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!
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.
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!