Sweet Sweet Nectar: An Interview with BEES!

I had the good fortune of seeing BEES! at Ardmore Pennsylvania’s legendary Rusty Nail a couple months back and was blown away by their stage presence and energy. Worth noting: They’re not just Bees. They’re BEES! (Emphasis on the exclamation point; you need to shout it whenever you say it.) Since the show, I’ve had their CD, BEES in Space, on constant rotation in my car. It’s the perfect blend of 90s post-grunge guitars and old-school Nintendo video-game energy. To find out more, I chatted with the band’s singer/guitarist Mike Huff and bassist/backing vocalist Adam Sivilich…

What is it about bees as a species that’s so fascinating?

Mike: I don’t really know a lot about bees! The name is based on silly old monster/horror movies, like Tarantula! or Ticks. I’ve always loved that type of film – mostly cuz it makes me laugh. So it’s more like you’re in a horror movie, being chased down the street by giant, radioactive bees screaming, “BEES!”

Adam: So many things about bees are fascinating. The bee dance is a pretty good example. Researchers have studied the little shimmy bees use to communicate the location of that sweet sweet nectar. They found that the angle of the sun relative to the location correlates to the direction of the dance, even when the sun is obscured on a cloudy day, and the length of the dance correlates to the distance away. It’s also incredibly hip.

And your bees aren’t just ordinary bees, at least in terms of the art on your stickers and tee shirts. They have a kind of robotic, B-movie (no pun intended, mostly) horror sensibility. Who’s responsible for that art?

Mike: Brian Langan did the art for the original EP and BEES in Space. He’s so easy to work with and immediately knew what we were going for. He even designed a bee for our video game!

The Life Coach image was designed by Ardon Pixels, who we found through Reddit. Then we ran it through an image glitch website to get the We Don’t Wander cover!

There’s a bit of a video-game vibe—not just in the art, but in the music as well. How does gaming fit into the overall BEES! experience?

Adam: We’re both children of the early 80’s so we were kids during the golden age of regular NES & modems that go boing-boing. A lot of 8 bit tunes have been drilled into our brains over the years for sure.

Mike: We actually released a video game with our last single! It’s also called BEES in Space. It’s a Super Mario World romhack where bees have taken over the mushroom kingdom and Mario has to defeat them to survive. All of the bees in the game were designed by our fans! You can find out how to play it on our website. I’m also really proud of the BEES in Space theme music. It’s the first time I’ve created digital sounds “from scratch,” and I love the way it came out.

In terms of influence, gaming was a huge part of my childhood. At the same time that I was learning Green Day on guitar and Primus on bass, I was hearing F-Zero and Legend of Zelda on repeat. I think that’s pretty much how you get BEES!

(Editor’s note: Here’s a link to a trailer for the game: https://youtu.be/LHPqjUU91N8. Cool stuff!)

You also have a Twitch channel. How do you use that platform to engage with fans? Do you find it effective?

Mike: We started that right before we released the rom hack. Most rom hacks are insanely difficult, so we were trying to show people that: 1) rom hacks existed in the first place and 2) that they didn’t always have to be stupid hard. You need to spend a lot of time on Twitch to be a successful streamer, but a few people tuned in each time. If that got one person interested in our game, then it was successful! As of now, it’s been downloaded 331 times from smwcentral.net and hopefully a bunch more from our website!

Who’s in the band? What does everyone do—music-wise, I mean. But if you want to get into day jobs, that’s fine, too!

Adam Sivilich, Jason Gooch, and Mike Huff of BEES! PHOTO BY MICHAEL KANE PHOTOGRAPHY

Mike: At this point, we’re basically Spinal Tap when it comes to drummers, but Adam (Sivilich) and I have been ⅔ of BEES! the whole time. I sing and play guitar, and Adam plays bass and does backup vocals. This summer, we were lucky to have Jason Gooch on drums, but now he’s driving across the country with his dog. My day job is music! I teach anything with strings in the Philly School District. I work at five different schools, so one day could be beginner Orchestra and the next day is High School Cover Band. I really enjoy the variation and that I get to work with kids at all levels.

Adam: In addition to playing bass for BEES!, I’m also a stay-at-home super-dad, amateur figure skater, and avid backpacker. In other words, I am one tired dude most of the time.

Geek-question time: Mike, I love your guitar. Is it a Reverend? How does it play?

