Tracy Nguyen

Citizen Checks All Their Own Boxes

Right now, the world of rock band Citizen is just as it should be: simple and honest, a canvas of who they always have been. The art is not something out of the ordinary – it is just them revamped and revitalized. It is nothing existential or dystopian – merely a personable of a rock reality being discovered and delivered straight from the source. 

For many bands, taking control of their sound and style is a turning point in their career. For Citizen, it was learning to come together as equals, and actually the addition of an outsider, too, that created such a turning point. Calling The Dogs, their most recent album that kicked off this intentionally-curated journey, is the band’s first non-self-produced LP in six years. Rob Schnapf was brought into the mix for this… and it changed everything. This record is refreshingly aware, forward thinking, and – for lack of a better word – courteous. The alternative rock quintet, as frontman Mat Kerekes told us exclusively, worked hard to cater to every possible listener; including themselves, their inner fan, and the influences that have evolved directly alongside their discography. (Hence, a record and year-at-large filled with quick bursts of energy and camaraderie, insanely catchy hardcore tunes, and an innate sense of self reflection.) 

They’re not just an emo band. They never have been, really, so Calling The Dogs is especially not just another album to pick your favorites off of for your moody, noisy, alternative playlists. Here and now, Citizen is sleek, inspired, collaborative, and free of boundaries placed on them by the media, the fans, or even their most honest indie selves. However, most importantly, we must note that Citizen is in their most earnest state of performance. Now is a uniquely important time to have your eye on this evolving band, because seeing them tear up a stage in 2023 is arguably the best time to experience the hits live, as they are set to be interspersed within the latest LP’s fan favorites and deep cuts. It’s a confident, diverse, genuine tour thanks to that of Schnapf and the reigniting of the joint Citizen flame.

They have not turned away from their origins, but rather honed in on all they have ever had under their belt to create this royal amalgamation of modern rock and roll. Something was festering under the surface, but it is here now in the form of Calling The Dogs and being experienced live night after night. We have so many magnetic musicians to thank for this discovery seeing the light of day, but few more than frontman Kerekes himself.

So, we did.

Calling The Dogs is fantastic in how it simplifies what you guys are doing. Each song, for the most part, is not the longest in your discography. On an album like Everybody’s Going to Heaven, a lot of the songs were close to four minutes. Many of the songs on Calling The Dogs are in the two minute to two-and-a-half minute range. It feels like you and the band are really getting your point across, making the music, and having this little burst of energy and style and coolness and modernity. Part of the reason I think the album is being enjoyed so thoroughly is how not dragged out it is. 

Yeah, and I especially feel like in older Citizen albums, sometimes when I listen to those songs, I’m like, “Oh, did that really need a third course? Did that song really need those 30 seconds of music and a drone-y mid-tempo break?” [Laughs] Maybe some people do, but I feel like as a songwriter at this point, I only want it to feel exciting. We just want to trim as much fat as we can away and get straight to the point of being fast and aggressive and complete. That’s what we’re into right now.

I love it, and like I said, it’s simplified not in a way where it’s easy, but it’s getting the point across. Nothing is overdone and it all falls into place. Something that Citizen has always done well, though, and something that I’ve talked to many fans about over the years, is tracklisting. There’s a really cool flow on this LP where each song can kind of stand on its own, yet they all come together well. 

Oh, good! That’s usually not my doing; Nick and Mason were the brainchild of the tracklisting here. I’m pretty sure we all sat down and it was kind of like, “Let’s make each of our own tracklists and let’s compare and see if we’re on the same page.” I’m pretty sure mine was just totally all over the place. [Laughs] I felt like I didn’t know anything! Nick [Hamm]and Mason [Mercer]’s were pretty close, though, so we thought if they’re on the same page, we should build off that one.

Hey, you’re just enjoying the music you made, so the order doesn’t really matter. You should be proud to be able to just listen and love the songs you worked hard on! Some people might just hear the story differently, but not necessarily better. I actually think that’s a really cool process for you guys to be able to embark on and talk about to maybe discover new things about each song, the tone of the album, or even just each other.

Totally. That’s actually been a big thing: learning to trust each other and each other’s opinions and each other’s ideas. In earlier iterations of the band, everybody would just battle. We were younger. We had pride and egos. It feels good to be at a point where none of us have any of that; we’re just willing to hear each other out, and nobody’s willing to die on hills. We’re at a point that when we’re together it’s like, “Oh, ok. That’s the way you feel? You feel strongly about that? Ok, then I’m down.”

