photo by Carmel Liburdi
Shannon Barnes lost her band for a second, there.... Maybe 'lost' is too strong a verb, but members of the band known as White Bee essentially did disband a few months ago, sustained briefly and solely by Barnes, the band's lead singer/guitarist & songwriter. Barnes is as luminous a guitar player as she is a singer. She's been developing her powerful voice all her life, attaining a soulfully radiant tone that comes from years of experience that include church choirs and even some opera. I've been following her songs for a couple years now, so I wanted to catch up and talk about the future of White Bee and the momentary scare of almost losing that band.
Last month’s Hamtramck Music Fest saw a triumphant reinstatement of White Bee with a dynamic performance featuring new members. And now, on April 3, this same lineup reconvenes at the Pike Room (Crofoot) in Pontiact Crumb and Combo Chimbita.
“White Bee’s last show at HMF felt better than it has in almost two years,” said Barnes. “It felt good to have something like a comeback after those last few months. I felt lost. But, I think the feeling-lost thing pushed me to find new musicians. I was searching every day. And I found some tight players; they’re all very talented jazz musicians.”
More importantly, Barnes has been writing new material lately and reinvigorating her inspiration with a handful of recent solo performances. "What I'm most excited about is how I have more of an understanding, now, of what I'm really passionate about. I felt like I was in a comfort zone for a while (with White Bee). But once it almost pretty much went away..., I just knew that no matter what that it was still, really, the only thing that was going to make me happy. And it's going to always be the only thing that sticks. It's going to be the only thing that stays there forever, for me."
White Bee will still retain Barnes' inclinations towards funk & soul. She's an expressive guitar player with a really fluid/groovy style, but even though she riffs it's more nuanced than rock. Some of her biggest guitar influences are more recent artists like Britney Howard from Alabama Shakes, Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote, and Lianna La Havas--each exemplary of a sophisticated/fusion style of rock/funk guitar playing.
"But David T. Walker might be my favorite guitar player of all time, now," said Barnes. "He was on some Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder recordings--just this awesome rhythm guitarist who was a session musician on a lot of the 60's and 70's funk and soul records; very finger-picky, sweepy, jazzy chords. And very dreaming sounding too..."
For Barnes, soul and funk music "was just more powerful" than rock. "Especially a lot of the women soul singers, throughout history, they've just been extremely empowering to me and all women, so that aspect always had a draw for me."
Barnes has been singing all her life. She's played saxophone since she was 12, though she kinda let that fall by the way side when guitar took over in her teenage years. She started writing songs when she was 20, having moved over here to Detroit from the west side of Michigan (from a small city near Big Rapids).
Once she got into town and on Wayne State's campus (as a music student) she actively sought out friends and potential collaborators. Some of her most formative experiences were from her first couple years in music school--utilizing weekend nights to immerse herself in the house-show scene. Connecting with fellow musicians and establishing herself as a part of a community was key to keeping her going even after the near-fallout of her band. "I'm so appreciative of everyone who's been supporting me these last few months," she said, looking back. "It's really refreshing."
Part of her drive, in both creating songs as White Bee and as a creative component of the local arts/music scene, is "harmony....The most important thing in music is harmony! That is how you capture the emotion in music--through harmony." Thus, with harmony in mind, she's hoping to make White Bee a more collaborative/cohesive project in the summer and fall, while still doing solo shows here and there. Meanwhile, Barnes is hoping to get some new recordings some time in the very near future--so stay tuned.
Wed. April 3
with Crumb & Combo Chimbita