Mike: It is! It’s a Reverend Descent, so it’s actually a baritone guitar. It has a longer neck than normal and I tune in C Standard, 2 steps lower than a normal guitar. I spent a month looking all over the country for the orange one too! It plays great. It’s super punchy and has a nice, full sound that you have a lot of control over. And it feeds back like crazy through the fuzz my friend built!

And I think I noticed that you play it through a bass amp for live shows. Is that right? How does that affect the sound or give you the sound you’re going for?

Mike: Yep! I’m primarily a bassist, I just play a guitarist in BEES! MarkBass amps are the best bass amps I’ve ever used. I like a lot of high-end and they’re really good for that, so I thought why not try it with the guitar? We’ve blended in “real” guitar amps on some of the recordings, but mostly what you hear is the MarkBass. I can get even more punch out of the low strings, but it also sounds great up high. And it’s really light!

Nice! Bass amps in particular can be heavy. It’s cool that you found that’s light and sounds good! On a separate note, you have a new album coming out in late September. Can you talk a little bit about that? How would you describe the music?

Mike: It’s just a couple songs, but we’re really excited about them. “A Thousand Times” is brand new, and it’s about how QAnon destroys families. Since we’ve been playing it live, we’ve found that it’s something a lot of people can relate to. It goes from calm, picked guitar to heavy, sludgy chorus and has your usual BEES! lyrical charm (“I’m so open-minded, my head is hollow.”)

The other song is “1×1.” It’s a fun punk song about leaving a band and starting another. There’s a demo on our bandcamp, but we never really got a solid recording that we wanted to release everywhere until now. This is the definitive version of “1×1.” Director’s Cut!

Adam: Yeah, we’ve got another real banger coming out soon, different I think than anything we’ve released before. Recording is always such a great time. Once in a while when we have a few new songs we work them out in the basement, get as tight as we can, then in the studio the fellas at Cardinal Recordings get us tracked and add the final seasoning. Recording, like live performance, is a critical part of developing musically. It drives the finer improvements to technique and helps shape the direction of the band.

Can you talk a little bit about recording? What’s your process? How do you go from having an idea for song to the finished version that appears on the album?

Mike: Most recently, we recorded “Sorry,” “A Thousand Times,” and “1×1” all at the same time. I write the lyrics and chords/riffs for most of the songs, but then we’ll spend weeks trying different variations, styles, note choices, or rhythms. When it’s finally right, we just kinda know! Going into the studio, we just shed the songs like crazy – working with a metronome, playing separately and giving each other feedback, recording and listening back over and over. Recording “Sorry” was really rewarding because most of the chiptune stuff was just in my head. The distorted guitars and chiptune sounds so good together and I wasn’t entirely sure it would!

Also, huge thanks to Mike Weiser of Cardinal Recordings for playing drums on “Sorry” and “A Thousand Times” with hardly any notice or practice. He and Steve Angello are the best.

What’s next?

Mike: Ska! No, seriously. We’re doing a ska cover of “I’ll Be Haunting You” by They Might Be Giants! Our friends in The What Nows?! are part of a group of musicians that puts out ska cover compilations called Rudy Reboots. They’ve done Ben Folds and Barenakes Ladies, and coming up is TMBG and Broadway. We’re big TMBG fans, so we’re glad they wanted us to contribute!

We’re also playing the Part-Time Rockstar Festival at Phantom Power in Lancaster with Scoopski on September 10th!

Very cool! You guys and Scoopski pair well together. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Mike: Thanks!!!

More of a Project than a Band: An Interview with Bjorn Egelius of Abandoned Playground

For my money, it’s hard to top abandoned playgrounds when it comes to creepiness. A single swing swaying back and forth with nobody on it? Add some mist and a set of footprints that just stops, and you have the makings of a pretty spooky trailer, if not the opening scene of a full-on thriller. All of which may be why I was attracted to Abandoned Playground, a hard-rocking band that formed in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2018. Curious to know more, I reached out to bass player Bjorn Egelius to answer a few questions…

How did Abandoned Playground come together?

I’ve known Mikael for fifteen years or so. We both have a long background as musicians. One day Mikael was up in Stockholm and dropped by my place, he asked do you have any songs that I can do vocals on?  We felt it was a really good thing coming out of it.

How would you describe your sound?

A bit heavy with some post-punk influences.

Your most recent single is called “You’re a Dreamer.” Can you say a little about that?

