In the stretch of time between recording her 2009 debut album Songs for the Ravens and the time when it was released one year later by small indie label Crossbill Records, Julie Ann Bee -- who records under the name Sea of Bees -- met the woman who would become her first girlfriend.
A huge emotional leap for anyone, let alone a recently out of the closet 25-year-old who was raised in a strict religious family in a conservative suburb of Sacramento, this was no small matter. Besides the obvious swell of contentment and joy this brought Julie, it also opened up some much-needed conversations about her sexuality with family and friends.
The relationship and the release of the album were both huge steps forward for Julie, and it only accelerated in the fall of 2010, when Heavenly/Universal picked up Ravens for worldwide release. To keep up with the accolades and attention being sent her way as a result, she spent most of 2011 touring Europe and the U.S., including stops at the famed Glastonbury Festival, CMJ, and a whopping 12 shows at that year's SXSW.
Sadly, all the activity in Julie's professional life put a pall on her personal life, and her first relationship didn't last. But, for better or worse, the turmoil did much to feed her creativity. The result is Orangefarben, the second Sea of Bees full-length, a beautiful and striving work that finds the young songwriter applying the same intrepid lyrical spirit that marked Ravens to an unblinking exploration of the unfolding and dissolution of her first love.
Each song on the album is given a pointed single word title. It's a bold move that encourages close listening. Julie is unafraid to have you dig deep within and find the core of each one. It can start with an image like "Teeth," which she uses to spill out the memory of her first time kissing her former partner. Or it's a simple idea like "Give," a gorgeous song that highlights just how much of one's time, energy, and affection you are willing to bestow upon a loved one.
Julie also uses this framing device for the album's sole cover song, a meditative take on John Denver's "Leaving On a Jet Plane." Titled on the album as simply "Leaving," the poignancy of this song choice is deepened when you learn that it was a family favourite and one that she would sing for her girlfriend before she left for tour.
While her hectic tour schedule didn't offer her much time to record, Julie was able to work on Orangefarben in shorts bursts between tours during the late summer/early fall of 2011, working once again with John Baccigaluppi at The Hangar Studios in Sacramento.
And as on Ravens, Julie handles almost all the instrumentation herself, playing guitars, bass, keyboards, and even tackling the drumming on several tracks. She does relinquish the reins here and there, however. James Neil, who played most of the drums on Ravens, shows up on several tracks. She's joined on "Girl" by Rusty Miller (Kelly Stoltz, Chuck Prophet) who helps out on drums, bass, and guitars, and by Jon Grahoff (Ryan Adams) who contributes pedal steel on "Teeth."
Juile also sought some outside help when it came to mixing the album, enlisting the steady hands and ears of Thom Monahan who has worked with bands such as Vetiver, the Pernice Brothers, and Fruit Bats, and helped bring out the nuances and glorious textures of this defining work.
Released on May 1st, 2012 on Team Love Records, Orangefarben is as much of a reflection of one relationship as it is of the relationships we all have with one another. There's giddy joy, desperate sorrow, yearning, fear, frustration, and a depth of emotion that can only come when sharing little or big portions of yourself with a kindred spirit. Just as Julie Ann Bee was unafraid to share so much of herself on this album, she encourages you take to Orangefarben with the same fearless abandon.