This Friday, Nov. 27, local musicians Beekeepers host a record-release party for their second full-length album Beekeepers II. It goes down at Kelly's in Hamtramck, where they will be joined by the Sros Lords and Deadbeat Beat. You can pre-order the LP on their bandcamp page for $10.
This is not an easy group to categorize or define. Numerous labels have been applied to their sound. They're a rock band, but variations on jazz, prog, and punk get tacked on when people try to describe their sound. What we do know for sure is that the members of Beekeepers have come together with fairly virtuosic command of their instruments to compose some of the most interesting and alive music in Detroit right now.
Metro Times sat down with the band at their practice space in the north end of Detroit to try and gain a better understanding of their sound.
Metro Times: Please introduce yourselves.
Beekeepers: Patrick Robinson plays bass guitar, guitar, and does vocals. Pete Steffy plays Rhodes, synth, tape echo, and sometimes bass. Jeff Else plays the drums. Brandon Robinson plays synthesizers. We've been through lineup changes but we've been pretty solid for the last three years with the four of us. David Allen, who co-wrote two of the songs that are on the new album, was a guy who Patrick grew up with and played with in his first band, the Earwhigs. He lives in LA now, along with Jeremy Franchi, who played sax on the new record. Pat McGlew and Keith Bedore are two other guys who were major parts of Beekeepers in the past but don't play with us anymore. Pat lives in Finland now and has made some amazing solo music recently.
MT: What studio did you guys record Beekeepers II.
Beekeepers: Our basement.
MT: It's obviously new, but do you know if anyone has reviewed it yet?
Beekeepers: Not that we know of. We set up a Google alert, and it notified us once, but it was something about beekeeping. We get a lot of weird posts on our Faceook page. A lot of the people liking our page intend to like something about bees. We got a lot of questions like, "I have to dispose of my aunt's beehive, when she passed away. What do I do with all these bees?"
MT: Do you guys think the live element is pretty crucial to understanding your sound?
Beekeepers: This is the second LP we've made. We've been around for a long time but this is the first one we've got pressed. It's our second full-length album and we have one 7-inch out too, but as long as we've been around we've played live a lot more than we've recorded. We're shifting more toward doing recording, and I think our music is in general more conducive to that medium because we like to be kind of perfectionist. Jeff especially who records, and did all of our recording for this album, had that ability to tweak and experiment. We definitely spent a lot more time layering takes and splicing together takes and stuff like that than the first record, which was a little more straightforward. We took the most unified approach to that recording, and all the other songs that are on the new album all were invented in their own ways. Like some of them were just written by [Patrick] and David, almost by ourselves, and then we took it to the band. Then there were other ones like "Normal Dressed Man," where we just came up with the song in the basement jamming.
MT: It seems like there's a big improvisational component.
Beekeepers: There definitely is, even within a song that is very tightly formed; I think when we play live we always try to fuck with it. Even if it is to the point of throwing the band off we always try to express it differently. It's really a different process for every song. One of the songs on the record Brandon wrote all the parts for, and one of the songs Pete wrote the music for but then it developed practicing. Most of the songs either Patrick wrote or there is a few that we just kind of developed out of a jam at practice. And a couple are very old that never got recorded.
MT: Favorite places to play?
Beekeepers: Jumbo's. Kelly's. We played some fun out-of-town shows. House shows. We played a really fun, weird one in Marquette. They paid us like $400 and got us two hotel rooms. They just saw that we were on the bill at some festival down here and were like, "Oh they're a band! OK let's get them!" $400, food, beer and a hotel room. We played the show, took the $400, and then went camping at Pictured Rocks for a few days. It was great.
MT: What are you guys listening to right now?
Beekeepers: Dvoák. [Pete's] a real classical boy. We were listening to The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas on repeat earlier today because it was at the DSO earlier this week and it was really good. Khachaturian's violin concerto and Joanna Newsom's new album. Cameo, lots of Cameo. Word Up is a really great album — all synth based. A lot of funk and R&B. Midnight star. Conway Twitty and the Kinks. And Fiona Apple. We're all Fiona Apple fans.
MT: What's up with your recent video, "Parking Lots"?
Beekeepers: It's a documentary about we did on our summer vacation gone wrong. It's a cautionary tale, directed by Dustin Hamlin.
MT: Anything else?
Beekeepers: Can we shout out Bone Thugs?
Beekeepers' record-release show with Deadbeat Beat and Sros Lords takes place at Kelly's Bar on Friday, Nov. 27. Doors at 9 p.m.; 2403 Holbrook St., Hamtramck; 313-872-0387; $5.
Adam Woodhead is a Metro Times intern.