White Bee keeps soul alive and weird in Detroit

White Bee 1.jpg

I first saw White Bee perform at Art Bath #1, a live music and art event in the New Center neighborhood of Detroit. Art Bath pulled artists from around the city and beyond together for a whole day of showcasing local art – be it visual or performative. Paint canvases, necklaces made of colorful stones, phallic symbol collages and more were displayed outside in the backyard of the beautiful Victorian home. Bands and other musicians played all afternoon and into the night in the house’s small but warm-sounding basement.

As I carried my drums in through the front door and into the living room, I heard the warmest sounds rising from the basement; it was funky and lazy and slow. I put my drums down – I’d set them up later. I had to know who was playing below.

What I found was a three-piece band playing beneath the basement window, Sunday sun shining over them. The drummer was wearing Aviators indoors and was playing low-key funk beats on a small wooden kit; the bass player was wearing flip-flops and a loud Hawaiian shirt while laying it down on the bass; the singer, Shannon Barnes, was wearing a sick Grant Hill Pistons’ jersey (yes, the vintage teal) and playing watery chords that sounded like they belonged on Tame Impala’s “Innerspeaker” album. Her voice was modern and soulful – like Joss Stone if she didn’t sound like Kermit the Frog.

I leaned against a beam in the basement and just listened, completely forgetting about setting my gear up.

After a few songs, Barnes explained that White Bee usually played as a five piece and their regular percussionist came out from the crowd, replacing the drummer on the set for a few songs. They were stellar with only three players and I wondered to myself what they could cook up with two more musicians added into the mix.

I reached out to White Bee a few weeks after Art Bath to find out more about the band. Here is what singer/guitarist Shannon Barnes had to say:

Anthony Spak / Morris Choice

The band is based out of Detroit. Do you all live in the city?

Shannon Barnes / White Bee

Some of us do, some of us live in Royal Oak. 


I get a neo-soul vibe from the band – it makes me imagine Joss Stone fronting Tame Impala. What artists have helped to shape White Bee’s sound?


Hiatus Kaiyote, Vulfpeck, Tame Impala, Jamiroquai, Prince, Erykah Badu, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Stevie Wonder. 


At Art Bath #1, a recent Detroit art exhibit and house show, you were wearing a vintage teal Grant Hill Pistons jersey during White Bee’s set. What is everyone’s favorite Detroit athlete and why?

Alex Neimi (percussion) – Brandon Inge specifically for his defensive skills in the hot corner.

Shannon Barnes – Magglio Ordonez.. Cuz… Shoutout to barndog Barnes.. My father. 

Michael O’Brien (bass) – Rasheed Wallace because the ball don’t lie. 

Scott Ryan (keys) – Pavel Datsyuk because of his dangles. 

(Anthony Scannell also plays drums)


White Bee is hitting the road in early September for a few out-of-state shows in Chicago, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska. Is this the band’s first time playing outside of Michigan?


We actually played in Kent Ohio one time with a bunch of heavy bands. We ate burritos beforehand. 


From MoTown to Protomartyr, Detroit has a solid reputation for producing talented musicians and performers. What are some of your favorite local artists of the past and present? (Again, maybe a quick list or comment from each band member).


Jamaican Queens, The Hard Lessons, My Pal Val, James Linck, Five Pound Snap and Efe Bes.


White Bee released an EP, “5 ’til the Time,” in August of 2015. Is there any new music planned? What’s next for the band?


We are releasing a song called “Beat State.” There will be a music video to go along with it. And we are doing a couple out of state shows. We are also playing Dally in the Alley! 

Catch White Bee at Dally in the Ally 2016 on Saturday @ 2:15 PM over at the Garden Stage, September 10 in Detroit. White Bee’s music is available on their Bandcamp site at www.whitebee.bandcamo.com/releases.

By Anthony Spak


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