Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Interview - Sea of Bees


Sea of Bees is the musical project of Sacramento based singer-songwriter Julie Ann Bee, described as 'the female Sparklehorse'. After support slots with The Smoke Fairies and John Grant, she has embarked on a European tour promoting her critically acclaimed debut album Songs For The Ravens which has received praise from top journalists and musicians including Grandaddy's Jason Lytle. I spoke to Jules at her Norwich Arts Centre show about the impact this attention has had on her.

Songs For The Ravens is being incredibly well received everywhere since its release, how does that feel?


I feel really good about it, it’s really unexpected. I think I still don’t get it though, I just kinda do my thing, play my music...


Did its popularity take you by surprise at all?


Yeah, I didn’t expect anything. It was just like I was making an album because I always wanted to, never knew how to, didn’t know how to play music, never was taught so it was kinda like you wouldn’t think by not knowing how to do these certain things by reaching a goal you thought was impossible I guess.


How long was the album in the pipeline before you decided to record?


When I was 16 I wanted to record stuff but never had the fans. But I met John (Bacciagaluppi - producer) it was just kinda like a random thing, my friend were recording in his studio and I was out in the hallway, they had a skate ramp and stuff and I was hanging out there playing the guitar and he walked by and he was like ‘you know it’d be cool if we go out together, maybe you could record a few songs’ so I was like ‘alright!’. I’d never been in a legit studio before and his was legit, everyone’s been in there! He was like ‘have you got songs?’, I’m like ‘yeah I got songs’ but really I had no songs, I had no idea. But that’s how I got into the studio stuff.


Did you know what shape the album was going to take prior to recording and how much did John’s input alter the finished result compared to your original vision (if at all)?


The next album I know exactly what I wanna do. You know Nigel (Godrich) who did Beck? He is a big inspiring person. I kinda want that sparkle to it. John has always been into that kinda stuff so he just kinda puts his touch on it and I think the next album’s just gonna be really colourful and filtery and very smooth cos with the Sea Change album (by Beck), you listen to it and you can hear every sparkle and feeling that he’s going through. I have a lot to put in this next album, it’s not just recording-wise, it’s more just a whole story, a new chapter. I think I’m gonna call it Orange Farbe, it’s like ‘the colour orange’ in German.


Are you looking to take a particularly drastic new direction in the sound of the second album or will it be the same with subtlties altered?


I think it’s gonna be, not shooting for different, but I’m influenced a lot by Neil Young, Sparklehorse, Beck and Flaming Lips, just that different worldly sound. I think it’s going in that direction. The last song that we recorded for the next album is kinda like Neil Young/Brain Eno, just strange texture but the story is still there though, the Sea of Bees touch is definitely on it.


You recently toured with John Grant, what was it like to support him?


It was great, I think we’re both like aliens. He’s so sweet and we meshed well. I’d love to just go bother him like ‘John, John!’ and he’d be like ‘Hi Jules, I’m just resting my voice right now’. He’d be all sweet to me and encourage me a lot. We would meet up at the venues and hang out a bit and then do our thing and call it a night. It wasn’t like a party every night which is actually what I needed cos the tour with The Smoke Fairies was fun but every night we’d go out and just be raging til like 3 in the morning and having hotel parties and I’m like ‘I need a break’. So he was perfect.


How are you finding the reception of your material in the UK compared to back home? Is there a noticable difference?


Well before yeah, when I came at the beginning of the year it was really different because no one’s ever heard of me. So touring with The Smoke Fairies, we were playing in front of hundreds of people and I was like ‘woah!’ That was just a different feel. Then all of a sudden Heavenly (Records) throws together this Heavenly tour and still I wasn’t knowing there’d be quite a few people there, I was received really well. In America, before this year there wouldn’t be that many people but now if the UK puts a stamp on something, America’s like ‘we’re into you, we’re gonna fucking show up if the UK likes you’. So this last tour I did with Stornoway, loads of people would come out. It was cool, it felt nice. I wasn’t angry like ‘you didn’t care about me before!’ but it’s been really good, just taking it as it comes.


You’re playing Latitude Festival this weekend, how does playing festivals compare to playing your own show?


