When members of the swing indie band Royal Jelly Jive recorded their second album at the Prairie Sun studio in Cotati, the young musicians were excited because one of their heroes, singer-songwriter Tom Waits, had made records there.
They even asked the reclusive west Sonoma County resident to sit in on the “Stand Up” sessions, but that didn’t happen.
“We sent him a letter, inviting him to play with us, but he likes to be in his own world, with his own family,” said Jesse Lemme Adams, 27, a Petaluma High School graduate who plays accordion and keyboards with Royal Jelly Jive.
That didn’t keep the band from recording a heartfelt tribute titled “Dear Mr. Waits,” with a lively vocal by the band’s lead singer Lauren Bjelde, 26, whose own singing style evokes a bit of Waits’ raspy delivery but with a sweet side.
Adams and Bjelde plan to include cuts from that album as they headline The Independent in San Francisco, one of several major dates they’ve been invited to play this year. They also performed at Outside Lands in San Francisco and BottleRock in Napa, and July 15 they will appear as part of downtown Cloverdale’s free “Friday Night Live” concert series.
“Stand Up” also includes the band’s versions of “Green Grass” by Waits and “Tommy the Cat,” written by Sebastopol-based Les Claypool and his band, Primus.
“I was inspired listening to Tom Waits’ music growing up,” said Bjelde.
The use of the word “jive” in the band’s name is certainly truthful, with Bjelde’s vocals backed by snappy arrangements for accordion, clarinet, trombone, acoustic bass and drums, occasionally augmented fiddle and guitar. And despite the band’s affinity for 1930s and ’40s fedoras, vests and pin-striped suits, this is not a nostalgic act. Most of the music is new, written by Adams and Bjelde.
“We like to look classic and have a little old-meets-new,” Bjelde said.
“We love that revival throwback thing, but we’re not tied to that,” Adams added. “We like modern music, and we like to integrate that. We throw in some hip-hop, rock and pop. Then there’s the other side, with a jazzy edge.
“Everyone’s a really well-trained musician, so it’s not just a rock band with guitars. We don’t even have guitar most of the time. People are surprised by how much we can rock without using guitar.”
Adams has been a bit of a commuter during the past several years, toggling between San Francisco and his parents’ home in the Petaluma area. He met Bjelde while studying at San Francisco State University, and the pair have been writing songs and touring together for the past several years. Last year they decided to settle in the North Bay.
They now live in a small house in Penngrove, which sometimes doubles as a rehearsal space and a set for music videos, but continue to play with the rest of the band at major San Francisco venues that include the Great American Music Hall and the venerable nightclub Slim’s. For a while, the group also had a monthly gig at the Boom Boom Room.
The band includes clarinetist Robby Elfman, a Los Angeles transplant who now lives in Petaluma. The rest of the band — drummer Felix Macnee, bassist Tyden Binsted and trombonist Luke Zavala — is based in San Francisco.
Before Adams joined the band, Bjelde sang at the Boom Boom Room with an earlier version of the band under the name The Sufis.
“When she was playing in that group there was a hype about her, like, ‘Have you seen the Sufis girl?’” he said.
“She connects with the audience really well. She’s so theatrical that she brings everyone in. I was lucky enough to sit in with them. Once that band fell apart, there was a perfect moment for me to step in.”
Royal Jelly Jive members have assembled several albums’ worth of material and want to continue touring, including a current sweep through the Pacific Northwest and a New Orleans trip planned for October.
“We’re doing what we want to do,” Bjelde said. “We’re making great music and getting it out to the people.”