Anyone at Royal Jelly Jive’s New Year’s Eve show knew it was the place to be: A bouncing, grooving time that RJJ frontperson Jaleh Lauren Bjelde declares “sexy”; the crowd fed off of the band’s energy and vice versa.
The venue vibrated with the synergy of RJJ’s core, namely Bjelde and longtime partner in music and love, Jesse Lemme Adams. In short, this band resonates.
“Got to make the keyboards rock and roll. You got to make them unexpected and fun,” Adams says when reminiscing about the final show of 2022. “I always try to throw it on the ground at some point if I can, just [to] make it feel dangerous and exciting.”
The gestalt of this power couple is about more than the energy of sex and funk. Like so many artists have since the pandemic lockdown put them at home with nothing to save themselves but making art, RJJ is evolving.
“We’re not just a little jive band anymore,” Bjelde explains. “We’re going into a deeper place, a fusion of the Jaleh mysticism, and the Royal Jelly rocking fun dance party,” referring to her solo musical project, “Jaleh.” “[Music for us is] like going to church. It’s our ceremony; it’s our expression.”
RJJ has been one of those can’t-miss bands that bring people out for a guaranteed good time, not just in the North Bay but around the country. That reputation and the hard work groove that has sustained the band through years of touring made music a full-time profession for Adams and Bjelde. Undoubtedly, the hustle to make ends meet and bring music to the party will continue. But in the inner light ignited by the pandemic, now the band feels the calling for more.
Bjelde’s own life toward physical and spiritual health is translated through music. Musically, this shows up in the new Jaleh EP, Roses. Written by Bjelde with Adams, these mellow, mystical tunes are evidence of the artists “mining the muses,” as Bjelde puts it.
“If there’s anything we’re gonna mine for, mine for muses to just bring out into the world [our] creative expression,” Bjelde explains.
Putting her right to create first during the pandemic liberated her way of thinking about the purpose of RJJ.Bjelde shares the image of a Buddhist metaphor called Indira’s Web. Imagine “a spider web, and on every point of the spider web, there’s a drop of water. And in that drop, the entire web is reflected. The whole thing 360 degrees around,” she explained. Humans are the droplets, and their actions reflect on all the other droplets.
“If we can make each of our own little drops beautiful, that will be reflected in every other drop on the web,” she says. “It’s up to us to work from home, from the heart, and in our community. It’s an ancient story that I have rarely heard told so beautifully, so succinctly.”
For Bjelde, who has a degree in anthropology, starting at home means inviting in the ancient wisdom of the world that is continually subverted, their benefits kept away from people who need it here in the “developed” world.
“Communities around the entire world are protecting this knowledge,” Bjelde says. “This tradition of expression [shows up in] Meshika Aztec dancing, in the wisdom from the plant master teachers [like magic mushrooms and ayahuasca], and the Temescal sweat lodge.”
These are ancient practices and plant medicine that science is only starting to catch up with now. The recognition that the spirit moves through music might sound more practical to some, but it is no less rich.
“We are dropping a new song every full moon this year,” Adams says.
The couple’s record label, Moonshade Records, was created for this purpose.
“It forced us to start releasing things every month instead of holding on to stuff,” Adams adds. “It made a sort of scramble because you’re just looking up at the moon, and fuck, it’s like, ‘It’s like already halfway there.’”
Like any great couple, these two musicians bring different magical ingredients to the relationship. He takes it as a gift from the natural world. It has been that way since they first connected in San Francisco in the aughts.
“[Bjelde] had a band called the Sufis, which had a cool Turkish guitar player who had a ’60s psych-rock kind of vibe. They were singing songs in Farsi,” Adams says. “[I thought] I would love to be in that band. And she was always a glittering personality.”
When the Sufis disassembled, Adams started to sit in with Bjelde.
“Even before we met, there was always this musical connection,” Bjelde says. “We were crossing paths.”
They performed on the same bills in different bands, watching and admiring each other’s work. Their connection became undeniable. Eventually, they decided that “we should both jump ship to each other’s ship and become part of this journey,” Adams says. “It was super amazing and exciting.”
In Bjelde’s spiritual journeys over the last couple of years, she’s come to an epiphany that expresses itself through music.
“I feel like we’re gonna bring hundreds of people together for a night, so what are we doing with this energy? Let’s be mindful about where it goes and what we’re doing with it,” Bjelde says. “I’d love to do a tree planting tour, for instance, where we’re playing music outside in the sun. We’re nourishing ourselves [and our audience] with the light of day.”
Royal Jelly Jive and Sway Wild perform Friday, March 17, at 9pm. $20/$25 plus fees. Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. moesalley.com