Q&A with Rae from The Honeybees

Rae Fehring from The Honeybees is one of those rare musicians–she can write lyrics and music, she has an amazing voice, she’s a great storyteller, and she’s genuinely approachable. And on top of that, she has a deep passion for music, life, and empowering others in the community to rock! (And we hear she’s kinda awesome at karaoke!) This Iowa-native should definitely be on your to-hear list.

BB: How old were you when you started taking an interest in music? Was it love at first sight?

RF: Well, I really feel like I started loving music as soon as I was born.  I can remember songs from the radio (singing every word) since I could talk–like songs from 1974/75. I was born in 73.  The radio used to keep me company when I was small. I remember actually making a game out of having to sit through the commercials.  I would talk back to the commercials like, “Does your car make funny noises?” and I’d be like, “Now that you mention it, YES!  What can I do?”

I’m trying to think of the first music I listened to at home…I’d say it was Ricki Lee Jones. I remember her first record released in 1979. I was 6, and sang every song.  I used to rock the fuck out to “Chuck E’s in Love.”  Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, 1976, I think…I remember singing the crap out of that thing, too. I was only 3 when it came out, but I swear I knew it all.

My mother was really into classic country most of my life.  Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn–all those real country music artists. She also had a vast array of tastes that I grew up with like Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald (yes, I lived through listening to the Doobie Brothers), Steely Dan. Surprisingly, there were a lot of women in music that my mom listened to, which it think influenced a lot of my tastes as I got older.

My dad’s listening tastes influenced my taste in rock music. Neil Young was huge in my house. CSNY as well.  Tom Petty, The Stones, The Beatles, Led Zepplin–pretty classic stuff…mostly dudes, though.

I took piano for many years as a kid. I started violin in 6th grade and played through my freshman year of college. I was an orchestra kid all the way. Choir was a big deal for me, too. Although, throughout Jr. High and high school, my choir teachers really didn’t support me in a way that made me think I was any good (though I’d been learning to sing my whole life). I remember making All State in high school, and the choir teacher hardly even acknowledged it in the same way she fussed over everyone else in my quartet who also made it. That all changed in college.

BB: You studied voice and opera at Central College. How did that experience shape who you are as a musician now?

RF: My choir teacher at Central, the late Dr. David Williams, and my voice instructor, Dr. Anne Petrie, both supported, in some ways created, and acknowledged either my actual talent or at least my potential. From my freshman year all the way through my senior year I felt like I was one of those girls. Choir kids know what I mean–the girls that always get solos and good parts in musicals. I was finally that person. And, I realized it didn’t have to be a popularity contest (which is how it felt when I was younger), but it was actually about talent and ability (I’m sure I wasn’t the best student all the time).

Today, I really attribute my ability to stand on a stage or in a bar in front of thousands or dozens of people directly to the support I received from Dr. Williams and Dr. Petrie. I got the chance to tell Dr. Petrie that. I had a hard time not crying. Anyway, the training I had in classical music taught me a lot about how to sing the way I do now…breath control/support, posture, yadda yadda yadda. Even pop [insert any other genre here] music singers need to have good technique.

BB: You got invited to join the band Sinhinge after singing karaoke at The House of Bricks. Tell us about that night.

Wow. You’re asking a relatively older person to recall a night from more than 5 years ago…

Ummm…I think I sang Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughtta Know” (it was a standard for me back in my karaoke days). Paul, the bass player, approached me and just asked if I’d be interested in fronting a hard rock band. They’d been working on music, but none of them was really a lyricist. So, I set up a safety plan with one of my friends (ya know, in case he was a creeper with dead girls in his basement…thankfully he wasn’t) and went over to his house to listen and get a couple of CDs of their music. I wrote lyrics and found vocal melodies for a couple of songs, and I guess they were pleased.

BB: You released your first EP Faders Up with your band in 2008. Are you working on anything new?

RF: It’s funny how much I wish I could just do this full time, but with a family and day job it feels impossible. Looking at that date it seems ridiculously long ago.

Anyway, yes.  New songs come incrementally. It’d be great to record a full-length album. I’m also planning a writing retreat (on the recommendation of the Vicki Randle) with a songwriter friend of mine in Denver. Since Faders Up, I’ve written seven or so new songs, which is dismally few. I’m inspired all the time and probably have at least a dozen bits of tunes or lyrics in my head on any given day.  Hopefully on this retreat (which is going to happen this winter), I can get all of it out!

We’ve also started a side music project called the Cover Grrls.  Jenny (from the Honeybees), me, and two of our friends started this all girl cover band that performs music from every decade from the ’50s to today.  It’s ridiculously fun!

