Sea of Bees is the project of Sacramento, CA based folk artist Julie Baenziger. A native of suburbs outside of Sacramento, Baenziger began writing songs as a teenager, but didn't begin recording and playing publicly until years later after moving out on her own in Sacramento. While playing at a studio space called the Hangar, she was discovered by producer John Baccigaluppi. He encouraged Baenziger to record an EP, which resulted in 2009's Bee Eee Pee. Baenziger continued to make a name for herself in Sacramento and the Bay Area, and was signed to Crossbill Records in the US, and Heavenly Recordings in the UK. Sea of Bees released their debut album Songs for the Ravens in 2010 and toured nationally and internationally behind the album. She is working on a new album to be released sometime in 2012.
Sea of Bees is the project of Julie Baenziger, a folk musician based out of the capital of California, Sacramento. There isn't much about Baenziger that could be described as typical: though her music is based on a traditional singer-songwriter format, her voice is wispy and unique, her compositions spliced with arresting atmospherics. Her music is innocent yet complex, a combination that ranges from intriguing to downright breathtaking. As Baenziger explains in our interview, which took place one January morning before she started work on her new album for the day, she's grown a lot in the last couple of years. Raised in a suburb outside of Sacramento, she had a sheltered childhood, and only became exposed to the kinds of contemporary music that she draws influence from in the last few years. Read on for Baenziger's explanation of how she made her debut album Songs For the Ravens, her plans for the future, and what a kind of setup Sea of Bees would have if they were a stadium rock band.
Band of the Day: Question: So You're from Sacramento right?
Julie: I actually grew up in Roseville, 15 minutes out. It's suburbia, well a growing suburbia. It was farmland, then as I got older it started developing strip malls. Really fancy things too, but it was just too much for me. It can put you in a box of comfort. You have your mall. You have your other mall. You have your fancy mall for rich people, you have your little browsing mall…and it's malls everywhere. Then I moved to Sacramento when I was 23 and it was much better. It's a lot more natural there.
Band of the Day: Is that when you started making music?
Julie: I was doing that at home, I started when I was 16. I didn't know what I was doing really, I just had a guitar with one string and started trying to make music and express myself. There's a lot of kept things in there because you're not supposed to act a certain way in that kind of suburban place. I kept trying to learn and it took years and was really frustrating and hard for me. I never knew the right place. It was all emo bands, and I was like, I don't want to be in an emo band!
Band of the Day: You started writing songs a long time ago, but only recently started recording and playing publicly. Was it hard to show your music to people?
Julie: I think because I was alone for so long in my room writing songs and alone for so long mentally and physically, I was so sheltered that I wanted to just see it all, feel it all. Live fast. All or nothing. I should go in for this because it feels right. I didn't know that I'd be doing what I'm doing now, for me it was just starting out doing a small EP, and then John [her producer and friend who first discovered her] really believed in it, he thought it was a great EP, and I was like “Really?! I just made them up...!”
I always hung out with really safe people when I moved to Sacramento, I was really inspired by the people here, the new friends. I saw the way they interacted with each other, I saw everything that most people go through, they have nothing to hide. I was really inspired by that. So I wrote songs about certain people, and how I felt. The songs were mixed in with their experiences and my thoughts and experiences. That album [her debut album Songs for the Ravens] was the whole experience of my new life. But it was also very lonely, and some of my friends were at the time too, so I called it Songs for the Ravens. It's a dark bird, known for its loneliness and symbolized as a lone traveler. That album has a special memory for me, my new place of living, becoming a new person, finding the people that made me feel at home. I write based on experiences, how I feel.
Band of the Day: You said that Songs for the Ravens was inspired by new things happening in your life. Is the music you're writing now coming from a different place?
Julie: The new stuff now is inspired by my experiences, it's really direct. Songs for the Ravens was not so direct, you wouldn't know who I was singing about, you could get bits and pieces and and let it be what you wanted it to be. But this new album is so direct, you know what it's talking about. I think I'm inspired by the growth in myself right now, to grow, and know things, and better myself.
I'm putting up a studio in my house so after I'm done touring with the album so next year I could be doing I don't know, lots of experimental stuff. Beat boxing, dance music. I have no idea what I'll make.
Band of the Day: Speaking of experimental, Songs for the Ravens is coming mostly from folk, but at the same time I got lots of ambient music vibes from it.
Julie: I never knew what kinds of sounds I wanted, but when I made them I really liked them. I love Sigur Ros and really far out stuff. When I told John he'd be like, "Play with this instrument and let's see what we get out of it." The ambient sounds that would come out of it, the delays, the reverbs, I don't know. It just kind of happened naturally. I really wanted to do it, it was kind of a goal and it just happened. I think reverb helps a lot.