I bet that feels very rewarding to you now – having that relationship be built over time with honest conversations. I’d like to think that those conversations are what made this superb record and opened the door to this new era for you guys. 


Now, I listened to this album a bunch and I thought that “Takes One To Know One” is the ultimate closer. Did anyone disagree on that or have other placement ideas? It captures a great energy and actually that camaraderie that we’re talking about, as well.

I definitely didn’t have that one as the closer, but I am more on board with it at this point. It’s not that I was ever necessarily against it, but when I just did my version of the [tracklist], I thought the slowest song should just go last at the very end. And Nick was like, “No, we should go out with this one because it’s sort of left field and we should want to go out on our own terms.” That is essentially what he said. I was like, “Ok, I actually really like that. I’m down.”

Going off of that, out of that moment when you guys were piecing this album together, what was it like coming up with what singles you were to put out ahead of it all? Did you know right away what song was going to be the one that comes out first as a single or the others that ultimately followed it up? 

There definitely is a gut instinct and overall feeling of knowing that one is everybody’s favorite. Picking singles for this record, though, was especially difficult. We knew “Hypertrophy” was gonna be a single, but we all really liked “If You’re Lonely.” The wall we were running into was, “Well, if we put out, ‘If You’re Lonely,’ are people gonna think that we exclusively sound like this?” Because the record, to me, is pretty dynamic and kind of all over the place. We eventually got over that, though, and we were just like, “Let’s just put it out. ‘If You’re Lonely’ going first will be a fun curveball. ‘Hypertrophy’ should be the second then.” 

I feel like Citizen is always mixing it up… and that’s not really intentional! When we go to write songs, it’s not like, “Ok, this album has to be like this because the last one was like that.” We just start writing songs and usually they end up being different because we’re influenced by different things years later. Also, people online make up their minds so fast, so when you’re picking singles and stuff, it’s like, “Well, if we pick the wrong first single and it’s a different sound than the record, some people might not like it and then just not give the rest of the record a chance.” Those are thoughts we have a lot. I’m glad we always ultimately land on doing what we feel is best, but, yeah, definitely a concern.

I unfortunately understand that and see it frequently, as well. For Citizen, especially, as Youth just turned 10, you think about how that was kind of on the cusp of listening to music on your phone, streaming services, and things like that. You make a great point about how people online make up their minds really quickly and might not revisit something if they didn’t like the first thing they got. Having that focus, seeing what playlists and stations songs might land on could be the most beneficial. Sometimes you’ll see a deep cut in a large scale playlist that will make you wonder why it wasn’t a single and why it didn’t get its own life, but now it’s getting that organically years later. Anyway, Mat, it’s good to hear that you and the band are taking the time and paying attention to those little idiosyncrasies within the songs that go out into the world.

Thank you. We’re really trying to find the happy medium within playing the game and also doing it how we’re used to doing it. We used to just put out the record and we played some shows. We’ve never really done interviews. We never focused on playlists or anything. It was just kind of like, “Ok, here’s the record! Now we’re gonna go out and hopefully people come to the shows!” Now we get on these meetings and it’s talking about TikTok and Spotify, playlisting and algorithms, and I’m just like, “Whoa, I don’t even know what’s happening right now.” [Laughs]. It’s all a lot. Adapting to the new age of releasing music is sort of difficult – for me, at least, and not that I’m necessarily very old or anything, but compared to when we were first doing this, it is just a lot different. 

We always want to be an album band. We don’t want to be the ‘single band’ and we don’t wanna put out a million singles so that we release an album and three different eps and then put all those songs on it together. I just don’t like that personally. We’re trying to adapt with the modern way of doing things while also keeping it how we like it, you know?

Definitely. Youth was 10 years ago and 10 years, in some ways, feels like a long time. However, in other ways it feels like yesterday. Citizen is still a strong band, especially for us original fans and more traditional music listeners, and I think that makes a decade feel shorter because not much has changed – you’re still the band making the music you want to.

Well, I’m glad. That’s what we hope, so thank you [Laughs].

Are there any songs off this new record or from this era that you’re really keen on getting out there, to play live and pick people’s brains about?

