By Charlie Swanson
Born in San Rafael and raised in the Central Valley, singer-songwriter Julie Ann Baenziger has been making bittersweet indie pop under the name Sea of Bees since 2009.
Her powerful, melodious voice and earnest, introspective lyrics have made her a beloved underground figure in her home of Sacramento, though she’s been absent from the music scene of late.
“I just started going out again slowly,” Baenziger says.
After releasing her acclaimed 2012 album Orangefarben, Baenziger took a three-year hiatus to rest and refocus. This summer, Sea of Bees returned with a sunny, shimmering and imaginative record, Build a Boat to the Sun. Sea of Bees plays with fellow Sacramento rockers Sunmonks on December 18, at Smiley’s Saloon in Bolinas.
“I think I needed a fresh mind,” Baenziger says. “When I was doing music, I got a little burnt, and I got this block in my mind almost.”
Dealing with a slew of personal issues, including a difficult breakup, and feeling the growing pressure of being in the spotlight, Baenziger had a bout of exhaustion and writer’s block.
“I was in this space of trying so hard that it wasn’t natural, and mentally I hit a wall,” she recalls. “I think I put walls up, too, of how to write. And there shouldn’t be walls; that’s what’s wonderful about music.”
Taking time away from music allowed Baenziger to resolve her issues and helped rekindle her love for music, which she first developed as a teenager in a church choir.
“It was a very slow progression,” she remembers. “I just slowly started taking better care of myself mentally, and just tried to enjoy music again, not think of it as an exhausting job, because it’s really a blessing.”
Early this year, Baenziger says, she felt the fog lift and her imagination soar. She harnessed that feeling of revitalization to craft Build a Boat to the Sun, her most upbeat record to date, and also her best. Catchy guitar and pop hooks sparkle throughout the playful collection, and Baenziger’s ebullient voice seems to resound in joy. Baenziger’s strength as a songwriter is in full bloom, and though she doesn’t know where she’ll end up next, she’s learning to enjoy the ride.
“I think [the album] was like a new birth,” she says. “I feel again like music is an old friend. You can write sad songs when you’re not feeling great, but I want to be in a place … where it’s just a part of life to create. I think I’m coming to that place.”
Sea of Bees and Sunmonks take the stage on Friday, Dec. 18 at Smiley’s Saloon, 41 Wharf Road, Bolinas; 9pm; $5; 21 and over; 415/868-1311.