Part of the charm of Marc Woodworth’s forthcoming Bee Thousand book is the way in which it replicates the feel of the album itself – it’s a collage, a patchwork quilt of styles, ideas, narratives, fan responses, and input from band members themselves. Here’s a short piece from Robert Pollard’s section of the book:
“Hot Freaks” was a revelation to us. I was singing a lyric over one of Toby’s instrumentals and he used a Memory Man to get a vocal sound that for the first time we both thought was really sharp and allowed a better performance. That’s when Toby and I truly started collaborating. It became more than me telling him that I was going to play a guitar part at a certain point or asking him to try to make something sound a certain way. “Hot Freaks,” “Greenface,” and “Queen of Cans and Jars” were the first songs we taped in the basement where I thought the recording of a full band sounded good enough to be on a record. You can record an acoustic and a couple of other instruments on four-track and make it sound all right, but it was difficult to get everything to sound good when you’re recording a full band with drums. Once we started to get a sound we liked, we would record every little idea we had. Some people thought we recorded too much but my philosophy at the time was that since we could get a sound on the four-track that we liked we should record as much as we could. For an album like Bee Thousand we might have recorded a hundred songs and if twenty percent of them were good, then we’d have a solid album.
Mike Lipps, a friend of mine, said the ingenious thing that we did was to record everything. We’d have a name for everything, a cover for everything, and we’d record everything — we’d think of skits and record them, tape the sound from the television. We were constantly recording and not worrying about what the recordings sounded like. We just wanted to get as many ideas down on tape as we could. And we would always have a name for everything we did, every place we recorded. We called Toby’s basement Collider XL. We called my basement The Snakepit and one time The Public Hi-Fi Balloon. We called Kevin’s basement Laundry and Lasers. We had to name everything. We would have jam sessions but not in the usual sense of a jam session. We’d have all the titles and lyrics ready before-hand. We called them “controlled jam sessions.”
I’m impatient. During the time of Bee Thousand, I liked how quickly you could record a complete song. Two or three times a week, I’d have five or six songs and we’d get together at Toby’s or in Kevin Fennell’s basement. We wouldn’t rehearse. There’d be no practice at all. I’d teach Kevin the song, playing it on guitar, while Toby mic’d the drums and then my amplifier. As I taught Kevin the song, we’d record it. Once I thought it was good enough — and it didn’t necessarily have to be perfect — once it captured the idea of the song, then we already had the drums and the guitar down. All we had to do was overdub bass and a vocal and it was finished. The whole process took a half an hour per song.
It was important to me that we capture a song in the least amount of time from when I conceived it to when we put it on tape. That’s the way to capture the purest essence of a song. When we were recording the songs for Bee Thousand, spontaneity was important to me. When you don’t establish a set of ground rules and you don’t care about mistakes, it’s easy. Some of the best music is recorded exactly the way that it’s conceived and created — it’s all happening simultaneously. At any rate, there has to be a point when you say, “that’s good enough.”
I love that sentence That’s the way to capture the purest essence of a song.