BB: You have such a sweet sound with honest and emotional lyrics. How has your sound changed over the years?

RF: Wow. Thanks. That’s a really nice thing to say.

Ummm, I think I’m getting more comfortable exploring other instruments and sounds. Like I’ve started playing bass (thanks mostly to Cover Grrls) again. I played for about 20 minutes in high school, so I think expanding my instrumentation affects the sound. Rather than two girls with two guitars, we’re expanding that.

I think I’m also exploring my vocal style a bit more. Early songs I wrote (pre-Honeybees) were very influenced by classic country I heard growing up. As I get older, I think I feel more soulful sounds coming out of me. Like I’m channeling my inner Sia Furler (one of the most soulful voices I have heard…EVER). Of course, I can’t sing anything like her, but it’s just that emotion and dirt and “going to church” feeling that I’d really love to write music for for myself.

As far as my lyrics go, I write so autobiographically. I’d love to challenge myself to step outside of that. Not that I want to take away from being personal, rather just stop being so damn literal. I’d love to write a fucking kick ass feminist get-out-of-my-vagina-you-religious-right-wing-freaks song. Or a song about someone else’s experience, like Malala who’s now in the UK recovering from the Taliban assassination attempt. I’d love to challenge channeling what it would feel like to fight like that for something I believe in knowing that I could die for it. Now that’s emotional and honest.

BB: What musicians influence your music?

RF: Influences…man, anything I’ve ever heard and liked really.  I know that’s kind of a cop out, but it’s totally true. I feel like at the creation stage, each song I’ve every written spans myriad genres of music. The first song I ever wrote with my guitar nearly 15 years ago is a classic country song. I’ve written a Latin-inspired song. I’ve written a gospel song. It’s kind of all over the place.

Individual people or bands who inspire me (which is slightly different than influence, which I feel has more to do with the actual sound) to create more music is varied, as well. I’ve mentioned Rickie Lee Jones, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Sia Furler. I’d add Patty Griffin, Lovers, David Wilcox (not the Canadian guy), and pretty much every woman I’ve ever met/worked with/watched at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

BB: We heard you’re starting a music summer camp for girls. Where did this idea come from?

RF: Ah yes! Girls Rock!Des Moines…so fucking excited for this I can hardly stand it!

A few years ago (2007ish), I was visiting a friend of mine who was touring with Ani DiFranco and I saw this table in the lobby of the venue for a rock and roll camp for girls. I signed up to be on the mailing list.  I then watched a Girls Rock Documentary and was totally convinced that I needed to make this happen in Des Moines. I stayed on the mailing list for years and never really could figure out how to make it happen.

I decided this year that I shouldn’t/couldn’t wait any longer.  And I just had to get the right person/organization to help me. So I approached Matt at the Des Moines Social Club. Lucky for me, he was totally into my idea and signed on right away to have GR!DSM as part of the Social Club’s educational programming.

We’ve been having meetings for the last few months, bringing a number of community partners on board (ex. Raygun, Sonic Factory, DMMC, and several artists and business owners). It really is going to happen. I can’t really believe it.

The camp will be a two-week day camp for girls 10-16 years old. Girls who are 17-18 and still in high school can also attend as Counselors in Training (CITs). They can attend camp without paying the fee, but will have leadership responsibilities i.e. mentoring younger girls, helping instructors, etc. No girl will be turned away for inability to pay so there will be partial to full scholarships available. No girl will be turned away for lack of experience, so any girl regardless of her music experience will come to camp, learn an instrument, be in a band, help her bandmates write an original song, and perform that song at a showcase at the end of camp, as well as learn all kinds of cool things about being creative and empowered! The first year of camp, we’ll have 40 campers. Hopefully, it grows in subsequent years so more and more girls will want to participate!

We’ll also be looking for volunteer instructors early next spring.  We’ve got several local and touring musicians already on board to participate in the camp: Mary McAdams, Coles Whalen and Kim O’Hara (Denver), Bitch and Billie Jo (Michigan and all parts east and west), Jen Allen, Leslie Hall, and lots more.

BB: What do you love about the Iowa music scene? What local music are you a fan of?

RF: I love that there is a community of artists who are working so hard. I’m just blown away at people’s work ethic.

I just heard Chris Ford for the first time and was absolutely blown the hell away at his talent. So smart, so witty…and his voice kind of made my heart ache.

I also saw Tony Bohnenkamp for the first time and loved how emotional and heartfelt his songs were…and dude kills on the piano.  I really enjoyed watching him.

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