The lovely Sea of Bees, a.k.a. Julie Baenziger, sat down with us on a sunny day in Shoreditch to talk about her new album Orangefarben, first love, music, life and happiness.
FFS: How does Orangefarben differ from your first album, Songs for the Ravens?
SoB: Songs for the Ravens was more of an experiment, it was my first time making music in a studio and I was really free, time wasn’t restrained at all. But Orangefarben is really direct – there was not as much time. It’s about my first love, and it’s kind of something that was sitting inside of me, like – I have to get this out of me before I can write anything else.
FFS: A lot of your songs seem to be inspired by real people in your life – how do they respond to the songs?
SoB: That’s a really good question! I remember the song ‘Wizbot’ was written for a long-time-ago friend of mine, and I don’t think she thought about it that much, it was more just excitement -“Oh you wrote me a song!” Sometimes I don’t think people realise how much thought goes into that song.
FFS: You’ve got oranges in the video for the song ‘Marmalade’ and then an album called Orangefarben – do oranges represent something particular for you?
SoB: ‘Marmalade’ was quite different, that was for my friend back at home, but Orangefarben – that title is because my first love and I went on a walk and she’s like, “My orange is kind of hard, can you peel it for me?” It was one of those oranges that just fall apart, and I was like, “Oh no, I’m sorry, it’s bleeding all over my hands”, and she was like – “Orange – orangefarben?” because she was learning German at the time. So it’s not an obsession with oranges or anything…
FFS: I’m used to hearing people saying ‘yes’ a lot in songs. You say ‘no’ a lot – where does that come from?
SoB: I think maybe it’s a mourning thing: “No, I don’t want that to happen.” But things just happen, and you have to accept it – it’s to do with dealing with things. Sometimes your soul just wants to say “No, no, I don’t want that.”
FFS: Is it more “No, I don’t want to fall in love”, or is it “No, I don’t want you to go”?
SoB: More that! “I don’t want you to go! I need you!” I definitely would never say no to love, never.
FFS: I’ve seen your work called ‘childlike’, which is something Joanna Newsom got a lot too, and she didn’t like it – does that description annoy you?
SoB: I don’t mind it at all, it is what it is – I know I’m not a child, so when people say it’s childlike, I think that’s nice – being called a child is sometimes a compliment.
FFS: In other interviews you’ve said you didn’t have many friends when you were younger. Has music helped to change that?
SoB: I’m still very much an introvert, I didn’t have many friends growing up but the music did help me – it was my way of expressing myself, I could put my whole self into it. It’s the extrovert side of me, once I have a guitar and I’m able to sing, I’m able to fully put myself out there.
FFS: You work with John [producer] and Amber [touring band mate]. How do they affect the songs?
SoB: They have a big impact! Amber’s one of my closest friends, she’s kind of like my other half. It’s funny cause when we first met each other we were so different, night and day, and now I just can’t let her go. She’s really honest with me, she’s been such a big support, and she’s really talented. She definitely brings a lot of joy to my life, so that affects the songs a lot. John is completely knowledgeable and talented. We bond really well and I think we’re really similar. I write the songs and this year he helped me with that too. We just experiment well together, mesh ideas together…
FFS: Even when your songs come from quite a vulnerable, sad place, the production of the sound is sparkly, they feel uplifting to listen to…
SoB: Thank you! Have you heard Sea Change by Beck? That was a big inspiration for this album, with the sparkly guitars… I like beats and stuff too, and going crazy with synths – maybe next year I’ll do something like that, with more beats.
FFS: You play lots of instruments, do they affect your song writing in different ways?
SoB: Piano to me is really soft and easy, but with guitar you can make really different strum patterns, and write a fast song that you can’t do on the piano. ‘Smile’, on the new album, I couldn’t write on the guitar, it was too much of a ballad. And ‘Broke’, I couldn’t write that on the piano – so every instrument is different.
FFS: Do you write the lyrics before the music, or the music before the lyrics?
SoB: I get the music first, then once I have the music I compare it to a memory or something – for ‘Broke’ I’ll remember laying in bed and not getting a response, and I’m like – “Oh ok, that’s what it reminds me of.”
FFS: We like the song ‘Alien’ on Orangefarben, could you tell us more about that?
SoB: I wrote that one in London actually – it took a long time to record for some reason, it was really raw and I didn’t even have a beat to it at first. It was about someone who was really different, and I think they didn’t want to accept that difference, so I was like, “You’re an alien! You are! Even how you’re responding to things right now, you’re just different – and that’s ok!”
FFS: Do you have a favourite song?
SoB: I like ‘Girl’ because it’s so simple, and it was a sweet memory. All the songs are good memories, and hard memories, but ‘Girl’ was just the sweetest memory and the most simple to play.
FFS: There’s a lot of rapture and joy in your work – what’s made you happy lately?
SoB: I think the best time is really just those simple days – going on walks, and sharing yourself with people, and going out and dancing, and having a good time with your friends and family… I’m trying to find the joy in those things, those simple things. You know –like a cup of tea!
FFS: Any bands you’d recommend? You’re touring with Stealing Sheep soon, aren’t you?
SoB: Yeah, they’re so good! Really sparkly, and the girls seem so real. I’m excited about the tour, and about the people who are playing with me. A little bit nervous, to be honest, too, but you’ve just got to keep your head up and say “You know what? This is fucking amazing, I get to share my story and myself with people that I would never have met.” Do you know Coconut Records at all? I’ve been getting into stuff like that, it’s really honest and poppy, and I’ve been listening to a band called Fun, and Michael Kiwanuka.
FFS: Any artists you’d like to collaborate with?
SoB: Oh yeah, so many! Sharon van Etten, she’s such a dream, beautiful voice, lovely spirit, The Antlers, Sea Wolf…Collaborating with Jenny Lewis would be a dream. She’s such a babe! Conor Oberst… These are just things I hope, you can always hope and keep working hard.
Orangefarben is released on 9th April on Heavenly Records.
Words: Becky Varley-Winter, assisted by Ollie Evans