Guided by Voices - Bee Thousand

NME.COM feature on Guided by Voices - Bee Thousand album including album review, artwork, tracks, listen now, tour dates, discography and more.

Release date: 01 June 2005

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Guided by Voices - Bee Thousand: Wikipedia Album Entry

Bee Thousand is the seventh album by American indie rock band Guided by Voices released on June 21, 1994. It is noted for its poor fidelity, having been recorded on retail devices rather than in a studio, and for its abnormally brief song lengths. Nonetheless, the album has been considered to be among the most important of indie rock. The album's music draws inspiration from British Invasion-era rock music and punk rock, while the surreal lyrics are largely a reflection of principal songwriter Robert Pollard's experiences as a schoolteacher, a father, and a musician.

Upon its release, Bee Thousand unexpectedly garnered a relatively large amount of attention within indie and alternative rock circles, receiving critical praise. Due to the album's inferior fidelity, the band became associated with an indie rock genre known as "lo-fi", a movement defined by its poor recording quality. The album has since been hailed as a masterpiece, and is considered an essential indie rock album and among the most important alternative rock albums of the 1990s.


Guided by Voices was a Dayton, Ohio-based band formed in 1983. Although by 1992 the band had released five full-length albums (not including their 1986 debut EP, Forever Since Breakfast), Guided by Voices was not a band in a conventional sense; its line-up was extremely loose, consisting of whomever of a group of friends showed up to short notice recording sessions. Additionally, the group did not put on live performances. Robert Pollard thought of Guided by Voices as more of a "songwriter's guild" than a band, and also said that "Whoever could come over would play. [...] It was just a bunch of friends who could occasionally get together so it didn't really feel like a band."

Bee Thousand was to be the band's final album. Pollard was close to disbanding Guided by Voices by 1993, due to financial constraints and pressure to focus more on his family and teaching career; Pollard has also stated that the band was nearly broken up as early as 1991, during the creation of Propeller. Pollard was also struggling with writing for a follow-up record to Vampire on Titus and Propeller, which had been the band's two most noticed records yet. However, it occurred to him to "deconstruct" and "reconstruct" the band's older, unused material into new songs.


Unlike some of the band's earlier releases, Bee Thousand was not recorded in a studio, but rather on four track machines or other primitive home recording devices in the garages and basements of various band members. Moreover, many of the demo takes of the songs were the ones that were used for the album. Due in part to both of these factors, several unusual errors are present in the album's recording and mixing; for example, the guitar track drops out at one point in "Hardcore UFO's",. The band's choice to use inexpensive recording devices was initially a matter of economics, but eventually the band grew to prefer the sound. Pollard said that:

“ For our first [EP], Forever Since Breakfast, we went into a studio and created a very mediocre recording out of a very sterile environment. I thought, "Fuck that. If we're paying for it and no one's listening to these records anyway, if we're only making them for ourselves, then I'm going to put exactly what I want on them." ”

Kevin Fennel similarly said, "When Bee Thousand came out we sounded much less professional than we did in 1982. The music was much more spontaneous." Pollard also said that, at the time, the band's recording style was intended to sound like Beatles bootlegs. Furthermore, songs were usually completed in a minimum number of takes with no rehearsal beforehand. In all, recording for the album was extremely brief, taking only three days, with Pollard estimating that each song took roughly half an hour.


The music of Bee Thousand is influenced by British Invasion rock music, as well as what Pollard calls the "four P's" of rock: pop, punk rock, progressive rock, and psychedelia. Only a few new songs were written for the album, among them "I Am a Scientist" and "Gold Star for Robot Boy", with the rest of the album mostly being overdubbed, rerecorded, or edited versions of the band's older, unused material.

While typical rock instruments, such as guitar, bass, and drums, are dominant, a variety of instruments and sounds are used. Recorders are used in "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory", and a piano is used in the closing track "You're Not an Airplane".


Pollard's surreal lyrical style has been compared to the cut-up technique of Beat writer William S. Burroughs. Many of the album's lyrics reflect childish or fantastical themes and were heavily influenced by the statements and actions of Pollard's fourth grade class, exemplified by "Gold Star for Robot Boy". Pollard was inspired to write "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" after having an LSD-triggered psychedelic experience in which he perceived his own face in a mirror changing into his son's face; however, the song's lyrics are not about this event. According to Pollard, "I Am a Scientist" is "the first song that showed some maturity in my ability as a songwriter."

Tobin Sprout, who wrote or co-wrote many of the songs, has been described as Pollard's creative foil.

Album title

The title Bee Thousand was inspired by a group brainstorming session, during which band members smoked marijuana. Pollard's brother, Jim, thought of "zoo thousand", allegedly inspired by a mile marker reading "Z1000". This phrase coalesced with a misspelling of a movie title at a drive-in theater, with "Beethoven" spelled as "Beethouen", which Pollard liked because the misspelling sounded like the name of The Who guitarist Pete Townshend. Other considered titles included All That Glue and Instructions for the Rusty Time Machine, both of which were used in the lyrics of other Guided by Voices songs.

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