An interview with Julie Ann Bee of Sea of Bees


Sea of Bees is the stage name of indie-folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Julie Ann Bee, whose recent release, Orangefarben, immediately made it to my list of 2012’s top albums of the year. The album was written following a year filled with major highs and major lows. After building up the courage to come out to her family, friends and listeners, Julie, was able to freely enter a relationship with her first love. As with most first loves, the relationship didn’t last and Bee poured herself into her songwriting. What she came up with was crafted with such sincerity, it’s almost impossible not to relate.

We got to speak with Julie while she was away on her first European tour. If you’ve been following her on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr, it’s been apparent that any clouds that were once following her are now very far away. She shared her coming out process with us and also filled us in on what has been making her so happy these days.

Photo by Gabriella Clavel I’ve been a fan of your music since first hearing your single “Marmalade” back in 2010 and I was really struck by how unique your voice is. How did you first get into making music?
Julie Bee: Hmm, well it was actually at church. You see, I went to church when I was younger because my sister and cousin thought I should go. So I went and I saw this boy and this girl singing and playing the guitar and I was just like, “I want to do that.” My brother had this one-string guitar in my shed. I was this preppy, quiet girl — totally girly-girl and here I was with this guitar in our shed. I just started playing the string and it wasn’t tuned or anything. I started finding notes that I liked and just started humming to it. I tried really hard to play music, I’d even use a penny as a pick because I didn’t have anything else.

AE: So, whether you knew it or not, you’ve been musically inclined from a very young age.
JB: Yeah, like I always wanted to do it but never thought I could. I didn’t really have any influences, I only knew about the church. That was my community. When I was six years old, there was this piano player who looked like Bob Ross. [Laughs]

AE: Ha, happy clouds!
JB: Yeah, that guy! My sister and I used to sit in the seats at church and fight but when he would start playing we would stop whatever we were doing and I would close my eyes just wanting to learn how to sing. It was really pretty.

AE: Well you’ve got a really great voice for storytelling and this last album, Orangefarben, is really heart-breaking. I know that a lot has been going on for you in the past year and a half or so and, I assume, a lot of it culminated in the making of this album — would you be comfortable talking about your coming out process?
JB: Absolutely! That’s totally fine. It was actually quite simple: When I was two years old I remember my babysitter Pat — she would scratch my back and I remember thinking, “Wow, I really like her.” [Laughs]

It wasn’t that I didn’t like men, I just knew that I liked these women. I loved thinking about them and my teachers growing up in elementary school — I would be loving Miss Jones and Miss McCarthy. I just really had love for these women and I didn’t understand why. In kindergarten, (my classmate) Benjamin kissed me on the mouth and I remember thinking, “I don’t really like that.” [Laughs]

Then there was my first love, Orangefarben. I had always dreamed of being with women but everyone I liked either was straight or wasn’t comfortable enough with themselves in terms of who they wanted to be. So, my first love — I was working in a coffee shop and making her drink. She came in with her dad and I remember the way she stared at me was not like any girl had ever stared at me. It was like I was attractive or something. I just wanted to circle around her and know what she was thinking. So she kept coming after me and seeking me out. Texting me things when she got the job at my coffee shop —

AE: Oh, wow! [Nervous laughter and thoughts of Glenn Close]
JB: I remember, on Easter day I got a text that was like, “I really like you. I’m sorry, do you like boys?” And I’m like, “No! I never liked them, I — hi.” [Laughs] It was just kind of freeing. Sea of Bees was just starting to get going. I had a show and I brought her to it and my parents were there. I took my mom to the back and started crying. I was like, “That’s the girl that I really like. Like, I like her, you know? I think we’re going to date, like girlfriends.” And she was like, “I always knew about you.” And I was like, “Really? Why didn’t you f–king say anything?” So I was like, “Well can you tell dad?” Because I’m still a daddy’s girl and it was really hard for me to think about telling him myself.

Coming out, though, was really hard because most of my family is very Christian and I never really believed in Jesus. I think there’s something bigger than me — I just feel like it’s love. That sounds really f–king hippie, but that’s just what it is.

AE: Nah, I wouldn’t call it hippie. How else are you going to describe it? So, I’m glad to hear that it was a — well, it sounds like it was a good coming out process. A lot of people that I know have had some really bad experiences.
JB: It was hard. My sister actually took me into a room and told me that nothing will ever be the same. We won’t ever have anything but blood. My brother said that he wouldn’t condone it at all. My other brother, who lives in Montana and is a cowboy, he said he loved me no matter what. It’s taken time but he realized I’m still his little sister. I’m still that little girl that he’d take on bike rides and tell jokes to. My sister though, she likes to ignore it to make herself be able to connect with me. We’re all really close still; it’s just definitely a process.

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