It’s cool, it’s like a big gathering of all your kindred. You get your bands that you admire, and you get your fans and your friends. I like it, it’s a big bowl of colour. When you’re by yourself you go with it, I get a little intimidated cos there’s people and I get socially awkward, I think everyone does.


Is there more pressure on one rather than the other, like at a festival you’re there to win over fans whereas at your own gig they come with certain expectations of the music because they’ve heard of you before?


Yeah it’s just so intimate but when there’s other bands it’s more like ‘oh I’m gonna go see blah blah blah’, it’s not a distraction but there’s not one focus.

Your voice is so distinctive, which vocalists do you admire?


Oh goodness! I started out with Jeremy Enigk from the Sunny Day Real Estate when I was younger, about 18. Then vocally I started listening to Coldplay when I was 18 too and try to hit the low notes and then I really got into Conor Oberst because of his honesty and frailty. I never really listened to Joanna Newsom or any of those people that people compare me to. I can see it though, it’s just really strange. Bjork, I never listened to her but it’s a compliment. But now I’m listening to them and I admire a lot of vocalists. Oh, I love Dirty Projectors, their vocals are so abstract.


What is it about Jeremy Enigk that you like so much?


He’s passionate and there’s a rage in his voice but from what I’ve seen he’s the sweetest person. So there’s just this deep darkness to him and I’m not about darkness it’s just there’s something really mysterious about his voice, like the Frog Queen solo album, it’s raw and his voice just hits these ranges like David Bowie, it goes up and down and there’s no solid dynamics, it’s really cool.


Have any gigs on your European tour stood out for you?


Yeah, Birmingham was great, the people were really sweet and inviting. I really enjoyed that, the sound was great and I felt really comfortable to be there. Glastonbury was a kick, just the sound, the people. The London rooftops shows are really cool, they’re like exclusive but really well done. Anika from Bella Union put those together, she was really good with that. They’re really fancy, really nice gardens around, really nice beers. There’s more, there are just so many but those are the few that stick out in my mind.


How much time do you spend writing a song?


It depends, even right now I’m writing this song and usually I’ll get a melody in about a day, like really fast but then it’ll take me a while to think of what I want to talk about or sing about. So I guess maybe a week or so. There’s about a good four solid songs that we’re working on right now.


Are you concentrating your energy into songwriting or touring mainly?


Right now the tour is really important, as soon as I got home I had two weeks before I went back out so the time was never really there so I was like ‘John let’s just lay down this track really quick’ and I’ll add some stuff on it and then fuck it we’ll move on so anytime I had I’d just go in the studio and start working on stuff. Heavenly was asking if I had some material and I said yeah and we were hoping to get it done by December so we can put it out next year. I don’t want to wait three years to have another album out, I want it while it’s fresh, put it down like a journal.


Who are you listening to at the moment?


I love Conor Oberst, it’s funny I was actually in LA visiting friends and I looked on the table, his fucking mail was there and I’m like ‘I’m at Conor Oberst’s house oh my god I’m gonna pee in my pants!’ He’s a big hero of mine because of his honesty and he’s about the rock and roll but he’s more about the experience in life and putting them out there on tracks and he does it in a really bitchin’ way. He knows it’s all truth what he’s saying, maybe some of it bullshit...I love him though, I really do.


Have you always been as confident a performer as you are today?


I think I try really hard, I remember when I was younger I’d hold the guitar but I didn’t know how to play it and I’d stand in front of the mirror, I think everyone has those times and I was just dancing like ‘How do they dance with this thing? How do they rock out?’ and my mum comes in and I was like ‘Mum close the door!’ This was maybe when I was about 16 or something but I’ve always tried, but I think it’s easy now. I feel a bit comfortable, you just have to emerse yourself in it and then you just go with everything. I think that’s when the magic happens, when you close your eyes and you’re just in it and it comes off as confident but really what you’re just kinda doing what’s right to you.


What are your plans for the future?


I actually have a good vision of it. I’m signed with Heavenly for another 3 albums so I just wanna work solid on those each year and after that I wanna just keep going with it, keep a solid balance to it. It’s weird like, it’s not a career to me it’s just naturally what feels good to me. It definitely is going well, my future is just staying focused, doing the music, living, doing the best I can I guess.


Sea of Bees debut album Songs For The Ravens is available to buy or download now

www.seaofbees.com


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