For a while there The Bees were one of the country's most loved groups, an endlessly creative experience that married summer-fresh songwriting to psychedelia, Brazilian music, Motown, West African rhythms and more.
But then there was silence. A lot of silence. It seemed like we'd lot them, only for a rather anonymous seven inch single to crop up in Soho record shop Sounds Of The Universe last year.
Propelled by word of mouth the release sold out within 48 hours, and one of the purchases belonged to a member of Heavenly Recordings.
77:78 is helmed by Aaron Fletcher and Tim Parkin, intent on giving The Bees' musical kaleidoscope one last turn, while incorporating new elements in the process.
Debut album 'Jellies' is a real joy, an old fashioned summer LP that is rooted in classic psych-pop songwriting but is delivered with an impish sense of humour.
Aaron Fletcher tells us a bit more...
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So how did 77:78 come about? What’s the separation between this and The Bees?
It’s slightly different personnel, and it’s a bit of a phoenix, really, 77:78. The idea was to make music that didn’t sound like The Bees, and to do something really fresh… and we ended up making music that sounds like The Bees! That was always going to happen.
The first few sessions had some really left field ideas, but when we played it back we thought, hang on guys, is this really what we do? Musically it’s really similar, but due to personnel it’s vocally and sonically a lot different. We just had this passion to deliver a load of new songs, to record and write. The Bees was brilliant – and is brilliant – we miss it madly, we had loads of good fans, and a good time of it but we weren’t going to get back together so we had to build something new.
The first seven inch was placed rather anonymously in Sounds Of The Universe… sold out within 48 hours and won you a deal with Heavenly!
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
It’s like a 60s band biopic you’d see repeated late at night.
It does! It’s the opening scene. We funded the little white label ourselves just to see what was going on, if there was any interest. That went well!
Sounds Of The Universe agreed to sell them, and then obviously Heavenly picked up on it. It’s nice that they came to it through the music. It could be a good scene in a movie, or the start of one.
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It’s been a long, long journey...
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Did Heavenly’s introduction spur you on to make an album, or was it already recorded?
The material was almost complete. We were doing it anyway. When we were doing The Bees we were all carefree and in our 20s – no families, and no kids. And that’s all changed – me and Tim have got kids, we’ve got jobs, so we have to really juggle to make it happen.
We’ve been making this album for about four, five years. Not constantly, just as and when we could. If you put it together it probably takes up a nice summer, maybe two, three months. It’s been a long, long journey.
Recorded back in Humbug Studios on the Isle of Wight, as well.
Yep, fantastic place.
Was it done piecemeal?
A little bit of it was, actually. It’s pretty much 50/50 for the creative on each song, but we’d share the process and get a few friends in as well. That’s why a lot of the playing is quite similar. I think one difference that we focussed on was trying to make it more accessible.
The Bees music was beautiful, but also quite in depth and some people it sort of passed them by. There was this idea to make it more accessible, to open up the doors wider, and make it simpler. Not so progressive in using crazy African rhythms or weird time signatures – which we did in a subtle way – but I think we’re now like no, keep it simple. We haven’t taken on all the influences that we used to try to cram into Bees records, so there’s not this world music influence. A little bit, but not as much.
A song like ‘Paper’ rejoices in simplicity.
Oh yeah. We’re happy with the choruses, those are all still there. Psychedelia is still there; we’ve got this psych edge which just comes out. We ain’t smoking half as much as we used to but we’re still tripped out, which is quite interesting.
High on life!
Well it’s a buzz! Summer is crazy at the moment, there’s some nice things happening… and it’s almost like: we’ve been waiting for this summer to do it! There’s a bit of pressure now, with people wondering if we’ll be as good as The Bees.
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Is it sometimes almost more difficult to actually keep things simple?
When you’ve worked on something for four, five years there must be a temptation to layer up, or re-write… It’s interesting. There were definitely bits which were left on the cutting room floor. At the beginning of the recording session we’d been insistent about the direction of the track, but when it came to mixing it was like, that really doesn’t work! And if you take it away it doesn’t miss it.
The other thing is working with another producer, as we’d always been self-produced. We’d always had complete control, but hearing what they were suggesting was nice, it took away quite a bit of anxiety, actually. We gave them the reins a lot, and that helped to guide us.
Where did that anxiety come from?
I think it was just our legacy. The Bees have a benchmark. We knew we could write songs, so it was wasn’t about the writing it was the recording, the performance, and living up to – or exceeding – it as well. And also we wanted to make new fans. Hopefully we’re doing that. Not just old Bees fans, picking up new people!
You keep it simple, but there are a few flourishes on here – the mariachi horns on ‘Chili’ for example.
Tim is a horn guy, that’s his thing. He’s big on that, so that’s in our DNA – it’ll never go away. It’s just our influences in music, they haven’t changed much. I don’t think about it too much, it’s just good to have the opportunity to do what we do – we didn’t think it was going to happen again. We pulled our socks up a bit and made it happen.
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That’s in our DNA – it’ll never go away...
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There’s a very succinct 10 tracks on the album, was that editing process was one of the final debates you had in the studio?
This is it. When we were compiling it there were two beauties, two really lush bits of music, songs which will see the light of day but they weren’t wobbly or juicy enough to fit the ‘Jellies’ package we were building. So there were a couple of tunes out there which will hopefully feature as B-sides – real cinematic, real down tempo, real chilled out. We wanted ‘Jellies’ to be really buoyant, positive, up beat, those sort of words.
Designing the record, creating that playlist, meant that a couple couldn’t go on there as they distracted a lot from what we wanted the record to represent.
And you can just press them up and put them in Sounds Of The Universe, after all…
Yeah, we should!
77:78 play Rough Trade East tonight, have the live shows been a real boost to the band?
Yeah it’s reconnecting… but it also feels like it was last week or last month that we were doing it… not seven years ago! It’s been brilliant getting back out there. We’ve realised that we don’t have to rehearse like nutters, like we did when we were in The Bees, because we can’t now because we’ve got jobs and kids and other priorities. But the shows have been great – we’ve been loving it! We’ve been opening up, jamming out... getting loose!
Finally, is this going to be a long term thing?
Well this is what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Start writing, demoing as soon as you release something. We’ve got a few things in the can. There are songs kicking about but it’s logistics. And we have to let this one breathe! This is the fifth album I’ve been involved with, The Bees did four albums, and they all follow a similar thread. You release it, you tour it, and then unexpected things happen.
‘Chicken Payback’ is the obvious surprise – it’s still soundtracking adverts and getting plays all over the world!
I know! That’s so funny, that song. It was the end of the session, we just did it for a laugh, and it became our biggest tune by a long way. You write these heartfelt songs, these songs that mean something to you, and then you write a silly, silly song about chickens and piggies and it represents you for the rest of your life. But it’s been good to us, it’s really helped pave the way.
But right now you’re relishing 77:78…
Oh completely. Relishing every minute, to be able to get a second bite at the apple. We’re not spring chickens any more…
It’s the Spring Chicken Payback!
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'Jellies' is out now. Catch 77:78 at London's Rough Trade East tonight (July 6th).
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