She Keeps Bees are performing on Saturday at Cameo Gallery, 93 North 6th St., Brooklyn, 8 p.m., $8.
It’s hard to listen to She Keeps Bees and not think about the White Stripes. The comparison between the two groups has been noted, and in some ways it’s warranted. There’s the gritty minimalist rock sound; the instrumentation is just guitar, drums and vocals; and the configuration of the duo is male and female. However, there’s a bit of role reversal here–in She Keeps Bees it’s Jessica Larrabee, whose voice is also reminiscent of PJ Harvey at times, who sings and plays guitar, and Andy LaPlant on drums.
So how do the members of She Keeps Bees feel about the White Stripes comparisons? “It’s nice when people feel a connection with us through strong artists,” Jessica told me in an email interview. “We feel like if comparisons are what people need to open up to a new band, then no harm can really be done.”
Describing their sound as “raw, roots, simple, soulful, driving rock,” She Keeps Bees have been recording independently since 2006 with three full-length albums under their belts, the latest one being last year’s wonderful Dig On. The band members are returning to Brooklyn this Saturday playing at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg for a show that was organized by Sharon Van Etten. “Sharon is a dear friend, like a sister to us,” says Jessica. “We all lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn for a while. She was always so supportive and kind. We feel very grateful to have her in our lives. Andy played drums on a couple songs on her EP epic–I sang some back-up vocals.”
Jessica is originally from Wheaton, MD, and Andy hails from Green Bay, WI. The two met at a Brooklyn bar where Jessica worked as a bartender, and quickly discovered that they had both been in bands since their teens, says Jessica. “I found out he was an engineer, so I gave him a CD of my solo stuff. Then we started to record together. After a while, he was coming to the shows anyway, so I asked him to play. My father was a drummer, and that was my first instrument, so I taught him the basics. We grew together musically as our songs became more aggressive over time.”
Like the White Stripes and another male-female duo, Buke and Gase, She Keeps Bees perform their music sans bass player. To Jessica, it was based on practical reasoning. “I think it was more out of necessity and convenience schedule and money-wise low overhead,” she says, “we can travel lightly. I think it was good to just narrow our vision of performing to very simple terms…to get the most possible out of two instruments. It’s allowed us more freedom.”
She Keeps Bees’ music has been recorded mostly at home and self-released in the U.S., and in Europe through a label called names. “The songs usually start on acoustic as a skeleton,” Jessica says about the songwriting process. “When I play with Andy, he fleshes them out and makes them real. Songwriting is a heart-centered service for me. Both of us want to be useful and help heal, so inspiration comes from paying attention and setting our intentions constructively.”
Although Dig On came out in 2011, She Keeps Bees haven’t stopped bringing forth new music this year. The duo recently released a new single, “Counter Charm,” which has a very haunting Southern gothic feel to it. The song, which was recorded in Paris, marks a collaboration with the French cellist Gaspar Claus. “We had a little break from touring while in the UK,” explains Jessica, “so a friend who owns a restaurant in Paris invited us for a casual weekend of collaborative recording in the restaurant. Gaspar is a mutual friend who agreed to take part and we all hit it off right away. It was a really amazing and magical time.” The flip side of that single is a very lovely interpretation of “Blue Moon,” which echoes the wonderful version recorded by Cowboy Junkies. Jessica says of what prompted the group to cover that song: “Late night drinking bravery. Andy played guitar and I tried to channel Peggy Lee for my grandpa.”
Jessica says She Keeps Bees plan to record a new record next year. Will it be musically a similar or departure to the last record? “We want to keep growing our sound,” says Jessica, “and we’re very open about the direction, so stayed tuned!”