It’s about a person drifting away from you and others close to him/her doing their things with concern for others or themselves for that matter.

I find it interesting that you combine various elements in your music—particularly punk and prog, which used to be perceived as inimical to each other. How did you arrive at that combination?

I have a background as a bass player and founder of a progressive rock band, therhythmisodd, with whom I recorded a couple of albums.  In my younger days I was more into punk and metal.

Mikael also has a background from the punk scene, so I guess it influenced us a bit.

The band consists of you and Mikael Johansson. How do you work together as a team? What is your writing process?

I write the music and and lyrics, Mikael arranges the vocal performance and adjusts the lyrics.

And your recording process?

The music is recorded by me at my “home studio,” shipping it over to Mikael who records the vocal at his end of the woods.  The next step is to hand over the project to Burken (Peter Bjorklund) for the solo guitar.

Finally the programmed drums are replaced with acoustic drumming performed  by Fredrik Gunnarsson.  Usually I rerecord the bass part to make it sit tighter with the drums to make more groovy.

As I mentioned above, I find your band name to be incredibly evocative. What does it mean to you, and how does it reflect what you’re doing with your music?

Funny you’re asking! It has to do with my old recording studio I had for more than 20 years. The landlord needed to take down the building, so my “playground”  had to be abandoned!  🙂

You formed in 2018, so that’s well before the pandemic. How did you weather the early pandemic years as a band?  

Since this has been more of a project than a band (we are actually located in different areas in the country), it was a booster for the project since we had to spend more time at home, which was good for the creativity.

What’s the music scene like in Stockholm?

The music scene in Stockholm is a bit hard, at least for unsigned bands.  The pandemic lockdowns hit a lot of the clubs and bars, of course.

Is there any chance that you’ll play live anytime soon?

Yes, that is something that we feel is really needed. We are planning for it.

Anything else on the horizon?

A new song is coming this later this fall. The name is “it’s a smash hit.”  

Intrigued by the Unknown Places: An Interview with Bob Prince of Rebel Tramp

Welcome to the second installment featuring winners of the Lights and Line album writing contest! This week, we’re chatting with Bob Prince of Rebel Tramp, whose Intra Dimensional Fantasy took home a prize for top EP. Describing the EP, Prince explains, “I tried to be my weirdest self on this one. I mixed my love of blues rock with electronica music and tried to still sound like me.” Curious to know more? Read on!

An EP in a month! How did you do it, and what did you learn from the experience?

When I first heard about the album writing club, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity so entered and thought I’ve got nothing to lose. Luckily, I always seem to have bits and pieces of songs recorded on my phone or computer that I save as idea starters for another time. For Example, Wavetashia started out as just a short key board riff I had recorded spontaneously while I was experimenting with synthesizer sounds. It was about 30 seconds long, just one track and a drum loop. After searching through my inventory of ideas I picked a few that I thought would work well together and went from there. After I had five song ideas in front of me, before moving any further I worked on a name for the EP and the title tracks to help me to set the vibe or overall sound of the EP. To help with time and focus I basically listened to the song ideas over and over while I drove to work on my breaks, basically any free time I had. This helped me greatly and I do it with all the music that I want to record so I when it’s time to lay down something I feel prepared. I think the layed back approach from the team at Lights & Lines really helped too. I didn’t feel pressured and I as I said I just kind of went with anything goes approach, or as said before “I was my weirdest self”. On this EP I really learned to trust my ability to take on the part of producer and to go with my instincts. I also learned to think of the project a whole piece of work instead of focusing on each track and hoping they connect after the fact.

What kinds of challenges did you face?

I think time was my biggest challenge, between work and family I had to make the most of my free time. I stayed up pretty late early on working the frame work of the tracks so I wouldn’t feel rushed as the dead line approached. One of the other challenges I think I faced was the vocal part. I’m really just starting to record my own vocals so I did minimal vocal work and focused on instrumentals letting the keyboards, guitar or whatever sounds I was recorded do the talking. Initially I had tried to see if anybody wanted to collab but then realized that working with somebody else might end up being more challenging and time consuming so I decided to go it alone. Doing it alone was somewhat challenging as I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of.

How did you find out about the album writing club?

