balancing the job aspect of being a musician vs. still being able to enjoy doing what you love?

Absolutely, I think the job aspect in general is very poisonous to the whole idea of what we do. I think the second business enters the equation, it loses something. I think that’s true with any artist. When it’s real you can feel it. When there is a young band pre having a manager and booking agent or anything like that, there is something so special about that and you never get that back once you get involved in the music industry. I am very thankful that this is something we can do for a career and I know it won’t last forever and I think I have the best job in the world. At the same time the music industry is toxic and is difficult to deal with. I’ve been doing this for so long you have to just remember that special thing that you had when you first started.

What’s the hardest thing about going on tour for you?

The general answer is comfort, it’s difficult being away from home for an extended period of time. Overall, I love touring and when I’m home too long that kills me too. The grass is always greener right, when I’m home I’m desperate to go on tour and when I’m on tour I’m desperate to get home. I think if I didn’t have that desire to always be doing the next thing I’d go crazy.

One tour story you’ll never forget?

Our first full US tour in 2012, you’ll always meet some characters touring because you’re pretty much crashing at people’s houses. We were staying at a house and we were so freaked out by the guy we just locked ourselves in the room, and there was another band in there with us. We were all just locked in the room and would not even go out to use the bathroom.

What City?

Salt Lake city, imagine that.

You guys just released “Calling The Dogs” at the beginning of October, are you planning on sitting back and enjoying yourselves or are you ready to start writing more?

We already started writing. It’s kind of crazy, we never rest. We’ll get home and be chilling, it’s not like we are in the lab everyday but we keep moving. 

Dream jam lineup? 

My favorite guitarist of all time is Robbie Robertson, who was in the band and played for Bob Dylan who just passed. He’s my g.o.a.t. and it’s funny because I think country musicians are the greatest musicians I could name off a million. At one point I would have said Ben from Title Fight, but now he’s in our band so that worked out. And of course, my brother on bass. Basically, Citizen with Robbie Robertson.

Do you notice a difference between how the crowds are when you guys are playing in different regions of the country?

I’m not just saying this because we are in California but California has the best energy forsure. We could just only tour California. It’s where we are best received and the energy is sick. You go to the east coast and it’s totally different. I can’t believe how different a New York show is from here. I think the cold makes people a little more stiff. In the midwest, we are just freaks out there, people are a little more freaky.

A question as old as time, what three things are you bringing with you on a deserted island?

SPF. If I’m on an island I gotta have sunscreen. Been on a skincare kick. My girlfriend, she’s coming with me. And I’m taking a stove. I gotta cook and I’ll find a way to figure out electricity. 

What has it meant to you being able to see and express your growth the the growth of the ones around you through music?

It’s huge. I feel like people that have been tapped into Citizen since the beginning have seen us grow up in real time and that’s a rare thing. Most people grow and fail privately and we’ve done it in front of people. I think I didn’t know how to handle that when I was younger, but I think it’s cool. I’m stoked on how long it’s lasted. You come in and out of feeling passionate about it and we always come together to fight through it. I’m interested to see how much longer it will go for, and if it doesn’t I’m stoked that we got to do it all. 

Is there a moment in your career where if you could go back and change something you would?

The cliche is never regret anything because you landed where you are, but I think that’s a little dishonest for anyone to say. In terms of Citizen the band I’ve been pretty proud of the things we’ve done. There are things we did and at the time I wasn’t sure if I thought it fit our agenda, but then we did it and it turned out to be the best thing we could have done at the time. 

Any final thoughts, advice or words of wisdom?

I think people should start bands. In my city, Toledo, there aren’t enough bands. It’s dry out there. Take three friends, take two friends, start a band and suck. Who cares, it doesn’t have to be good. Young people being out there and performing too, not just in your bedroom. Music scenes need it, and we are in an age where it is too easy for this all to crumble. 

All Photos by Jayden Jackson