There are the California girls that you know, sun-kissed and white-toothed, easy on the grey cells, easy to tire of. Then there are the other California girls, the ones you can't shake.
Julie Ann Baenziger – Jules – was born in the suburbs of Roseville, Sacramento, quiet and shy, eccentric but happy. She grew up safe and warm, in a sheltered family, content to not know what she wanted to do with her life. Then in her late teens, she went to church with her sister, heard an older girl singing, and fell in love with her instead of God.
Suddenly she knew what she wanted, what she had to do – become a musician, and get her music into the world. But it was only years later, when Jules became Sea Of Bees, that she became herself. When you hear her, you realise she is the kind of singer-songwriter you come across only a few times in a lifetime – special, unusual, leaping out at you like an alien, her character fully-formed, her uniqueness intact.
Once Jules knew what she wanted, she worked hard to make it hers. She practised and practised – up at five every morning before swimming, then school, then back home for more. She didn't play anything, so she just sang and struck at instruments. Doubts and sadness crept in, so she buried into herself into schoolwork, graduating early, not knowing where to go next with her songs. At 23, she finally moved out of the family home, into the city, into an old creaky house, where she joined a band, playing one string on the bass.
She remembers living for drinking and partying, unsure of what to do next.
Then one day, playing idly without her band in a studio called The Hanger, John Baccigaluppi, its owner, heard her incredible voice. He bought her coffees where she worked, sat her in the studio with wine and bread after her shifts, told her how much talent she had,
and showed her how records were made. He told her that there was nothing wrong about picking strings slowly, thinking about what else you wanted to hear in a record, slotting things together gradually.
Jules was learning about music later in life too – in her childhood, her parents would only listen to songs from the '50s, with the odd sprinkle of Cher and Barbra Streisand. From her teens, she had started to enjoy Sigur Ros and Midlake, and the songwriting of Jeremy Enigk from Sunny Day Real Estate. But now she started thinking about how music was written from the heart and the mind, and what she wanted to get out of her own blood and bones, in the purest way. She would sing words that seemed to come out of nowhere, pair them up, and make sense of them. She did so quickly, going to John with an EP she made on ProTools in a day. When he heard it, he was staggered, and wanted to share her with her whole world.
Now barely a year after that first EP, Bee Eee Pee, Songs For The Ravens introduces many more people to her greatness. As she made it, she learned to play the marimba, the glockenspiel and the slide guitar. It is full of songs Jules wrote when she was emerging from her chrysalis, the work of someone who wanted to put her entire life on record, rather than keep things hidden any more.
Strikefoot is about a friend that Jules had once had feelings for, but didn't have the courage to tell her (“Where would life be? Without you?/Taming all the fires without sunshine on my feet”). Marmalade is about someone who was interested in her, but who she didn't love back (“I can hear my mockingbird/Now, oh, over my shoulder/You have no love to give/So dry just like winter”). It is also an album for the people she loved going through similar situations.
Wizbot is about a friend who told another friend that he loved her (“you read my soul, I breathe you in, as I lie still”), only for her to tell him she didn't share his feelings. Skinnybone, the track Jules is most proud of, is about the sweetness of friendship, two people “riding our bikes down L Street/Meeting just for coffee and to sit and just be/And to feel the colour of your soul right next to me”.
The album coming out is incredibly special for Jules, and it fits that there is a happy ending to her own story too. After the record was done, and her dream had become real, a new girl started work at Jules' coffeehouse. She came up to her, said hi, later texted her to say that she liked her, and after work one day, Jules ran to hers in the rain. The album is as full of love and of life as what happened there, and Jules wants it to be heard, and wants it to be shared. At last, she is who she is, let out into the world, shaking us to our cores. Our California girl is just where she wants to be.
Album: Songs For The Ravens
Heavenly Recordings / Cooperative Music
official site / myspace