Considering how controlled the chaos is on Eight Houses—a record that's ruptured by riffs and rattled by rhythms without leaping straight off the rails—it's tough to imagine a time when Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaPlant didn't finish each other's sentences, creatively and personally. But that's how She Keeps Bees began: with LaPlant bashing a borrowed kit (including a garbage-picked floor tom) atop a step-ladder and Larrabee directing the dark solo recordings she began soon after moving from Philadelphia to Brooklyn.
"It was trial by fire," says LaPlant of their early rehearsals. "Luckily what she wanted out of me at the time wasn't complicated."
"We grew together slowly," adds Larrabee, "like a tree. It felt powerful with him behind me. Nothing really clicked until I met Andy."
That dynamic became more pronounced with each passing record, peaking with the self-produced songs of Nests and Dig On, the latter of which expanded the pair's minimal sound with bass parts and synths. Now joined by an outside producer (Rare Book Room's Nicolas Vernhes) and guest musicians including Sharon Van Etten and Adam Schatz, She Keeps Bees revels in the raw power of subtlety, silence and space, coloring Larrabee's compositions with lean piano lines, hazy horns and warm organ rolls.
"There was definitely a batch of more aggressive songs that got cut from the record," explains LaPlant. "Having a producer was nice in that respect; if things were starting to sound too similar and we didn't hear it, Nicolas wasn't shy about letting us know. We wanted to step outside our comfort zone stylistically, which really gives Jess' songwriting a chance to shine."
It also pushes her dense lyrics to the fore, exploring a wide range of universal emotions (desire, obsession, change) and looking for answers to questions our teachers never addressed, from the blood-splattered war hero status Custer earned during his "last stand" to the forced assimilation of Native Americans on the open roads She Keeps Bees toured for the first time in 2012.
"The reservations left a heartache in me," she explains, "and swarms of questions. I began reading stories. The more I read the history, the more I realized this was a universal story of 'progress': the Western world surrounding indigenous people, taking their natural resources, destroying their sense of self."
And yet there's still a light at the end of the tumultuous tunnel Eight Houses carves over the course of 10 punchy, confident songs. It kicks in as "Raven" collides with its choruses, meeting the human condition head on.
"Let the toxic mimics roll off us all," says Larrabee. "Let the power of your truest self rest in your heart. Draw strength from below your navel—a place where there is no fear. Honor the gravity of the emotion but do not be consumed."