Band of the Day: It's mostly low key but at times it edges towards grandiose music, especially songs like Marmalade. If you could be a stadium rock band, who would it be, what would you sound like?
Julie: What about? Let's see…is The Flaming Lips a rock band?
Band of the Day: Totally.
Julie: They're badass.
Band of the Day: Would there be pyrotechnics?
Julie: Two drum sets, two synth players, devils everything, electric guitarist, keyboard player too with the synths, a bassist. One person who does all the sound effects for weird shit, a bunch of pedals, twist the knobs and makes some weird sounds. That's it really. We need some oomph, so devils everything.
Band of the Day: Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted the Songs for the Ravens to end up, or did it evolve the way it turned out?
Julie: It evolved that way. We didn't...you know how some people have a story line, a theme that weighs into the album so it all fits? That wasn't the case for me. I'd write and write in a journal and that's a whole year of myself in music. So why not put it out there? Each year I have a year of music. Last year's journal was me and my friend, this year was me and my ex-girlfriend. Each year is a symbol of something.
Band of the Day: Do you start with lyrics or music when you write?
Julie: I start with music usually. I'll start with a melody and then the words, that's the easiest way for me, or at it feels natural and makes it fun. But the topics of the songs don't come up until I have a bunch of scrambled words and I think, what am I trying to say here? Because I'll be mumbling them. Then I think, "Oh! I'm talking about the time I met so an so! Let's rewrite these words." Then I'll take the time to rewrite them to make a small bit of sense.
Band of the Day: On Skype you say "I used to listen to Switchfoot." Were you a big fan?
Julie: Growing up in Roseville in the church you listen to what everyone else is listening to. And everyone loved U2, and everyone loved Switchfoot. For me, Switchfoot was the only thing I listened to too. What else did I listen to? Well I listened to Coldplay too. What song from Switchfoot did I love? It was one album that got me, what was it? Oh, Learning to Breathe! It's one of those things you admit that you're not fully proud of.
Band of the Day: Were there lots of other Christian bands you listened to?
Julie: There was this band called Delirious? that was pretty much Radiohead, they copied them. And then when I moved out and started listening to Radiohead…I really was sheltered, I didn't know all these bands. I started listening to Nirvana, R.E.M.…
Band of the Day: So you weren't exposed to that stuff at all when you were a teenager?
Julie: No, I wasn't into it because it wasn't popular in the crowd I was in. They were into Switchfoot and U2, nobody was listening to Radiohead or R.E.M., I didn't know any of it. I guess I just never kept up to date or it was laziness or lack of interest.
Band of the Day: Did you grow up in a very strong Christian upbringing?
Julie: Yeah, it wasn't forced, but it was the only thing I knew. There was nothing outside of where I was at. Kind of crazy.
Band of the Day: I'd imagine after living in a small town and being surrounded by a sheltered culture that bands like Radiohead would blow your mind when exposed to them later in life.
Julie: They did, I remember driving up to Oregon with Amber my guitarist and she played all their albums for me and I was thinking, "Oh my God! This song is so good, the textures! This song's amazing!" And she's like, "Uhh, yeah!" I kind of feel naive, like a child. I'm not but, musically, I feel like a baby sometimes. This past year has been a whole ... last year let's say I was the age of 16 and now I'm at the age of 30-something. I feel like I've grown so fast in such a little amount of time because I've had to. It's kind of crazy because last year I was really naive and I shot right up to where I am now.
Band of the Day: That's kind of cool you got to be exposed to all that stuff for the first time as an adult when you could really appreciate it.
Julie: Yeah! I don't think I would have appreciated it as much. I'm glad things worked out the way they did.
Band of the Day: Do you ever think about moving away from Sacramento, to San Francisco or another big city?
Julie: I do think about it all the time. I love Sacramento, how quiet it is and it's definitely a chill place to live and I have a good vibe, but I don't think I'll live here forever. Maybe I'll buy a house, sell it, rent it out then move to the Bay and be by the ocean. I do feel right out there. In the next couple of years things will definitely be changing. I'm going to stay put for now but I don't know about next yea…I want to taste different things and be in different spots. I love the people here but you need to know people outside of where you're at, it seems healthy.
Band of the Day: Any idea when your new album is going to come out?
Julie: Yeah! The timing they're thinking is…I can't say what it is but sometime after Spring. Last year I was such a baby that nothing was planned out well, but this year it will be. I'm curious to see how it goes.