Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Sailing the Seas of Bees

Written by Josie Schoel
Active Image  Julie Baenziger, aka Jules, of the indie pop musical project Sea of Bees, manifests quirky. Rather than wearing the bell-sleeved neo-Renaissance garb that her voice suggests, the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist dons a haphazardly draped thrift store cardigan, dirty sneakers, oversized corduroys, and a classic eighth-grade bowl cut. Jules’ 2010 debut, Songs for the Raven, recorded with John Baccigaluppi, Bryce Gonzales, and James Neil, overlays ambient airiness with down-home folk and, like her demeanor, it just barely misses contrived and offers a glass of freshly squeezed honesty. 
Photos by Jonathan Ratcliff
Julie Baenziger, aka Jules, of the indie pop musical project Sea of Bees, manifests quirky. Rather than wearing the bell-sleeved neo-Renaissance garb that her voice suggests, the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist dons a haphazardly draped thrift store cardigan, dirty sneakers, oversized corduroys, and a classic eighth-grade bowl cut. Jules’ 2010 debut, Songs for the Ravens, recorded with John Baccigaluppi, Bryce Gonzales, and James Neil, overlays ambient airiness with down-home folk and, like her demeanor, it just barely misses contrived and offers a glass of freshly squeezed honesty.

After her engaging set at San Francisco’s Rock Make Street Festival, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jules and vocalist/guitarist Amber Padgett, a recent addition to Sea of Bees. Before I could ask any of my carefully crafted questions written with the intent of slowly burrowing through her public display of quirk, Jules began to chat easily about her recent emergence from the closet and about how Christian music can inspire artistic creation—even for those who don’t believe in any of that Jesus stuff.
 
Josie: You refer to Sea of Bees as a project rather than a band, a term that denotes something that has the potential to be an ever-evolving organic entity rather than a fixed, finished product. Is this the idea? 


 
Jules: That is what I mean exactly. I met my friend John Baccigaluppi, and I had just a few songs and he helped record them for me, and it was just my project and then John introduced me to new friends like Bryce Gonzales, who plays bass. I never thought he would want to play with me, because you know how it is, how sometimes you wouldn’t think anyone would want to play with you. Then he suggested James Neil, who is just so solid—he is like a machine. It’s nice not having a band with all the potential band dramas.


 
Josie: So, it’s easier if it isn’t working to let someone go, or to add another element or person to the project? Amber, you’re a somewhat recent addition to Sea of Bees, right?  


 
Amber: Since last year, yes. 
 
Jules: It’s been incredible. It’s been awesome.


 
Amber: For a long time, I still had a cheat sheet down there by the mic stand.


 
Jules: But you have always been so good. Everyone is charmed by Amber Padgett. The guys last night were like, “She has a beautiful voice!” And I’m all like, “I know, I know.”


 
Josie: The other voice does seem to make the music more dimensional. 


 
Jules: And I’m a little boy, and she is all classic vintage.


 
Amber: I am more inclined to wear dresses now. I’m getting in touch with my girly side.


 
Jules: Exactly.


 
Amber: I’ll keep my hair down.


 
Jules: And I’ll leave my hair in a bowl!


 
Josie: I was going to ask you about the word “lovely” in “Willis,” where you sing, “You say that I’m lovely, but that doesn’t matter anymore.” Your usage here is really striking for some reason, like what is conventionally lovely, or to be considered lovely, feels removed from reality for you. 


 
Jules: Right. It was about pain, about not being able to have what I wanted. There was a girl that I was in love with when I was writing “Strikefoot,” but I couldn’t come out because I was in a Christian internship at the time. She was in the internship too, but she told me that she had had a girlfriend before. In my heart, I was like, "Wow! But no, you can’t do that." This last year when I lived alone in midtown, she sent a picture of her girlfriend and I was like, "Ow! Ouch!" That night I had a lot of sadness, and I sat in my room in my janky house, and I had my candle on and my bottle of wine, and I just wrote about her, and I called it “Strikefoot,” but now she is in love with the most wonderful person. It is all just timing.  
 
Josie: Christian internship? 


 
Jules: I grew up Catholic in Roseville, and it was normal to go to church because for my mom it was the right thing to do for a woman born in the 1950s. You want your kids to be good, to have good intentions and stuff, so you send them to church. I remember when I was six years old, and my sister and I would always fight in the pews to keep each other entertained because we thought it was boring. There was this guy there who looked like that art guy who does happy trees...


 
Amber: Bob Ross.


 
Jules: Yes! He looked like Bob Ross, and he played the piano. He was a hippie. I wasn’t into any of the songs, but one song really got me. I didn’t understand that I could make the same thing come out of me. Like something magical and deep. And then [when] I was older, at eight, we just stopped going to church. I never really understood it in the first place. I have never thought there was anything bigger than me. At sixteen I was a loner kid. I was a little overweight in sixth grade and very awkward. Later, at sixteen I was quiet and unsure of everything. I remember people were all hurting so much around me, like, "So and so broke up with me," and "So and so got fingered," and I was like, "Oh my god, what is going on around me?"


 
Josie: You couldn’t relate?

 
Jules: Right. I didn’t want that. My sister and our cousin had come to the lord, and they both told me that I had to come to youth group, and I went finally. One time this girl named Laura hugged me, and I had never been hugged like that, and she just held on, and it was so nice because growing up we were never affectionate like that. It was foreign to me, and I liked it. During one meeting, a guy and a girl were singing on the stage—a brother and sister my age—and the girl was singing, and her voice was so clear and pretty and angelic, and she sang this song, and I was like, "What if she was singing to me?" It was like growing up in the wrong body. I was in love with her.

Josie: Wow. That must have been amazing and confusing at the same time. So, you are the one who does all the songwriting, Jules?


 
Jules: All the lyrics, all the music. There was a lot of stuff going on in my life last year, and I met John and he just really helped me with recording acoustic songs. He is kind of like the Godfather.


 
Amber: But he doesn’t kill people.


 
Jules: Exactly. The whole album is about my experience during the year. It was so up and down. Last year was crazy, so I had a few songs to write. I was watching Great Expectations while writing “Strikefoot” and I was so down. I love down melodies, and when I was watching I would be inspired to sing so I played a melody, and then I wrote some really sad shit. I was sad at the time. But this year . . . I have never been happier in my life.

 
Josie: Because you are actively playing music?


 
Jules: Music, love, and relationships, you know? And honesty. Being honest with yourself. At the time I had a secret. I couldn’t come out. I just came out. My girlfriend and I have been together for a few months now, so I just came out a few months ago. So that whole album, Songs for the Ravens, was about a secret. You know when I was singing about his beard and everything, in “Skinbone”? That is just what everyone wants, you know? And it’s lovely, and the idea is beautiful and perfect, but what I wanted was the complete opposite. Every indie girl loves a beard! 


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