Friday, September 17, 2010

Power Paper and Poetry

First impressions count for a lot in music. Before I listened to the music of Bee Sting Sessions I had already formed an attachment to the band... thanks to the original, collectible, and personal packaging of their debut CD. With printed lyrics and simple but memorable art, the case instilled a curiosity in me about the band that their music went on to confound.

Singer and guitarist T Ellis: "We went and looked through a lot of different kinds of CD packaging. Bassist Phil: "We knew before we started we wanted more than a plain-jane jewel case." They ended up going with a recyled-paper design from Stumptown Printers, of Portland. They were "already cut but not put together," says T. "We started a mini-sweatshop with glue gun and parts." They've gotten amazing feedback from the elegant, DIY results. "It reminds fans of a record." As Phil says, "People nine times out of ten will put a CD on their computer and then throw away the jewelcase." Bee Sting Sessions appreciate both the environmental and the psychological impact of having their CD case be one of the 10% that listeners hang on to.

With T's controlled, jazz- and classical-influenced singing and minimal acoustic guitar and electric bass backing, that first CD kept things on the quiet side. The group's metal attitude only really showed through in the lyrics. As they expand into a full-band lineup with lead guitarist Sam and a pianist and drummer, they're balancing their natural inclination to get louder and heavier with the expectations of fans of the first recordings. Phil: "T brings an acoustic, open-mic feel; Sam & I bring faster, hard rock, intricate technical parts. She's silky... we're fetus." T says "Hopefully we can use those varying shades of gray to our advantage." Sam: "It's more like black and white, but we get colors to come out of it."

The very band name is meant to represent a larger idea than one set group playing music together. Phil and T began the band playing a lot of open mics and they appreciate those that promote "expression without limitations." Even as they begin to resemble more of a traditional rock band there's still an element of open-stage anarchy built in by design. "Anyone who plays with us at any time is part of the larger whole," Phil explains. "We're open to anything -- poets, other guitarists, a clarinet player. It's a musical collaborative."

The band may have its idealistic side, but they are learning about the realities of the business element to things as well. They're quick to warn young musicians about the exploitative nature of third-party, out-of-town bookers who require the "pre-sale" of tickets, a common pitfall for first bands all over nowadays. And like almost everyone in Austin they have their audition horror stories: A drummer showed up with a kick drum, a snare with no stand, and no sticks. A booker won't respond to T's e-mails after one health-enforced cancellation, but put her personal address on his band's mailing list without her permission. "If you don't know anything about business, have some common sense!"

Don't ask Bee Sting Sessions what they sound like. No one serious about music leads with that one! "'Where can I listen to your band?' is a better question," says Phil. "'It's nice to mush stuff together," T offers. "Art is not created in a vaccuum."

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