Following the EF5 tornado that leveled 25 percent of Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011, the Joplin indie-rock band Me Like Bees responded the best way its members knew how. Singer and guitarist Luke Sheafer, guitarist Pete Burton, drummer Tim Cote and bassist Nick Bynum together wrote the haunting but buoyant "Naked Trees."
Enduring tough times while searching for that elusive silver lining is one of the thematic threads that runs through Me Like Bees' first full-length, The Ides, released earlier this year. The album's 14 songs were written over a six-year period, starting with "Kids in the Kitchen" in 2007. It was recorded at Studio 2100 in Springfield, Missouri, marking the band's first time in a real studio.
"This album was a lot of dealing with sorrow and life experiences, kind of coming out from tragedy," Sheafer tells The Pitch by phone. "That's all real-life stuff for me. I think we've all had junk in our lives."
"A lot of it has to do with redemption as well — there's a bright side to everything," Burton adds. "Somebody said we sound like Modest Mouse, but we still have hope for the world."
Fortunately, that hope isn't usually misplaced, at least not in the case of the band's hometown. Two years after the tornado, which was one of the deadliest in U.S. history, Joplin is well on its way to recovery.
"There doesn't seem like there's a black cloud over everyone's heads now, because that's the way it was for about a year," Sheafer says. "It's still something I think most people think about every day, but it's not as heavy as it was. It was a very heavy time for a long time."
The occasional heavy topic notwithstanding, Me Like Bees knows how to have a good time. Sounding like a vigorous blend of the White Stripes and, yes, Modest Mouse, Me Like Bees tears up the stage during its live performances. The bandmates are determined to share their energy with the audience, whether they're playing Chicago's House of Blues or a sparsely attended Monday-night bar gig in Kansas City.
When the band first started, there were plenty of those barely filled rooms. Gigs followed a pattern: The band would drive to Kansas City, play in front of a handful of people, then make the two-and-a-half-hour trek home to Joplin the same night. But enthusiasm didn't wane.
"We have a policy," Sheafer says. "No matter who we're playing for, we'll play a crazy show and be as energetic as we can, even if it's just Pete's mom and dad — which happened a couple of times in Kansas City. But now we have a nice following. We have a lot of support there."
Me Like Bees is already gathering material for another album and working with its label, Loveway Records, to promote The Ides. It's a busy time for a band whose members also juggle day-to-day life. Three of the guys are married, and each has a full-time job. (According to Burton, Bynum "dresses up like the Statue of Liberty during tax season and spins the sign in front of the tax place.")
They still feel like they're just learning how to navigate the music industry, though Sheafer notes that "figuring out how to make a living doing this" is a struggle many musicians face.
"Most people you're dealing with — this is their second, third or fourth job," Cote adds. "As long as you can have a realistic outlook on it and go with the flow, it becomes relatively easy to take it all in stride."
It's an approach that seems to be working. After playing KC's Warped Tour this past summer, Me Like Bees was one of four acts, out of 20,000, selected to compete at the upcoming Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands 2014 in Hollywood. The competition gives the band the opportunity to play in front of big-name producers and showcase its infectious energy on a national stage. That's great news for a band dead set on a killer live show.
"We want to play for people," Burton says. "We want people to enjoy it, and we want people to come back."