My favorite song on the record is a song called “Needs.” It’s got this really fun bouncy vibe and I really, really like the vocals. I will say that I think it’s an energy that Citizen has never tapped into. I remember when I did that demo for it – we were on tour and I did it on my phone on GarageBand and it sounded pretty horrible. I showed everybody and nobody seemed to care about it at all, which bummed me out at the time, but then it was funny because we got together at a cabin in Ohio about a month before we recorded in LA to learn all the songs and teach each other everything, and it came back around. We were kind of hashing out some structural things and I brought up “Needs” and people were like, “You never sent me this one! This one’s awesome!” I was like, “I did, but nobody liked it… or at least I thought nobody liked it.” Then, when we first played it together, it just immediately sounded so good, so locked in, and so fun. It was a really cool moment. Now I am really excited about it.

Is it one to play live with that energy you mentioned? Actually, Mat, what is it like to make a setlist with a fifth LP out and just so much in your catalog that fans want to hear? You do have one of the most dedicated fan bases I have ever experienced, and that is truly coming from a positive place.

I love the Citizen community. Everybody is so cool and nice for the most part. We try to stay engaged with them whether that be through Discord or online communities as best we can. We really want to keep the people who ride with us, The Citizen Diehards, well-fed with communication and content. We do the best we can. So, when we’re doing the setlist, we do know the songs that people mostly want to hear, and we want to cater to everybody, you know? Wth having five LPs, it’s gonna be more difficult and some things are gonna have to be cut, but we would never do a show out of spite and say, “Well, these are songs we want to play and that’s it!” Ultimately I’ll play anything. I don’t care, and that’s because I appreciate every iteration of a Citizen and I appreciate anyone who likes any album or even just any one song  that they like. I want to please everybody. We’re picking out the setlist, we make sure we’re gonna hit everything from all angles and try to keep everybody happy. You can never keep everybody happy – somebody’s always gonna be disappointed – but we definitely do the best we can.

When people want something, they want it really badly, and so they want it probably for a reason, right? Even within the band – they don’t want their song choices to and their favorites become the ‘forgotten child,’ and I get that.

Right, and the flow of the set is important, too. Like people want to hear this and that, but you can just totally kill a show by putting a song in the wrong place… it’ll ruin the whole show. I mean, we’ve done it a million times. We’ve ruined [Laughs] a lot of shows by doing bad sets, but I feel like we’ve kind of gotten the hang of what flows the best. That’s a good and a bad thing, actually, because then it’s like, “Well, guys, do we stray away and take the risk?” It really is kind of difficult, but like I said, we love the fans and we want to please everybody with what is decided and played out on stage.

You did do Youth pretty much cover-to-cover for its aforementioned 10 year anniversary. What was that like? Did it make you guys want to do a special run for all the albums?

I’m not sure. I do think that we’ll at least have some sort of show for each one, because the Youth 10 year run wasn’t a full tour. We kind of just wanted to hit most regions and keep it as more of a celebration and less of a cash grab. I was kind of like, “Let’s do a few shows and make them really special and really big and that’ll keep it honest.” That was the whole intention behind it. I do hope we do an Everybody’s Going to Heaven 10 year show, though… and As You Please and [Life In Your] Glass World. You know, I hope that’s what happens actually, but like I said earlier, we just take it day by day. That time isn’t here yet, so we’re not really thinking about it.

We definitely are not trying to rush anything. I want Calling The Dogs to have a really big moment for itself. I mean, five records is no small feat, especially in the rock world these days where hitmakers come and go. Citizen is so solidified in its fans, though, and in celebrating the music that you have made and that you continue to make. Even the vinyl reissue of Youth made me really happy, and that calls back to what we were talking about earlier with kind of how Citizen was on the verge of this big breakout moment on the internet, but you are still rooted in really cool traditional aspects like vinyl, a good LP release, and a focus on setlists and tracklists. It’s an exciting time to be walking that line as both a fan and the band itself.

Totally. I think the longevity of Citizen is directly associated with the fact that we’re constantly evolving and doing what we ultimately just want to do. We hope we please people, but if we’re unhappy, then what’s the point? It’s worked in our favor this long, and maybe eventually it won’t, but, right now we’re just going with it – doing it all carefully and still evolving, but sticking to what we know and love for ourselves.