TO FIND a debut album as breathtaking as the one by Sea of Bees is uncommonly rare. Played almost entirely by singer/songwriter Jules Baenziger, Songs for the Ravens moves from florid folk to anguished, smoldering rock, with Baenziger singing alternately like an innocent child or a wise old woman. (At 25, she is technically neither.) The joyous jangle of "Sidepain" sits comfortably alongside the exquisite heart whir of "Skinnybone," while songs like "Wizbot" gain momentum like a crush building slowly to an undeniable obsession.
"It was innocent and pure," Baenziger says of how she began playing music. "I didn't wanna be a rock star at all. My sister invited me to go to church when I was about 17, and there was this girl singing, and she sang so beautifully; she played the acoustic guitar and she sang this song and I was hooked. Not only on the guitar and the music but, like, I was in love with her! I was like, 'I'm gonna learn the guitar and learn how to sing,' and 'I'm gonna show her I can sing one of her songs that she wrote.' So I went in the shed, just kinda like, that's one thing I'm gonna live for. I would listen to her song and put my fingers on the strings 'til I would get the right sound and finally—it was only three chords—once I learned the song, I'd start learning how to sing and mimic her vocals, how she compressed them and used her diaphragm in songs."
Baenziger finally learned the song well enough to play it back to the object of her affection—who, as it turned out, just wasn't into girls. But Baenziger's interest in music didn't stop there. "It was more just like, 'Fuck, I might as well just go along with this 'til I meet somebody and just move on with my life.' I just kept pursuing music and just kept learning and writing songs." Baenziger didn't fully come out until last year—"You're thinking, 'Am I gonna be alone my whole life because of a secret?'" is how she describes the feelings leading up to it—but she's kept at music for years, working in coffeeshops, living in a punk house, even playing bass in California band Find Me Fighting Them.
A recording session led to the beginning of Sea of Bees. "They recorded at the Hanger [a studio in Sacramento] and I was just kinda hanging out, playing while they were recording," she says. "John Baccigaluppi, the owner, walked by and he just waved, like, 'Who are you?' He was just really generous, you know? I didn't know who he was. He handed me his card and was like, 'You know if you ever feel like recording you should give me a call.'"
"And so one night—I lived in this room that was slanted—I went home and I had a bottle of wine and put it on the ground and it just slanted off and rolled down, and I'm like, 'I gotta email John!' And I sent him some songs." Baccigaluppi brought her back to the studio and showed her the basics of recording on the computer, and then left her alone. "[He said], 'How about you record four little acoustic songs, you know? All you do is hit record and stop for the space bar,'" remembers Baenziger.
Instead, she overdubbed herself, using other instruments in the studio, creating a batch of fully realized recordings in a single day. Those tracks became Sea of Bees' debut, the five-track Bee Eee Pee, and Baenziger returned to the studio to record Songs for the Ravens over the course of nine months. Now, she's bringing these intimately heartfelt songs to a live audience.
"When you're on the stage, it's like, 'You know what, I'm just gonna close my eyes and I'm gonna pour my heart out for them,' says Baenziger. "I want them to see the vulnerability. I think it's just who I am. I've always wanted something rare, you know? It's like my heart is on my sleeve and I'm like [to the audience], 'Hey, look at that!' You know, 'You can have some of that, you're cool.'"