The Bees are in a very good place, the best they’ve ever been in. Their last album Every Step’s A Yes – their fourth in total but first for Fiction – is the most focussed and most complete record they’ve ever made and it’s coming out on a label that, according to singer and songwriter (and guitarist and piano-player and saxophonist and trumpet player, that’s the sort of band The Bees are) Paul Butler is in touch every day with “new ideas and new ways of doing things.”
The one-time Mercury Prize nominees have just played two gigs at Glastonbury and both of them were, in their own words, among the best gigs they’ve ever played. A recent hometown show in Ventnor on the Isle Of Wight went so well the band felt completely reborn. Something significant has happened almost without them noticing.
It’s been three years since the band’s last record, Octopus. Since they left their last label and found freedom from the write it/rehearse it/record it/tour it treadmill, they’ve spent the time making music and singing songs, pulling all the amazing tunes out of their heads at their own speed and in their own time.
There have been appearances alongside Pink Floyd and the Incredible String Band at the Syd Barrett tribute night in summer 2007 and Paul travelled to LA to produce What Will Be for Devendra Banhart. The band changed. Everyone slowed down – the dynamics of the group began to shift.
Paul and Aaron had shared a house for seven years, but in 2008 Aaron moved out – just down the road – and they both felt the change. “The flame got brighter,” is how he describes it. Aaron took to writing song in his kitchen with Tim Parkin playing his new double bass. “It was very chilled out,” Tim laughs.
“We used to get stressed making sure everyone was together at the same time,” says Paul. “Sometimes we’d not record because someone didn’t turn up. Now if you want to be involved, get involved…”
Aaron and Paul have taken their time, worked hard on what they do and they have become two of the very best songwriters we have. All the new tracks were complete pieces before they ever got near a mixing desk and what has emerged are a string of beautifully realised songs, the most mature and affecting things they have ever written.
“The last two albums were exercises in creative writing,” Paul says. “These songs are all much more emotionally direct. I was thinking of those Joe Boyd productions – Nick Drake and Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, John and Beverley Martyn…”
For Aaron the goal was clear – he wanted to write a “universal song.” What he delivered was I Really Need Love, a stunning, uplifting song built on the push and pull between two really simple chords.
“I Really Need Love has the potential to be our biggest song,” Paul says.
Elsewhere there is Tired Of Loving which is the most honest and heartfelt piece that band have ever written and Winter Rose which rides a fantastically crunchy old reggae groove. Change Can Happen pitches pure positivity up against a sense of acceptance of what has been and what will come while Silver Line has heart-squeezing, melancholic harmonies straight from a San Franciscan folk-pop album from 1965. “It’s nice to sing things like that,” Aaron says. “Get it off your chest…” As a whole the album is lit with head-bursting, hand-raising positivity. It’s right there in the title. “The only answer is yes,” Paul says. “There’s really nothing bad that’s happened to us – how could it have when we’ve ended up in this great place?”
Praise for Every Step’s A Yes:
“what would it take to make the Bees a national treasure? All these songs need is a little of your attention and it’s a done deal.” – 5* The Times
“… you wonder why this band aren’t massive” – 8/10 Drowned in Sound
“...positive messages, exquisite West Coast-styled harmonies and rousing choruses” – 4* Mojo