There and Back Again
In the new video for the song “Test Yourself” off Sea of Bees’ latest musical effort, Build a Boat to the Sun—a 10-song voyage through the band’s singer-songwriter Julie Ann Baenziger reconnection with music after a brief hiatus—Baenziger and her musical cohort Amber Padgett channel their inner Girl Scouts and commune with nature in a playful romp with the snails and butterflies that inhabit a wooded glen nestled against the craggy cliffs lining a frothy, churning sea.
The video, shot by Padgett and fellow local creative Jyoti Alexander along the breezy trails and parks in Stinson Beach, channels that feeling of wide-eyed innocence that permeates much of the Bees’ musical catalogue and marks Baenziger’s return—not only to the 916 but to creating new music.
Coming off the heels of a successful musical residency at the Ace Hotel in New York, Baenziger is diving back into her Sacramento roots, heralded by a return to the stage in a homecoming of sorts with shows lined up this month at the Warehouse Artist Lofts and Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in the continuation of the musical journey that began as a teenager.
“When I was younger, about 15 or 16, that’s when I realized I could create things,” she explains. “I was existing to create things, I liked to draw a lot, but I was really introverted.”
It wasn’t until she stumbled across a musical duo at church and became transfixed by the lure of music that she began to emerge from her shell. It was then that her creative yearnings metamorphosed from pictures into harmonies.
“There was a boy and a girl; a sister and a brother, and they were playing guitar and singing,” she explains. “And I was just taken away by them [and thought] I could maybe do something like that. So that was kind of like an invitation. Also I was crushing on the gal a bunch.”
Following that transformative moment, Baenziger spent the remainder of her teenage years secreted away at home, teaching herself how to sing and play the one-stringed bass guitar that one of her brothers had cast away into the dark recesses of the family’s shed. Certainly, the road to tours along the West Coast, shows in the United Kingdom and residencies in some of New York’s top venues—she also played a stint at the Living Room in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn—didn’t come without its frustrations and long, grueling hours of learning how to master the intricacies of the bass.
“I’d pick [it] up in the mornings before I’d go to school and try to tune it. I didn’t know how to tune it so I’d just turn on some music and try I’d to emulate that and try to make the same sound,” she says. “So I was really trying, it took five years of misery—my fingers were callused, I didn’t know how to tune, but then it became just my life.”
If turning heartbreak and adversity into musical gold was a commodity, then Baenziger has cornered the market on making melodious magic from the treasure trove of instruments she continues to master as a self-taught musician. Now in her sixth year of fronting the Bees—a sometimes one-woman act that moonlights as a duo or full-fledged band—the songstress says that her music’s evolution isn’t an act of premeditation, but is rather a reflection of her experiences.
Sea of Bees’ first album, Songs for the Ravens, what Baenziger calls an explosion of delving into the pent-up emotions of feeling limited and restrained, was a way for the artist to discover the joys of the self. The second album, Orangefarben, was a much more personal piece of work and a catharsis of sorts. The album follows a time of turmoil, during which Baenziger came out, went on her first tour to promote her debut offering and ended a relationship with her first girlfriend.
“The second record was more of the experience of a break up. It was just very direct and in the place where I was at I was limited—I couldn’t explore, my feelings were walled up,” she admits.
With the release of Build a Boat to the Sun, which she recorded under the guidance of her longtime manager John Baccigaluppi at his new recording studio, General Produce in Sacramento and Panoramic Studios in Stinson Beach, she says she’s learning how to explore again, where there are no restraints—both in her life and in the way she approaches her music.
“It’s crazy, now I feel like I’m back. Not back to the beginning, but back to this place of like no limits, which is nice,” she says. “There’s no emotional limits, there’s nothing that can stop what I want to try, whether it be some Afro beat, or just anything, I can do Indian chants, it’s limitless, so it’s very refreshing to see what happens.”
As the songbird prepares to bring Sea of Bee’s back to the home stage, it’s clear that the “Test Yourself” video is truly a reflection of her eagerness to delve back into the waters of creating harmonies that convey her desire to wash away the limitations of her former selves. With every “la la la,” her voice soars with the confidence of her enthusiasm to create. But, for now, she’s looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and revisiting older tunes that she is ready to tap into again—and don’t be surprised if she throws in a few surprises too. She isn’t ashamed to admit an affinity for the musical stylings of pop royalty Katy Perry.
“Amber and I were talking about the upcoming shows. We’re going to keep it really lo-fi for the Sacto show, that’s going to be a super fun show, though,” Baenziger explains. “I think we want to do more of the older songs because I’ve strayed away from them for so long. I have to get to that place where I just enjoy playing them. Sometimes you’ve got to go back and revisit them and just kind of connect again and enjoy the process.”
As for the Davis show, Baenziger says that’s when she’ll pull the big guns out and employ the talents of a full band. Her excitement resonates throughout the coffeehouse where she reflectively sips on her caffeinated beverage of choice—a steaming cup of coffee.
“We’re going to have some good friends play with us,” she says. “Be expecting a big fat hug of music. Be prepared to be embraced by the sound.”
With just a few shows planned, Baenziger says that with the fall equinox she too is looking forward to a fresh start musically and personally. She calls it a rebirth of sorts and reconnecting with old friends has been a large part of her inspiration as she embarks on new musical exploits.
She is currently working on her fourth album, which she hopes to wrap up in December and release in the spring of 2016 and is embracing the feeling of her current mantra of casting away any limitations, of being limitless and finding happiness back among her friends and fellow musicians.
“You’ve got to feel good. I don’t want to feel shitty anymore, I’m so tired of it,” she says. “Everybody deserves to feel good and I’m excited for the future of things. I have been actually excited about making music. No limits that’s my thing.”
Give Julie Ann a warm welcome home at two upcoming shows: The first at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in Davis on Oct. 22 (tickets are $8 in advance and the show starts at 9:30 p.m.), and the second is a special rooftop show at the WAL (1108 R Street in Sacramento) on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. with Sunmonks and Jacob Golden.