Stage Times: Citizen

Vocalist Mat Kerekes leads us through Citizen's history of first, smallest, biggest and best gigs

In the ten years that Citizen have been coming over to the UK to play, no tour has ever been the same. Much of that comes down to how the band have shapeshifted sonically over the years, never content with sticking to one sound or style. 

From the downtrodden earnestness of their seminal debut, Youth, and the ethereal existentialism of Everybody Is Going To Heaven, through to the razor-sharp alt-rock of 2021’s Life In Your Glass World, they have dipped their toes in a plethora of pools. In turn, that has allowed them to pick up a just as varied fan base, and that’s something that vocalist Mat Kerekes is immensely proud of.

“The cool thing about Citizen is that it’s always a snapshot of the time we’re in”, he remarks proudly. “Whatever we’re excited about and whatever we’re consuming, that’s what we choose to write some songs like. For whatever reason, it’s just pulled people from different places, and those people keep me going. Now you go to a Citizen show, and everybody from those places gets together. It’s cohesive because everybody feeds off each other’s energy. It’s a really cool thing, and we’re really lucky to be in that position.”

Citizen - How Does It Feel? (Official Music Video)

Never taking that position for granted, Citizen have seen many bands come, go and completely disappear in the time between first sharpening their teeth on stage and eventually sinking them into a long career. For Kerekes, the secret is something simple, pure and straightforward. Friendship comes first, always. 

“First and foremost, we are all friends,” he nods. “We’re not just bandmates. Nobody is a hired gun. And we all love music, right? Creating together will never be exciting because we are all music fans more than anything else. Everybody in the band is always eager to listen to new things, and that’s so important. You’ve got to keep on expanding your palette. You hear something and then wonder how you can do your version of it. It keeps things so exciting. If I kept trying to rewrite Youth repeatedly, it wouldn’t even be fun to me. I think that’s why the vibe is always so good, because we are always so hungry.”

Citizen - "If You're Lonely" (Official Music Video)

And that energy reverberates throughout every inch of their latest offering, Calling The Dogs. Sprinkled with as much vibrant indie rock glitter as sun-stained pop clarity, it’s a collection of songs for the good and great times. And for Kerekes, it’s a lesson in what it means to do what makes you happy, because you never know when that opportunity might pass.

“We are having more fun playing now than ever before,” he muses. “Right before the pandemic was a dark time in the Citizen world. Throughout it, we wondered whether this thing had run its course. But once we got back out there and got to play shows again, it felt like we were doing better than ever. Live rock music came back in a big way, and it really lit a fire under our ass.”

Which is what they are doing right now as they head back to the UK for a string of shows, some of their biggest ever headliners on this side of the Atlantic. The opportunity to play in places that would have once been just a pipe-dream will always make Kerekes smile or, in many cases, get the waterworks going. 

“It’s so cool to know that I’m from Michigan, and there’s the chance to hear hundreds of people singing a song I wrote in my bedroom all the way over on the other side of the world. That’s amazing. It always makes you feel a certain way. The feeling always gets me on stage. I’m such a happy crier, and at some point in the set, I can’t stop myself. It’s always so special.”

To prepare for their return to the UK, we asked Kerekes to walk through a selection of their most memorable shows on this side of the Atlantic…

Citizen - "I Want to Kill You" (Official Music Video)

The first

“The first UK show we played was in Norwich at Epic Studios in 2014. I can’t remember too much about the show specifically, but I remember all the shows on that tour being amazing. I actually remember the trip to the UK more than anything. I’m very much a homebody and not too keen on travel, and I remember a friend of mine, before we even booked the tour, saying to me, ‘Do not go to the UK. The shows suck over there’. He played in a hardcore band at the time, clearly a band that nobody knew if he had that experience… It made me scared to head over even more than I already was. But when it came time to go, I was like, ‘This is f*cking awesome, what are you talking about?’. I had low expectations, and they were immediately blown out of the water.

 “We played with Diamond Youth and Headroom on that tour. We were lucky to play with such amazing bands, and that is the story of Citizen. We had put out the right album at the right time and subsequently went overseas at the same time as well. It was our first time ever overseas for anything. We were grinding, and to be able to go and see people be so excited for us to be there was all so crazy. It made it feel like we were doing the right thing.”

The smallest

“That was at The Fighting Cocks in Kingston. It’s such a dark little venue at the back of a pub. It was tiny and really hot. We were sweating our way through the set, for sure. It was so hectic and I was really nervous before it as well. I feel like that’s because I feel more on display at those smaller shows than at bigger shows. It’s still the same feeling today. If there’s a large crowd, you’re the one trying to keep the energy going in your own space. But in those smaller rooms, the crowd is more like, ‘I’m watching you, so you better do good’. It’s constantly humbling to be in that space and to test yourself. You know you really have to bring your A-game in those situations, which is what I always aim to do.”

Citizen - "In the Middle of It All" (Official Music Video)

 The biggest

“I would have to say it was at Outbreak Festival back in 2022. That was one of the biggest crowds we have ever played to, period. There was an energy in that room that was so thick and intense. I remember popping my head out before we played and knowing that we were going to have a great set. To be honest, every band was having a great set that day. 

“I was nervous though, as you never know if anyone will come. But going over and seeing how many people came to listen, it felt cool. We hadn’t been to the UK for so long at that point and coming back to that sort of reaction was absolutely psychotic. It made us really excited to come back on a proper tour. We sometimes forget just how much support we get over here, and it made us happy to know that it was still there. 

“Also, watching the Basement comeback set felt like watching Gods at work. It felt like such an important moment to be a part of. There was a time in my life when I felt like I didn’t care about what was going on. Everything cool that we were doing was going straight over my head. Moments like this made me feel how stupid I was to ever feel that way. It made me think a lot about not taking things for granted and trying to live in the here and now more.”

Citizen - The Summer (Official Music Video)

 The best

“It was in Glasgow, and it was insane. It was our first time there on that first tour, playing at Audio, and it was just chaos. It was the sort of show that you feel like shouldn’t be possible for an emo band like us. Somebody stole my hat right off my head during the set, I remember that clearly. 

“I also remember that there was a really cool gym next to the venue. It was a hardcore bodybuilding place, which was so great for me. I was able to work out all day, then cross the road and play this amazing show. It was such a weird thing to experience, and it felt so good doing it on the other side of the world. I just remember watching people crawling over the top of each other to reach us on the stage and reach the mic. It was definitely up there with my most memorable moments for sure.”

Citizen play Glasgow on the 6 February, and Bristol on 9 February. Find tickets here.