By Joe Hadsall
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Band members disagree about how many words guitarist Pete Burton wrote for Me Like Bees. Singer Luke Sheafer knows of one word, for sure. Burton thinks there might be three or four.
"A long time ago, he suggested 'snail' instead of 'snake' (for 'Comet and the Snail')," Sheafer said, joking. "So we'll say I wrote 99.98 percent of the lyrics."
Me Like Bees has its songwriting process down pretty well these days. Together since 2009, the band recently released its first full-length album through Loveway Records, the imprint started by Christopher Ingle of Never Shout Never. The band is a few months removed from a nationwide, 7,000-mile tour that took them from the East Coast to Colorado, playing huge, sold-out shows at Chicago's House of Blues and Asbury Park's Stone Pony in New Jersey.
The band, which also includes bassist Nick Bynum and drummer Timothy Cote, is touring locally again, including a show Saturday at JB's Piano Bar. The band is also making plans for recording its second full-length album.
Or making plans to make plans, maybe. While studio time hasn't been planned, Sheafer said ideas are starting to form.
"We're ready to put out another album," Sheafer said. "As soon as we have enough songs to make one. We were very patient in writing, and we axed a lot of ideas and scrapped a lot of music for the first one. But it feels like we know what we're doing now. We've become better songwriters."
Song roots writing
The band had previously released a six-song EP in 2011, a few weeks after the May 22 tornado -- the same storm that forced Sheafer to miss his stepfather's funeral in Kansas City. While he and other band members didn't lose any lives or property, many of their friends did.
The experience led to writing the song "Naked Trees" as a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. Though the backbone of the song was together before the tornado struck, the tornado gave the song a new voice. At the time, band members said that it was the strongest song they had written so far.
That songwriting energy is strong throughout "The Ides," Sheafer said.
"A lot of it was that we didn't know what sound we wanted to be," Sheafer said. "We're still all over the board, but we thought that was one of the better songs we had ever written. We could make things go with this."
Challenges sprung up early, however. Soon after the November release of "Naked Trees," former bassist Asher Poindexter announced that he was leaving the band for family reasons.
A few days later, they got the call from Loveway to start recording. They quickly found Bynum, who, with Poindexter's help, learned the band's past music, helped write songs for "The Ides" and learned to play them all live. Band members said the former member helped out a lot with the transition, and made it as painless as possible.
"He had other things he was being led to," Burton said about Poindexter. "But he helped out a lot. (Bynum) had to learn a lot of songs and others that weren't on any albums so that we could still play shows."
Engineered by Jeff Smith at Studio 2100 in Springfield, the band completed the recording process about a year ago in a strenuous six to seven weeks of writing and recording. Not knowing what to expect in the studio, Sheafer said the band recorded its own versions, so that they knew exactly what to record without wasting any studio time.
Once in the studio, things went well, band members said.
"There were challenges, but we did pretty well rolling with them," Sheafer said. "There were no major freakouts, and our biggest question was wondering how prepared do we have to be."
Once recording finished, the band and Loveway representatives nailed down contract and distribution terms. Sheafer said working with the local label had the feel of an informal meeting with friends at IHOP or Denny's.
"A lot of the delay was our fault," Burton said. "They are easygoing people and could have put something out. We wanted things on paper. It was nice not dealing with someone over the phone in Florida. Even sorting out the contract felt more like friends figuring out the details of what they were going to do that night."
Behind 'The Ides'
"The Ides" is a 15-song album that includes the song that got everything rolling, "Naked Trees." Lyrically, it features themes about tragedies, redemption and restoration. Lazarus, the dead man who was brought back to life by Jesus, is featured in several songs. Caesar, who had to beware the ides of March, also figures in prominently.
"The ides are generally the middle of a month," Sheafer said. "The image of Lazarus out of the tomb, that talks about a more spiritual, emotional death, and coming back from that."
The band's upbeat, melodic, alt-rock sound is featured prominently -- it sounds clean and professional without losing its messy edge. Several songs clearly feature the band's Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand influences; other subtle moments recall the better parts of Arcade Fire and The Decemberists.
The band is pleased with the results. Smith turned out to be easy to work with, band members said.
"(Smith) knows exactly what he's doing," Sheafer said. "Even after recording, I didn't know how things were going to sound, but working with him, I was relieved. He has a knack."
Burton said the band was able to keep the structure of its songs and its raw sound intact and didn't have to change its identity anywhere on the album.
"If there was a stalemate, he was able to recommend the best way," Burton said. "It was really helpful for us to have his outside perspective. We've heard these songs so many times, it comes to a point where we have to let it go. I can't think of a single time he suggested something and we wouldn't have done it."
The best thing about the whole process was the band's pace. Nothing was too rushed, and everything happened at a good time. Though the band would have preferred to had the full album ready back during its recent spring, 7,000-mile tour, everything else has unfolded well.
That leaves the band in perfect position for whatever comes next, Sheafer said. A distribution deal with a label with plenty of ties into the music business, a successful tour and a solid local following means anything could happen.
The band is planning to record a music video for "Ra Ra Etc." and has several shows booked across the region.
"Everything in the music industry is a stab in the dark," Sheafer said. "Whoever stays in the game longest wins, just like any business."
While band members agree that the title track is the heart of "The Ides," they all agree that "Pneumonia" is their favorite song. Sheafer said that they were still messing around with the lyrics and structure days before recording.
"We had never played that as a band before recording it," said drummer Timothy Cote. "We had to learn how to play it together before going out on tour."
Want to go?
Me Like Bees will celebrate the release of its full-length album "The Ides" with an album-release concert Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at JB's Piano Bar. Other acts include Carter Hulsey and Abandon Kansas. Cover: $10. Details: 417-624-5678.