Austin’s Bee Vs. Moth, indeed, embody a few of my favorite things: An appreciation for film history and a communal collective of like-minded artists. The band began in 2004 with bassist Philip Moody and drummer Sarah Norris. Since then, the instrumental band has released three full-lengths, featuring an ever-expanding and rotating cast of musicians, in addition to creating original scores for classics by the likes of cinematic masters like Buster Keaton and Ernst Lubitsch. Their most recent album, Shelter in Place, came out this September on Aggraveire Music. The album blends jazz musicianship with the controlled chaos aesthetic of the best kind of punk… not surprisingly, often resembling Kim and/or Thurston when lending their classical talents and radical viewpoints to avant-garde multimedia…albeit slightly less abrasive…
I recently got a chance to chat with both Philip and Sarah about the history of Bee Vs. Moth. I ask them about the highlights of their decade together and Sarah tells me that they definitely appreciate the opportunities they’ve been given to contribute to the world of celluloid: “Definitely one highlight was the first soundtrack performance we did, for the Buster Keaton film The Cameraman. Having to write, record, and choreograph with a film is a lot of work.” Philip jumps in, explaining that this relatively arduous work is actually that that they find to be the most satisfying and that which they hope to do more of in the future: “It’s difficult to write and time consuming to get that writing timed just right with the film, but it turned out to be a performance better than any rehearsal we’d ever had, so it was really difficult, but really rewarding. It can be scary to do live updates of silent films because because it’s a silent film, the music is a little more front and center, but it’s really rewarding when it works out, but we’re also wanting to do an actual soundtrack for a current film… That would be a nice thing to add to our resume.”
Philip and Sarah also admit that Shelter in Place serves as a highlight. Sarah tells me that their latest represents an evolution in their sound and style of working.
“Recording this project was pretty different from our first two records. Our first album was recorded pretty much live. The second was a little more polished and we had a little more studio time. This record was more of a studio effort. We hadn’t spent much time playing these songs in clubs, so they’re still growing and evolving.”
Philip also explains that for their third LP Bee Vs. Moth allowed themselves to experiment much more with instrumentation, incorporating a rock rhythm section with a horn frontline and exploring instrument combinations that they have never considered before, inspired by their most recent personnel. He also tells me that, while the band has jazz roots, what they strive to produce is a little more complex: “We’re really into the beginning to the present of jazz music, but we’re into weirder things, rather than straight ahead jazz. We’re also really inspired by a lot of the Chicago old school guys.”
Bee Vs. Moth recently released a music video for “Machine Room Reverie,” an uncharacteristically guitar-less and horn-less number that they present cinematically on VHS with a combination of ‘80s DIY videography and photos from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, resembling a both comical and poignant cross between the greatest visual hits of 120 Minutes and the ingeniously hilarious closing credit sequence of Dogville. They also have a handful of upcoming local dates in Austin (12/20 at the Vortex Theater, 1/23 at the Carousel Lounge, and 2/26 at The Badlands). Philip and Sarah each tell me that the live experience allows them to expand and explore their sound. Philip explains that while listeners shouldn’t expect the band’s live set to recreate the experience of the album, that that’s also relatively easy to get away with with an instrumental act like themselves: “The one thing we do live is we change some of the stuff from the original songs. We’re not bound by lyrics and we’re not passing out charts, so people can follow along with the songs, and solos are improvised, so every night can be different.” Sarah also adds that the very experience of being on tour and improvising songs every night can have an impact on the songs themselves: “The songs always sound different when we get home from tour from improvising certain portions every night.”