INTERVIEW: Sea of Bees


Sacramento’s Julie Ann Baenziger known to her friends as Jules weaves her own little world, even as she speaks her gentle, midwestern tone lingers with a naivety, mystique and a wonder that dreams in colours of blues, reds and greens, each thought seeping its way into every vocal she commits to tape, every chord she strums, every beat she hits. Even through this crackly phone line she’s captivating, warm, and human by the end of the conversation she’s genuinely interested in my story too. So while we touch on her upcoming trip to SXSW, her gorgeously created album ‘Songs For the Ravens’, the meaning of ‘Freak Folk’ and scratch the surface of her enigmatic, bittersweet songs, I’m left with the impression that Jules is more than just another artist on the treadmill she’s a rather special person.

But how are things in Jules’ world today? “Well we’ve just finished the Heavenly tour and then we’re going to SXSW it’s been a lot of work for a lot of people the pressure is there but its exciting its like running a marathon we’ve recorded a few songs for the new record already its like ‘Jules you’ve got two months before you head out to the UK you need to get this done,the pressure is there but its like running a marathon!” She says like she’s relishing the whole process. So how is she finding the UK crowds? “I think that people enjoy listening to music, in the states we’re so busy working in the day when it comes to the evening we’re just sat in here you guys still want to live it out!” says Jules sounding impressed with British audiences who don’t shout during the slower songs “Everyone’s been really attentive really wanting to hear the story in the songs and something they can relate to so everyone’s been really open. They want to hear everything!”

Her debut album Songs for The Ravens was released on Heavenly recently, it’s a quite spellbinding album a collection of songs that ripple with humanity, longing and loss. Comparisons are futile, but her coquettish, ever so shy vocals resonate with strikingly brittle emotion of a Cat Power or the mystery of Kate Bush, while the eerie reverb heavy 60s like production giving each track a homespun, yet unique quality. A sideways take on the well worn genres of folk, country and pop then but these are lullabies with an aching heart, recorded in a hideaway maybe sprinkles them with a little more of this magic dust “we get over and record the hanger studios in Sacramento, its like a hidden treasure not many people know about it.” reveals Jules. The first release under the Sea of Bees moniker came with the onomatopoeic ‘Bee ee pee’ earlier in 2010 ‘I think we kind of did things and never really thought about it John(producer) was like ‘do you want to record three or four songs acoustically?’ And there were all these roads to the studio so I wanted to record a road song too. So I did it I don’t think he expected it either but it was pure enjoyment.” But when did the first songs for this album emerge? “We recorded it last in in 2010 it took about nine months(ED: Like a pregnancy?) because John and I were so busy we had to get time to record a song or two It was really easy I enjoy having plenty of time to do what you want. We just try to go with the moment John tried to keep it fun he had these old compresses and pieced it together. John and I would choose what fitted together.”

Heavenly is a English label with a strong history that stretches back to their releases in the 80s and 90s, how did Jules’ first Sea of Bees record end up being released via this label in the UK? “I’m with a small label in America and we had a really small networking team but they’re really respectful. My friend Josh who is my publicist he did everything he could he really believed in the music and that he could do something a little bit more than an underground type thing with this album!” enthuses Jules “So he sent the record over to Heavenly. It’s weird because my friends from Mountain Men are signed to Bella Union and I was like would you mind passing the album onto your friend Simon(Raymonde) We came out to the UK for a month to meet simon and Jess(heavenly) so I though we’d been introduced to her by him but she was like no it was your friend Josh”

