The Disappearing Angst of Citizen

Citizen lead guitarist Nick Hamm talks about fleeting angst, his art, and past albums

I will be the first to admit that I’m not the most knowledgeable when it comes to the post-hardcore, emo scene -- am I saying that correctly? Sure, I know Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Basement, but I feel as though that's the equivalent of knowing who Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong are when it comes to jazz. 

I digress.

What I do know, is that the Michigan/Ohio-based post-hardcore quintet, Citizen stood out to me while rummaging through the San Diego concert calendar. I spoke with 24-year-old guitarist and visual artist, Nick Hamm, over the phone prior to the band’s July 12 show at the Irenic.

Approaching a decade, the relatively youthful crew behind Citizen manage to retain their raw, underground appeal that made them attractive back when they were rapscallions in high school. I told Hamm that that was one of the band’s highlights. “Not turning into sissy la-las” were my exact words.

“[Laughs] We definitely don’t want to sound too buttoned-up,” Hamm said. “I don’t ever want to play rock music that just sounds professional, because that’s not rock music to me.”

But what about the ‘angst’ that boils within Citizen’s discography? Over the phone, Hamm is effortlessly polite and kind, showing no signs of wanting to yell or curse at me. Where is this angst coming from? Hamm had the answers:

“You know, I think as time goes on, the angst kind of disappears in a sense,” he said. “It becomes angst about different things. I think any angst that we would feel now is more about the political climate. Whereas when we were starting, any angst we had was about insecurities and relationships. It’s just a bit different now. It’s kind of interesting that the records we were making at that time, they are still very real to people -- they still exist -- and you just start to feel so different than you did then. So it’s kind of interesting as time goes on; like the way people still gravitate towards the things that, maybe, were not necessarily as important in our lives as they once were, but I think that’s cool that people are still enjoying the things that we made when were coming out of high school. I think that’s sweet.”

Besides creating the angsty guitar parts for Citizen, Hamm is also responsible for the band’s artwork and album covers. Something that he considers a convenience.

“Even if it wasn’t me, it’s nice to have somebody that can hold down the overall aesthetic,” He said. “It’s nice when things come around that we need art for. We don’t have to hire out and trust somebody else to execute a vision that we have to communicate via text or email or whatever. It feels very in our control and we’ve always liked that. We like to keep as much in-house as we can. So that kind of traced over to that aspect of the band. If we can, we like to take friends on tour versus hiring random people, it’s just always been our vibe that we like to keep things in the family a bit. So, I think thats really important to me -- I’m glad that I can do that to the best of my ability.”

Citizen’s first San Diego appearance was back in 2013 during that time when Anthology and 4th & B were closing down -- Hamm and I couldn’t figure out which venue cancelled their show before they made it to town. Whatever venue it was, it was a blessing in disguise as the Irenic came to the rescue.

“I remember the church was pretty much the only venue to do the show,” Hamm reminisced. “This was with Polar Bear Club, Diamond Youth and Sainthood Reps and we just loved it! It was one of the best shows of the tour and I think we’ve played there like, four or five other times since then. It’s comfortable and the staff is really cool so we have a great time whenever we’re there -- I’m sure this time will be no different.”

Citizen headline the Irenic on Thursday, July 12, with Teenage Wrist, Oso Oso and Queen of Jeans opening. Doors are at 6 p.m. and the show is all ages. Tickets are available online here.

Musician, people-pleaser, lover, fighter and writer Matthew Craig Burke has been spewing musical words of wisdom since never. He lives off of peanut butter sandwiches, beer and Beck Hansen. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.

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