The iconic inspirational speaker Matt Foley might argue that livin’ in a van
down by the river wouldn’t be the best outcome, but John Bee has proof to prove
that theory wrong.
The famous SNL skit featuring Chris Farley made living in a van down by the
river sound bad, but truth is, it’s a necessary vessel for most bands on tour.
John Bee will tell you living in a van for weeks on end over the span of five
years touring ain’t so bad.
A Saginaw Native, John Bee performs under the moniker of American Opera, a
self-described indie one-man-rock band. He’s no stranger to the music scene,
having spent years on tour with his previous rock band Your Best Friend. After
he “saw the writing on the wall,” and the nearing of an end with Your Best
Friend, Bee looked to work more on his new project, which would later become
Bee spoke about the change of pace and sounds he’s experienced between the rock
band shift to the indie storytelling ways of his current band.
“When Your Best Friend split up, I was heartbroken,” he said, “but happy that I
could move forward with American Opera.”
“I started touring with American Opera a few months after we split. It was
surreal to travel down the same roads to the same venues and listening to the
same music in the same van, but this time I was on my own. It was hard. I felt
like a failure because Your Best Friend was my life. The shows weren't going
well. I could handle 5 weeks in the van with my friends, but 5 weeks in the van
by myself took a lot out of me.”
Not only was the setting different- what once was a van full of best friends on
a road trip soon became a daunting task of long drives all alone on the
interstate; so did the stage show. Bee plays guitar, bass, drums, banjo, and
keys and tracked nearly everything on his last album.
“Stylistically, both projects are on two different spectrums for the most part.
Your Best Friend was a rock band with odd time signatures, noodly guitars, and a
powerful drummer. We had 4 people singing and we were all over the place,” Bee
“American Opera started as a folk (almost alt-country) project that has evolved
into an indie rock band with a heavy emphasis on storytelling.”
Music has been the storyline of Bee’s life for nearly as long as he can
“Music was the only plan. Well, I guess music has been the plan since I was
eleven. Before that I wanted to be a professional wrestler. So I guess from ages
3 to 11 I wanted to be a wrestler,” he said.
After his WWE dreams didn’t live out, seeing his brother perform at a coffee
shop really inspired this singer-songwriter to pursue music. “It was cool enough
to see him play guitar in our bedroom, but after seeing him play a show with his
friends, I was hooked. My mind was made up,” he said.
The plan wasn’t that far-fetched considering Bee’s earliest memories consisted
of a good ol’ fashioned kitchen pots and pans band at three. His first musical
favorites were Michael Jackson and Boyz II Men, followed by Reel Big Fish, Less
Than Jake, KoRn, Slipknot and Metallica.
It wasn’t until high school that another bucket list dream to follow would
arise. After getting into pop punk/alt rock bands like Weezer, Saves the Day,
The Get Up Kids, and Jimmy Eat World, Bee attended his first Vans Warped Tour.
In 2015, American Opera played Vans Warped Tour, a memory Bee said is a
highlight to this day.
“I went to Warped Tour back in 2002 in Detroit and I told myself that I would
play the tour someday,” he said. “It took nearly 13 years but I made it happen.”
While to some, it’s still considered a non-traditional means of making a living,
or a ‘life,’ Bee said being a musician is what makes him happy. Rather than
attending college, Bee said, “I went to the school of hard rocks. I majored in
‘rock’ with a minor in ‘and roll.’”
“It's definitely a different lifestyle, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
It's great to be home after a long tour, but after a while I start to experience
the post-tour blues and I want to get back on the road. I have a friend who
calls me every so often and he can tell whether I'm on tour or if I'm at home by
the sound of my voice. I love to travel and this is my dream. Traveling around,
playing guitar, singing my songs... that's when I'm happiest.
It’s a happiness and confidence that Bee strives for in his life off-stage as
“Another great piece of advice a friend recently gave me was to be who I am on
stage off stage. He was basically telling me to believe in myself and have the
confidence that I have on stage in other facets of my life,” Bee said. “It was
an eye-opening conversation.”
Despite now residing in Brooklyn, NY, this singer-songwriter will always have
love for and support Michigan music and art, a favorite being Joe Hertler & The
American Opera has already had its fair share of ‘wins,’ and proud moments, and
there’s plenty more where that came from. Currently working on the next EP and
full-length album, “Small Victories,” and a spring/summer tour, American Opera
is sure to keep on logging those highway miles along the way.