Winning the 2013-14 Ernie Ball Vans Warped Tour Battle of the Bands was an honor for the members of Me Like Bees. The prize included free studio time with John Feldmann, a producer and musician, and a two-week stint on that summer’s Vans Warped Tour.
The band, which will perform Saturday at RecordBar, has received some national attention from the high-profile tour and a Feldmann-produced EP, “There Will Be Time.”
But the Vans Warped Tour also put the indie-rock band from Joplin in an odd place, said Luke Sheafer, lead vocalist and songwriter: Most of the dozens of bands who perform at Warped play punk, pop-punk and various flavors of hard rock. The Bees fill a very different niche: “punchy indie rock” influenced by bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Modest Mouse and the White Stripes.
“Obviously, it was a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s one of the most recognizable names for a tour. So in that regard, it was awesome.”
But they didn’t exactly fit in.
“We don’t consider ourselves a typical Warped Tour band. We don’t really party. We’re married with mortgages, so we aren’t lit and wasted the whole time. The crowds were really good, but I’m not sure some of the kids knew how to respond to us. … Even talking to other bands we played with day in and day out, some of them were like, ‘So … what are you guys doing here?’ ”
Me Like Bees, who comprise Sheafer, Pete Burton, Nick Bynum and Timothy Cote, started in earnest in 2010. They were formed a couple of years earlier by Sheafer and Burton, friends who’d met in Kansas City and attended Missouri Southern University together.
In 2013, on the Joplin label LoveWay Records, the Bees released their debut full-length, “The Ides,” which includes the song “Naked Trees,” about the catastrophic tornado that hit Joplin in May 2011.
Stepping into the studio with Feldmann — who has produced albums for dozens of punk and rock bands including Blink-182, Good Charlotte and Sleeping With Sirens — was a big step that was both a thrill and a bit nerve-racking.
“I loved the experience,” Sheafer said. “We are pretty comfortable saying no to each other in the writing process. Saying no to Jonathan Feldmann was challenging at times, but if the song was going to take a turn that would change the core of what we wanted it to be, we pretty much just said no.”
It was also a colossal learning experience.
“It was pretty humbling because this guy has sold a bazillion records, and I sat and wrote notes of him talking about how to make a song more marketable without neutering it,” Sheafer said. “It’s this balance of: ‘I want people to listen to it and I want it to be catchy, but I also want it to mean something and I want to have fun playing it.’ He was a wealth of knowledge about how to accomplish all that.”
The band brought 15 demos to the studio. Initially, Feldmann picked two to be part of the EP: the title track, “There Will Be Time,” and “Tundraland.”
“But after that he was like, ‘I don’t really see much else to work with so we’re going to write another one,’ ” Sheafer said. “Then he walked off with a guitar and wrote a song. That we hated. Hated. It would have made no sense for us. …
“To his credit, he walked off and wrote an entire song, verse, chorus, tag and other stuff, and came back and showed it to us. It was crazy impressive. But it didn’t fit whatsoever what we were doing.”
The band came up with a song of its own that made the EP, which was released in April. They followed its release with a 10-week cross-country tour.
Me Like Bees is now working on new material for a second full-length. Sheafer, who owns Frosted Cakerie, a bakery in Joplin, with his wife, Kristen, said the tutelage they absorbed from Feldmann has been useful, but songwriting still doesn’t come easily.
“Most people don’t start their first band after they’re out of college, so we were kind of behind, trying to figure out how to write music at 23, instead of being 16-year-olds playing in their first band,” he said. “I envy bands like Radkey, kids who were cranking out jams at 16 and 17.”
Regardless, their music has attracted national attention, including some praise from Alternative Press upon the release of “There Will Be Time.” AP primarily covers punk and alternative music, not exactly the Bees’ niche, but, Sheafer said, they’ll take all the publicity they can get.
“We’d feel more comfortable in Paste magazine than AP, but you can’t always choose your opportunities,” Sheafer said. “When someone wants to run a piece on you, what are you going to do?”
Noise for Toys: A Benefit Concert for Kansas City Toys for Tots will start at 8 p.m. Saturday at RecordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd. Admission $10 or $5 with a donated toy. The lineup: the Noise FM, Me Like Bees, Rachel Mallin & the Wild Type and Shadow Rabbits. therecordbar.com