Metabolizing Pain with She Keeps Bees

Quinn Moreland

Perhaps you have yet to hear She Keeps Bees but it’s time that changes. Since forming in 2006, the Brooklyn-based couple Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaPlant have been almost constantly touring and tightening their sound, which culminates in their third album, Eight Houses. The record finds the dynamic duo unafraid to take their time reaching the moments of snarling emotional abandon, and when those points finally arrive, they are devastating.

On a lighter note, we spoke to the extremely upbeat Larrabee while the couple drove through Arizona about Eight Houses, relationships, and acknowledging ugly truths.

How did the two of you meet?

Jessica Larrabee: We met in Brooklyn. Andy [LaPlant] had just moved there from New Orleans and I was bartending at this bar across the street from where he was staying at the time. It was just a regular place we would see each other and we became fast friends. I found out he was an engineer. Then we started recording and I was like, “You should play drums.” I forced him to be in a band! But that was basically it. I would give him free beer.

Where did the band name come from?

My last name is Larrabee. I wanted something with “bee” like beekeeper or bee lady, but none of those were very good. It just kinda worked. The more I learned about them [bees], and in the last five years this bee crisis has been happening, I’ve really felt like an ally. They are the lifeblood of everything on earth, which is what music is for me. It made sense.

You recorded your third album,  Dig On, in the Hudson Valley. Did you travel or try to immerse yourself in anything while recording Eight Houses?

Andy was the engineer and we were doing our album alone. So for Nests, our second album, we did in our apartment in Brooklyn and the next time we realized we couldn’t really do that again. Bushwick started becoming less artists and more business people, so we couldn’t really be loud anymore. We decided to go up and be in nature. It was one of those things where it was like, “People live like this? They can drink coffee and look at a mountain?” It was really surreal. We finally decided we wanted to use a studio for Eight Houses, everything fell into place. Nicholas Vernhes [Dirty Projectors, Deerhunter, Spoon], the producer, doesn’t really take on many bands every year, so we were really, really excited and honored. It worked out that he happened to have free time just at the time we wanted to use him. We were really allowed to get uncomfortable and get real and break out songs with Nicholas guiding and being supportive. He stretched and pruned us, so it sounds like a more sculpted record.

Dig On was released in 2012. When did you start working on Eight Houses?

I already had the singles we’ve released like “Owl” by 2011. It was a slow process because we wanted to focus on touring in the states for a little bit and that took up a lot of time and energy. We recorded a majority of the album in 2013 and went back at the beginning of this year and recorded a bit more.

What are the difficulties of recording with your spouse? How do you reach an agreement about sound?

I was so blessed that Andy is a selfless musician and with his drum playing as well, he always completely supports the song and the vision. It becomes fleshed out when I present it to him and he fills it in, so there’s not much argument with the creation. I guess we usually are pretty in tune with the aesthetic we want.

What about Eight Houses are you most excited about?

Since Andy didn’t have to worry about mic levels or drums or computer stuff, we were really allowed to focus on performance and mood. I’m proud of how it all came together and we finally have a team of people who are advocating for us. I’m proud of the way we dug in and metabolized poison and pain into positive medicines, that’s what I hope people take from it.

Your music is an intense outpouring of emotion. Do you feel like you were able to quickly tap into those emotions or was it a gradual process of self reflection?

Yeah, I think I’m always doing that, at least with writing. Some of the songs, “Wasichu” and “Greasy Grass”, were written from this place, I was dumbfounded by the stories I was reading about Native American history while we were driving through the country the last couple years. They left a heartbreak, and the more I read, the more I realized this is a universal story of progress, of indigenous people, of their land and natural resources. How can there be healing? My public school education, I grew up in D.C., never taught me that the monuments were built by slaves. I feel like there is not enough said upfront. It might be ugly, but we must confront it. How can healing happen when there is no acknowledgment that these things happened?

I happen to frequent the Elaizaville diner in the town where you recorded Dig On. What is your favorite diner food?

I cannot help myself! I love patty melt with rye bread or tuna melt. Andy is a turkey club guy, that’s his go-to. Well done hash browns, don’t let them come back with some mushy thing!

She Keeps Bees’ Eight Houses is out now on Future Gods.

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