Photo credit: Noah Larson
INTERVIEW: Forest Bees
Hi Sheetal, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve been good! Excited to get this music out in the world, even if that world has turned into a very foreign place. ..
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Alexa”?
Alexa is a cautionary tale about AI- it’s about the machines we build turning into our masters. Maybe benevolent masters, maybe not.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
It was actually inspired by a book called All The Birds in the Sky. by Charlie Jane Anders. It is set sometime in the near future where everyone is chained to their ‘devices’ and all the machines have connected into a benevolent neural network that is trying to help foster human connections.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
In the video I play Alexa (a machine) and myself (a human) and we are both contemplating existence in the alienating and ‘socially distanced’ world we created. I had a vision of a lonely machine wandering through a beautiful landscape. We build the video around this vision. We actually filmed it on the last day before the shelter in place order was issued in California. Little did I know how prescient the scenes of my trapped in the house would turn out to be.
The single comes off your new album Solitude – what’s the story behind the title?
That is actually not the title of the album…it is self titled. But it is a good suggestion!
How was the recording and writing process?
This album came together slowly, over the course of an entire year. In the past, I would cram as much recording into a short time period in the studio, but this time, I gave myself permission to let the songs take shape slowly, through experimentation and small tweaks over a long period of time. I worked with Monte Vallier at Ruminator Audio in San Francisco, and we would track and then sit on the songs for a few weeks and then listen to them again and add more layers or rewrite sections that weren’t working for us. It was luxurious and slow.
Would you call this a departure from your previous musical work or rather a continuation?
Forest Bees is definitely a departure from my previous work. I used to be in an indie/shoegaze band called the Stratford 4. We had a standard set up- 2 guitars, bass, drums, vocals. Being in a band was great- I miss the camaraderie and collaboration. But Forest Bees as a solo project means that I have complete control and can take the music in a direction that feels true to me.
What role does San Francisco play in your music?
I actually don’t live in San Francisco anymore, but I am still in the Bay Area. Like a lot of people who live here, I have a love/hate relationship to the city. I was in my early 20’s when I moved to SF- it was where I formed my first bands, worked crappy jobs, ran around and partied too much. There was a really tight music scene in the late 90’s – I would go out to see bands 4 nights a week. A friend’s band was always playing. But either I have changed or the city has changed and I don’t see it the same way at all. It got really expensive. Most of my friends have been pushed out. I sort of resent the people I see when I go out there because I don’t think they appreciate the city like they should. SF has such a rich history of subversion, but I just don’t see that anymore. I see blandness, conformity, and materialism. But maybe I am looking in the wrong places.
What aspect of loneliness and belonging did you get to explore on this record?
All of them! I think loneliness is more pervasive than we think, it is just that most people are uncomfortable with admitting it. At its heart, loneliness is about feeling disconnected, and connections can only be fostered by attention, and so many of us can’t or don’t pay enough attention to the things and people who should matter to us because we are pulled in so many directions. And so we flicker our attention in tiny bursts, moving from person to object to idea to a different person. And in the end we are lonely (without meaningful connection to other people) and disengaged (without meaningful connection to ideas, work, etc.) It is such a strange, sad way to live. I think art is one path out. And love.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I run an innovation lab during the day, so I think about the role of technology in our lives a lot. Both the ways it helps us and harms us. That’s a theme that bleeds into the lyrics as well- the way technology mediates the spaces between us. And I pull a lot from books I read. The last song on the record, Dust, is about Isabelle Eberhart who lived in the late 1800’s and wrote a book called The Oblivion Seekers. She was a wealthy French woman who went to North Africa, became a Sufi mystic, fell in love and lost her husband to some terrible disease. After he died, she dressed as a man to disguise herself and live independently, had her arm chopped off in a sword fight, and ended up dying in poverty of some other disease. You couldn’t make a story like that up!
Any plans to hit the road?
I did have plans for a West coast tour for this album, but it is not happening. I haven’t made plans for the rest of the year. I’m not sure when we will feel safe in crowds again.
What else is happening next in Forest Bees’ world?
I’ve been writing the next record during quarantine. It looks like the music is going in a new direction….
WATCH: “Alexa” –
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