Interview with She Keeps Bees

Reaching into history to create a new chapter

By: Mike Levine (@Goldnuggets)

September 19, 2014

"I Kept asking myself: ' How can there be understanding and healing if the truth of our history is not told? ' "

She Keeps Bees has always delivered a brooding menace underneath layers of blues and folk, but now their kettle's practically boiling over. For new record 'Eight Houses,' tales of war and revenge provide an ominous tone to the band's stripped down texture. After exploring America's hidden past during their 2012 tour, bandmates Jessica Larabee and Andy LePlant came away from the experience with a better idea of how much pain and forced assimiliation American Indians endured. Tracks like 'Greasy Grass' and 'Breezy' are practically brimming over with this rage, while still delivering an intimate warmth and emotional pull that makes you feel like you've known Jessica for years. It's a multi-layered record, whose change-up in production from the band's previous home recordings has only added to its complexities. We discussed these new paths in our recent interview with the band.

New tracks 'Owl' and 'Is What It Is' both contain some fairly rich instrumentation, including horns, choral shouts, (even a cameo from Sharon Van Etten!). Really beautiful touches, but somewhat different from a lot of the earlier material I've heard from you. What changes can we expect to hear from your soon-to-be-released record 'Eight Houses'? 

We decided to use a studio and producer for this record.  Andy didn't have to be the engineer worrying about mics and technicalities.  We could focus on mood and performance. It allowed us to get uncomfortable - break songs down and build them back up.  Nicolas had many beautiful instruments in his studio - it was fun to play with layers. 

Your music has always been very personal, containing reflections on family life and intimate relationships. Have most of your stories happened to you personally, or are some of them fashioned from stories you've overheard or conjured up yourself?

The songs mirror my personal journeys and lessons.  I also spent some time researching early American history while driving through the US on tour in 2012/13.  The more I read the more I realized this was a universal story of "progress". The western world enclosing on indigenous people - taking their natural resources, destroying their sense of self through assimilation. Kept asking myself 'How can there be understanding and healing if the truth of our history is not told?' 

Your older records' production was frequently labeled as 'recorded at home.' But for 'Eight Houses,' it looks like you've chosen to have it recorded and mixed by Nicolas Vernhes and Gabe Wax. What led to the change in personnel for this go round? 

I think we were ready to open ourselves up to change and try more collaborations.  It was exciting to watch Nicolas work.  He was very natural with his process and truly supportive in bringing out our vision.  Adam Schatz from LandLady came in and did the horns and a few piano pieces.  He is such an incredible musician - so happy to have him on the record. My dear friend Molly Donahue from The Love Story and Metal Alvin sang with me on Wasichu - she has a beauty in her voice that is so emotional and haunting - definitely one of my favorite singers.     

I know Andy hails from New Orleans, but Jessica has spent a lot of time in NYC. What about NYC has helped you two find a home for your music, and do you have a favorite local venue? 

Andy is actually originally from Green Bay WI but he went to school in New Orleans.  We loved our time in new york.  It's energy is addictive even in the struggle - it's life carving.  We always loved playing Death By Audio.  Wishing them many blessings and abundance with their new endeavors - they will be missed.

I love the video for 'Is What It Is.' It's beautiful and haunting at once. Without looking into its imagery too much... should I guess you're not a big fan of long car rides, or do you just have an overactive inner child? 

Actually the director Keith Musil came up with the idea himself and we fell in love with it.  He was able to capture these small moments that build into a beautiful scene that blooms loving energy.  We were honored to work with such a gifted storyteller.