 I saw Mikes post on twitter about the Album writing club and got really excited about it. I had been following Mike5 and New Music Saturday for the last year and really found them to be intriguing and fun to follow. Knowing these were some cool dudes made me excited to be a part of the album writing club. You have to have a bit of confidence about your music and having just finished my EP Urban Frequencies with my other project Amplitude & Frequency with Shaun Charlton on vocals I was feeling pretty confident about my music which I think gave me some momentum.

Who’s in Rebel Tramp, and who plays what? Or is it all you?

Rebel Tramp is just me. I play guitar bass, keys and attempt to sing. I mix and master my own music too. I have done several collabs and at times have used drummers from sound better. With my free time always being limited, being in a band that makes original music has been challenging, Rebel Tramp has been a way for me to make the music I’ve always wanted to make without compromise. In the end Doing the project solo has been easier. Intra Dimensional Fantasy is just Rebel Tramp no collabs. I will say my experiences collaborating having been nothing but amazing and great learning experiences. I’ve collaborated with Amie Bishop, The Talking Tears and Shaun Charlton so far.

Is there a theme that ties your EP together?

I definitely tried to do that. Although this EP is nearly all instrumentals except for the opening track Deep Space Blues I think the cohesiveness is there. The theme is about creativeness, searching deep inside and imagining things that maybe will never be but could be. When I make music, I often use imagery to help guide the direction of the track. For example, Deep Space Blues is about getting to a place within yourself were there are no distractions, and letting your creativity go wild. Imagine different worlds, life forms, ways of experiencing life. It’s kinda similar to a sci-fi theme, I guess. Not sure that makes any sense.

What’s your approach to recording when you’re not trying to complete an entire EP in a month?

I would say it was the same approach. Mike had encouraged the album writing group to submit what we did even if it wasn’t finished. So, I submitted an EP that was about 80% finished. I also used logics drumming program instead of real drummer which cut down time on mixing. That being said, once I get an idea that I think is solid recorded on logic I’ll start adding and experimenting with multiple guitar or keyboard tracks (synthesizers, strings etc..). I’ll then listen to the track and play along using effects from either logic or from my Line 6 pod go looking for the perfect complementary tones or effects. Then I listen, lots of listening like over and over and over. This either leads to ideas for melody lines or lyrics that I’ll record later if they stick ( I only use the ideas that keep coming back to me ) or when I’m sitting down with an instrument in hand it gives me clear idea where I want a keyboard part or guitar to land on the track. I had somebody comment on my track Future Dreamers saying it was “great sound weaving” which I think was brilliant and a great description of what I try to accomplish when recording. I find adding lots of track helps, although I might not use all of them, I often will use a small bit form a track here or there that really brings it all together.

There’s definitely a funkiness to the tracks you’ve released on Spotify. Who are some of your influences?

 I’ll take that as a compliment. I’ve played in lots of blues bands and have a huge blues influence. BB king, Albert King, Mike Bloomfield on and on. Also, Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, John Coltrane, Any Jazz Fusion from the 70’s, Metallica, and Sound Garden are probably my biggest influences.

I’m also curious about the cosmic imagery that you employ. Can you say a little about that?

I’ve always been very intrigued by the unknown places within our universe. When I think about space or the cosmos it reminds me of how magical it is to be alive and I try to convey that in my music. I also think making music is very similar to painting at least in my mind. There are just so many cool images in the cosmos with lots of beautiful colors that inspire me. It’s also as simple as music being my “get away” a place where problems of the world can’t reach me. Obviously I can’t travel to space but I try to through music

Any plans to play Intra Dimensional Fantasy live any time soon?

I wish! Right now, with my job (got to pay the bills), family responsibilities and no actual band mates it seems very unlikely, but you never know! Hopefully one day I’ll have the musical skills to pay the bills!

What’s on the horizon?

I just Finished the final edit of the first single off the EP Wavetashia and I believe that will come out officially with Lights & Lines sometime in September. The rest of the tracks on the Intra Dimensional Fantasy EP need to be finished so that will be my priority for now. I’ve been doing some work with Martin Holley (DIY Indie Musicians) and recently did a very small guitar lead part for The Talking Tears new album Deja Vu. I already have some ideas for a Rebel Tramp album and I’m hoping to do some more music on my other project Amplitude & Frequency with Shaun Charlton (Chuckas Indie playlist) in the next year. I’m really looking forward to being part of such a great team at Lights & Lines and will be definitely be helping to promote the other artists on the label. Last, I want to say thank you for interviewing me and coming up with some really great questions.

Thanks, Bob! The pleasure was all mine!