From Sun Records to Studio One, Meeksville to Kraftwerk's Kling Klang, som e of the most visionary music of the last sixty years is linked forever with the specific studio in which it was recorded. There's a special alchemy associated with these places - more than just rooms full of mics recording sound, they breed a magic and myth of their own. Just the names alone are enough to send a shiver down the spine of most music fans.
So, then, to The Steamrooms. Being the well-informed pop scholars that they are, Isle Of Wight six-piece A Band Of Bees knew that before they could record their third album they first needed to build their own studio, somewhere they could find their own sound. Forsaking vocalist/producer Paul Butler's shed (where 2003's Mercury-nominated debut was hatched) and Abbey Road (where they made 2005's Free The Bees), the band duly spent a year constructing their wood-lined sonic laboratory in the basement of Paul and fellow founding member Aaron Fletcher’s Isle of Wight home. With walls and floor of pine, it looks most like a Scandinavian sauna. They started jokingly referring to it as The Steamroom and the name stuck. Then the band set out equipping the place, filling it with vintage instruments, amps and recording equipment to get exactly the right sound. An early 1960s mixing desk was recovered from a Swedish radio station, while serious eBay habits were developed.
"Basically we've built our own budget version of Abbey Road at home" says Paul. "But the plan is to use it to get our own individual sound from whatever's recorded in there, so that any of our friends' bands from the island could come down there and record and it'll still sound like a Steamrooms production."
With the studio built, the band was ready to embark on their densest and most far-ranging record to date. Having their own studio within stumbling distance meant that the band could record whenever they wanted: transported from the time-is-money atmosphere of Abbey Road to the picturesque Victorian seaside town of Ventnor with a pub, the Crab And Lobster, over the road.
"Abbey Road was a song-a-day place" reckons drummer Michael Clevett. "And listening back to Free The Bees now it sounds rushed - all of the songs are at breakneck speed! With this it was recorded in a much more relaxing surrounding. The Steamroom is like our headquarters, really."
The product is an album that more than benefits from its relaxed homebirth. Dense and layered but simultaneously packed with pop grooves, Octopus is the sound of A Band Of Bees refining what they do. Gone are the cover versions and wonky instrumentals, replaced by ten great Bees-shaped pop songs. Just check first single “Who Cares What The Question Is,” a confident blast of Beatlesy blues.
Yes, from the spooked-sounding dub fumes of “Left Foot Stepdown” to the Southern Soul stew of future single “Listening Man” or the Merseybeat of “Hot One,” it's the final proof that there's no other band like them around in the world at the moment, and that's the way they intended it to be.
"Building the studio on the island was a big thing for us" explains Paul.?"We've isolated ourselves, hopefully in the same way that all the Jamaican music that we love was a product of being a long way from the mainland."?"Plus, this time we had no-one to disturb us" he continues. "On one side of the house is a Masonic lodge that only meets twice a week and on the other are some neighbors that are really into what we're doing. So we had plenty of time to listen back to stuff we'd been working on and remix it if we weren't totally happy with what we'd done."
In line with this approach to recording was a new spirit of egalitarianism between the band. Whereas A Band Of Bees' first album had been written almost entirely by Aaron and Paul, this time round the group were able to drop into the studio at whatever time of day they wanted, pick up an instrument and write something.?"We all play each other's instruments," says Tim Parkin. "No-one has an ego about whose is which. And because we have The Steamrooms we have plenty of time to jam together, listen to what we've recorded then go back and adjust stuff."?It's a process that could have gone on forever, of course, with endless tinkering and rerecording. But with this record, the band have been disciplined enough to give us the first transmission from The Steamrooms. Long may they continue.