Jarring honeys

Local indie-punk duo Sick Bees finds sweetness in dissonance.

Never underestimate the importance of accessories. Someday just the right belt or purse could change your life. Take Starla and Julio (who go by nicknames only) of Seattle's Sick Bees. Five years ago, they were introduced at a party. The former was transfixed by the latter's footwear. "They were these black boots that have buckles and laces on them," recalls Julio. "They're old-man shoes."

Sick Bees

On the One (Rx Remedy)

Starla had recently relocated to the Emerald City from Austin, Texas, where she'd been active in a series of bands. Julio seemed like an ideal new musical foil for her. "This is going to sound cheesy, but when I met her, I knew that we were going to play music together," insists Starla. "I had a very strong psychic feeling."

Julio was surprised, and rightly so. "I couldn't figure out why she wanted to play with me, because I'd never played in a band . . . but I wanted to," she confesses. "I didn't even have any instruments." Regardless, the two women began relentlessly pursuing their own muse, hidden away from the public eye.

After months of practice, the inspiration for what to call their project came from another unusual impetus. "These bees stung this friend of ours when she was asleep," recalls Julio. "And that was something we'd been teasing her about for a while. Then we found out that she was really sick. So we finally named the band . . . after three years."

As captured on their brand-new debut CD, On the One, the duo's sound is characterized by inventive arrangements and instrumentation: Starla contributes flute, keyboards, vocals, and guitar; Julio plays drums, clarinet, organ, and even toy piano (on "Driving Nails"). Shot through with the visceral energy of indie punk, their concise but idiosyncratic compositions recall seminal innovators the Raincoats, X-Ray Spex, and the Slits. "We come up with songs on the spot, and try to do them as quickly as we can. Not because we're in a hurry, but to preserve the spontaneity of it as much as possible," explains Starla.

That hit-and-run approach dates back to the band's earliest sessions, as captured on "White Girl Wish," the new album's final cut. "That was written while it was being recorded on tape," admits Starla. "We'd never played before, except for maybe the bass line with the drums." They'd never mapped out a beginning or end. "We just rolled the tape, and went." Afterwards they couldn't even figure out how to reproduce the song; the version heard on the CD is the original four-track recording.

Even lyrics are drafted on the spot. "We'll start playing, and [Starla] just comes up with this stuff that cracks me up," says the drummer. Take "Metal Love," which checks Led Zeppelin and Def Leppard. "She was making fun of me one night, right after I started playing drums, thinking about her favorite heavy-metal drummers who've had tragedies early in their careers, and suggesting I might lose an eye or something." If life imitates Spinal Tap, expect to see Julio spontaneously combust at a show any day now.

Fortunately, mutating into Neil Peart isn't an option. "The people I know who play drums tell me they can tell that I don't know what I'm doing," reveals Julio, touching on the essence of the Sick Bees' charm. "They mean it in a good way."

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