Songs for the ravens sounds like the title to a never written Edgar Alan Poe novella, I wondered where the inspiration came from, was it a tale of horror or a more nuanced metaphore for fans of these songs? “When I used to live in my old house there were lots of ravens everywhere in the rafters. At the time I was really lonely and really sad I wanted it to be songs for a certain crowd that feels the same way. And ravens symbolise darkness and loneliness” But the songs were ultimately bittersweet, lyrics steeped in malcnholia set to sometimes upbeat tunes, here was the delightful juxtaposition “ the songs came accross really sad but when i played them to John he was like they’re happy songs” remembers Jules  “but it was unexpected because I said to John ‘I felt ‘so low’ when I wrote them.’ So these are songs that make you feel like you belong”
There’s a naturalistic flow to Sea of Bees lyrical couplets, but were they written on paper beforehand or do they just emerge from a more emotional spontaneous place? “The words came naturally i’ll sit down to write a song and I’ll have a moment where i’m crying or really sad and I’ll find a nice chord on the guitar and a nice strum” notes Jules ‘Then you start to hum expressing yourself trying to put that one experience that tore you up into words. With me I see a lot in colour so words come out of what I feel deep down inside.

Having studied previous Sea of Bees interviews I noticed that Jules constantly used the phrase ‘Freak Folk’ to describe her songs, but does she mean musically? Or are these songs for the lost, the broken hearted and lonely? “Freak folk! I think it came from a Devandra Banhart it relates to everybody all the hipsters and the scenesters people that don’t belong and artists you feel like you identify with. I’m not a freak but I didn’t know how to label my music so I was like how about ‘Freak Folk?” laughs Jules. Certainly its a useful term to describe the underbelly of ‘Songs for the Ravens’ the more down tempo moments that draw you into their web and cacoon you in gentle, otherworldly melancholia see the eiry fuzz and tiptoeing pixie-like vocals of ‘Gnomes’ the isolated strum of ‘It Won’t be Long’ and the heart stoppingLY love lost ‘Strikefoot.’

Previous single the aching lament for unrequited love ‘Wizbot’ is one of my songs of the year, Jules’ irresistibly doe eyed vocals dreamily sigh and twinge, it’s the bittersweet sound of drowning in the pools of that special someone’s eyes only to be left coughing on your unrequited feelings. Wizbot resonating with an unbearable dreamy heartbreak set to a strum that just hits you in the heart throughout: Wizbot Its that feeling of being unfulfilled and wanting to feel satisfied in love.” reveals Jules “Have you seen the 1960s version of Romeo and Juliet? Well there’s a point where Romeo is singing in the park and he’s like (hums melody to Wizbot) so that melody came out whithout me expecting it in wizbot(Jules effortlessly coos chorus line) I like to put little trinkets into the songs that mean something to me but then you show it to everybody else.”

New single Sidepain(out on the 11th of April) is a country stomping whiskey soaked ode to Jenny Lewis, one gets the feeling that Jules has somewhat of a girl crush on Miss Lewis “She’s so charming and lovely to me. I listen to her music all the time and Bonnie Prince Billy.” giggles Jules “So we had a drink together, she has a boyfriend, but I was like what song could I write that maybe someday Jenny could sing with me on stage. So i did try it but I wrote it from an experience of mine but also like ‘this is for her.’ I hope she’ll be like ‘you know Jules I heard about that song’ and she will sing it with me someday! Jules is clearly friends with some droppable names in the US alt music movement then but what would be her dream colobation? “My friends in Mountain men are just touring with Jonsi from Sigur Ros” sighs Jules “they’re amazing they’re like aliens or something (laughs).”

Jules is eager to continue to develop as an artist and with dates slated back in the UK for later this year(alongside the obvious festival slots), a trip to SXSW under her belt and a debut album receiving much acclaim across the music media. Jules is keen to show that she’s more than just another female singer songwriter, she points out that the recordings for her second album are already sounding more ‘rock/indie’ and she’s willing to go where this ride will take her I don’t feel any restrictions, if you feel it just do it. The stuff you listen to really does come out in your music! I’ve been listening to Beach House alot, The xx, Riloy Kiley and the new Arcade fire album. I’ve also been listening to shitloads of Bright Eyes we went to see him the other night it was magical. Lifted or Cassadaga are my favourite Bright Eyes albums riot for less is one of my songs. Which sounds like potentially a potent mix, so we await with anticipation the next release from Jules’ Sea of Bees

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.