Brighton’s favourite psych-indie band Octopuses are releasing their latest single which is not only aiming to get people dancing, but is also working towards effecting positive change. The video for new single ‘Not The Bees’ highlights the serious issues relating to bees and pollination decline and has received support and backing from BBC’s Chris Packham, The Soil Association and the new leader of the Green Party – Caroline Lucas. The video has been released to the world today and the band will be playing an EP release show in Brighton on 16th September at The Prince Albert. The EP itself will come out on 30th September.
As well as being a sort of rallying cry, ‘Not The Bees’ is also one of the catchiest and most fun tracks on the Octopuses’ wonderful debut album Yes Please which was released in November last year. And when you consider that their debut offering was full to the brim with joyous pop tunes from the nautical ‘Cool Story Bro’, to the rambunctious ‘Pogo’, this is no mean feat.
“I saw a dead bee in the kitchen and I was sad,” begins Octopuses’ Adam Bell when I ask him where the idea for the song came from. “I put it on a wooden spoon and took it into the garden and my girlfriend told me about using honey to help sick bees. I thought I could bring it back to life but it was too late. I thought about this when starting writing a new idea in rehearsal and it formed the basis of the song.”
In the chorus Adam belts out the line ‘I don’t know why this bee had to die, why couldn’t it just stay alive? over a rampant burst of pop rock. And he’s accompanied by fellow vocalist Tom Matthews half singing, half talking in the verses from the perspective of the bee. ‘This hive of inactivity was once a swarm, a swarm of such great energy, where are my friends, how did they get away from me?’
But how did a nice song about bees end up getting the attention of Caroline Lucas and co? “This all started with the video to the song,” continues Adam. “Most of the band is interested in film to a greater or lesser extent, and we have all shown interest in making videos for Octopuses. I made a video using my phone for an early single ‘Ghost in the House’; Alan Grice made the ‘Girl’ video; and Smalan made the ‘Pogo’ video. Smalan had another shot at videomaking for ‘Not The Bees’.
“We had recently shot a video for ‘Bouncy Castle’ with our friend DPM using a green screen, and Smalan decided it would be good to try and do a video using entirely green screen. I was ill during the shoot and so he had to come round to my house to film my head which he added to his body from the original shoot. It gives a great effect, which reminds me of a Nintendo Wii character!
“Anyway, the green screen gave him a chance to put a lot of information about the declining population of bees, and we realised it would be good to get endorsements from ecological outlets like the Green Party and charities to help raise awareness. Caroline Lucas and the Greens in general got back immediately with an incredibly positive response. Caroline Lucas said she liked it, which was nice!”
Caroline Lucas has had a fantastic few weeks, recently being elected to joint-lead the Green Party with Jonathan Bartley. She is also the party’s sole MP and recently spoke of her support for the single and its message saying: “I’m delighted to support the Octopuses’ efforts to promote bee conservation. Bees play an essential role in our ecosystem, pollinating plants and crops and massively enriching our natural world. Declining numbers are a huge threat to UK agriculture, with a report by the University of Reading estimating it could cost as much as £1.8bn a year to replace the free pollination service that bees provide, since farers would need to collect pollen and distribute it by hand. That’s why we need to do everything possible to persuade policy makers to act.”
Octopuses are a band that fill their songs with entertaining, witty lyrics and ‘Not The Bees’ is a prime example of this. In fact, it contains what I think is one of the best lines on their album when Tom Matthews opens the second verse with: ‘I read the news, well I actually read some Buzzfeed thing. It was about 21 Depressing Things That Are Happening’. I asked Adam who came up with that, “Tom Matthews did, I told him to write something about bees for his verses and he went off and wrote his lyrics. I like how Tom’s lyrics are very much in contrast to my own – in Octopuses I tend to lean towards more emotional and surreal lyrical ideas more whereas Tom is more interested in word play, humour and cultural references. But yes, I love Tom’s lyrics here, well done Thomas!”
Last year’s album itself is full of songs that feature different members of the band singing at different times and the subject matter is also incredibly varied throughout. So, with material like this how do they approach song writing? “We structure songs together as a team in rehearsal,” says Adam. “Usually I write chords for a verse and chorus and some vocal line ideas and then we flesh everything out in practice. Tom jumps in and adds his vocals where they fit. We all have interesting discussions about whether we should have a third chorus or a middle eight here, or a break down or a long guitar solo there, etc during rehearsal time. Alan Grice our drummer usually has strong feelings about this and we argue with him if we disagree. It is definitely a very collaborative process.
“This is what being in a band is all about. So many bands have a dictatorial and usually egotistical front man who writes everything but I feel this is bad approach and frankly a little pathetic. Having everyone write their own part and working together results in something amazing, and greater than the sum of its parts.”
The Not The Bees EP with also feature three new songs called ‘Serotonin’, ‘King’s Lament’, and ‘F.I.R.E.’. I asked Adam to tell me a little about the new songs. “They are the songs that didn’t quite make the cut for Yes Please. If you listen to the lyrics at the end of ‘I’m Just Livin’ in my Dreams’, they reference a king and Tom’s serotonin. That was because I thought ‘Serotonin’ and ‘King’s Lament’ were going to be on the album. ‘King’s Lament’ was one of our earliest songs. Listening back to it, I really like how trippy the chorus sounds and the lyrics make me laugh.
“We spent weeks playing around with the structure to ‘Serotonin’, and it was going to be one of the first songs on the original tracklisting. It got dropped last minute to try and tighten things up. It was inspired by our experiences at Primavera festival, which we all went to together back in 2014. ‘F.I.R.E.’ was initially written by Smalan, just like ‘Not My Dog’ and ‘Acid Rain’. We took it off the album because you can’t have three songs by the secondary songwriter on your debut, can you?! I feel this song has a Super Furries vibe to it, and I really like it.”
Words by Adam Rowden
Octopuses play The Prince Albert in Brighton on 16th September. Charitable donation Profits from the single sales and fundraising/release party will be split. 50% of profits going to the Soil Association’s ‘Ban Neonics’ campaign and the other 50% going to ‘Bees For Development’ who are working to alleviate poverty in developing countries through beekeeping.