Q&A with American Opera: "Every Song is Therapy."
American Opera was born from necessity. Following the split of his band of eight years, John Bee found himself without a group of musicians to play with but still driven to write new music, and quickly, this new project turned into a coping mechanism and new creative outlet. Flash forward a few years, three EPs and over 300 shows, Bee is celebrating the release of Small Victories, his debut full-length album as American Opera.
Small Victories is a strong step forward for American Opera, as it finds Bee in complete control of his own music and celebrating the highs and lows of life through his songs. With Small Victories out now, Bee is already looking toward the future with more new music in the works and plans to get back out on the road again soon.
Interview by Shannon Shumaker
Can you tell us a little bit about American Opera for any readers who might not be familiar? What first inspired you to start creating music for this project?
American Opera started as a side project but quickly became my main focus once I saw that my previous band was headed for Splitsville, USA. I had been writing a bunch of songs that didn't fit our band's style so American Opera was born out of those songs.
How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist from when you first started American Opera to now?
You grow with each new idea. "Small Victories" doesn't sound much like my first few EPs and I don't think what I'm working on now will sound much like "Small Victories" either. I was living in the past for a long, long time. I was stuck in the past and with the release of the new album I feel free to say "Sayonara, sucker" to who I was back then and to say, "Howdy, partner" to the sucker I am currently.
Over the years, you’ve released quite a bit of music, but your new album, Small Victories is your debut full-length as American Opera. Was there anything in particular that you wanted to accomplish with these songs?
I did not want to stop playing music after my previous band split. I wanted to prove to myself that I could release an album on my own. I didn't want to give up. I wanted these songs out of my head. Most of these songs were written at the very beginning of the project. It took me a long time to fund the album and find the right people to release it. I released the other EPs along the way to keep busy but releasing this collection of songs was always the main goal. It's a snapshot of what I was going through and who I was back then.
Although it isn’t necessarily a concept album, Small Victories does follow a common theme of following the ups and downs of life. Were any of these songs therapeutic to write, considering the theme of the album?
Absolutely. Every song is therapy. One of the great things about writing songs is that they are healing. I write about what scares me the most. Then you take it on stage and sing it every night, and maybe someday it stops being so scary. If nothing else, it's a reminder of what you were going through back then, and a reminder that things get better with time.
Were there any struggles that you faced while writing and recording the album? If so, how did you overcome them?
Writing is always a struggle because you constantly second guess yourself and are riddled with self doubt. You write something and you like it, but then you play it over and over again and start to question if it's any good. I'm still getting used to writing alone after 6 years. It's simultaneously liberating and crippling. You don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of and you start to feel crazy playing all the roles in the "band."
Recording this album sucked. I was alone in a new city working on the album for weeks. The airline I flew in on stole my guitar and I didn't gel with the people I was working with. At some points I would be working completely by myself in the studio. I would press record in the control room, run into the live room, do a take, and then run back to press the stop button. It wasn't the ideal experience.
What were some of the highlights of writing Small Victories?
The joy you get once you finish writing a song is like no other. Songs and all other forms of art are incredible. This song used to not exist and now it does. This song used to be in my head and I took it out of my head, recorded it, and put it in someone else's head. That's nuts.
Realizing I had enough songs for an album was a highlight. It was the end of a difficult time in my life. It was exciting and scary make the next step to record it. And then even more exciting and scary to release it. A huge highlight for me was signing with Spartan Records.
What do you hope listeners take away from Small Victories?
There is good and there is evil. You are capable of both. You are capable of anything. Fight like hell.
Now that the album has been out for a few months, what is the rest of 2017 looking like? Do you have any plans to hit the road again soon?
I definitely can't wait to get back on the road. Traveling and performing is when I feel most alive. In the meantime I am writing lots and lots of new songs and planning tours.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the insightful and thought provoking questions. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.