Tanya Donelly – vocals and guitar
Tom Gorman – guitar, keyboards, harmony vocals
Gail Greenwood – bass, harmony vocals
Chris Gorman – drums
GOLDMINE: Welcome back to Goldmine. We highlighted your work with The Parkington Sisters and The Loyal Seas last year, now let’s talk about this new double vinyl album of Belly rarities and flip sides or b-sides called Bees. Your first charting single, “Feed the Tree,” had “Star” as its flip side, which is featured early on the new collection, reminding me a bit of Letters to Cleo from your area.
TANYA DONELLY: Thank you. They are dear friends of ours. Like Letters to Cleo, I was in Boston, but the rest of the band lived in Rhode Island, so we were considered Rhode Island based. We were blindsided by how quicky the A side, “Feed the Tree,” bloomed in popularity. It was nothing we would have forecasted. The single was put out there and it took on its own life. On the Bees album, this version of “Star,” which we chose, sounds almost like a demo take.
Flip side: Star
A side: Feed the Tree
Top 100 debut: May 15, 1993
Peak position: No. 95 / No. 1 on Modern Rock Tracks
GM: Bees opens with “Dancing Gold” and the guitar on this one reminds me of Collective Soul. I have a 1995 compilation, which we talked about last time, called CD Review with Collective Soul and Belly displayed on the cover, along with Aimee Mann. Your song “Super-Connected,” from your second album King is on it.
TD: I remember that. The Collective Soul guitar sound is a coincidence, and I will absolutely take that comparison as a compliment. Thank you. The imagery in “Dancing Gold” is inspired by a beautiful poem from Rainer Maria Rilke called “Dance the Orange.”
GM: Possibly my favorite song on the new collection is “Broken,” which is edgy and catchy, with a bit of Belinda Carlisle’s “Mad About You” blended with Blondie’s “Atomic.”
TD: Nice. I really love that song and wish that it would have gone on our King album, because it is so strong and is such a fun one to play live. We felt it was different and would stand out from the other songs, but now in hindsight, I think this is one we should have released in 1995. It ended up being on two movie soundtracks and on television, getting picked up by musical placement people multiple times.
GM: Tom, your version of “Are You Experienced” is a fun, psychedelic cover.
TOM GORMAN: We used sound delays, tremolos, and maybe even a backward guitar track on that one, to stay with the spirit of The Jimi Hendrix Experience original recording. It ended up being a lot of fun, but when we first were asked to record a song for the album Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix, we were given “Crosstown Traffic,” which we thought would be fun, but then a Living Colour decided they wanted it, so we were asked to do “Are You Experienced?” When I listened to the original version to map out our plan for it, it seemed a bit daunting.
GM: You stayed pretty close to the original, which is good, as it is one of my favorites from the trio’s debut album. “Sweet Ride” is certainly different from that sound. It is pretty and acoustic, like a coffeehouse performance.
TG: That is a delicate Tanya song. We were playing in Israel and there was an early morning radio interview. The radio DJ kept talking about “Sweet Ride,” which was a flip side on our “Gepetto” EP. We had never played it live, but he kept talking about it. Apparently another DJ in Israel had played it repeatedly and it became a minor hit there. This DJ said, with a Hebrew accent, “Of course you gonna to play ‘Sweet Ride’ at concert tonight.” I looked at Tanya, thinking that I would have to relearn this song quickly.
GM: Ron Dante told me a similar story where one of his Archies flip sides became almost an anthem in South Africa. You never know. Let’s move from Hebrew to French with “Judas Mon Couer.” The piano and guitar combination add to the power of this dramatic song, like when Bryan Ferry sang in French on Roxy Music’s “A Song for Europe.”
TG: There is a certain romance in the French language that doesn’t fail. We have an English version that we have played live, but it is in French on this new collection. I think our French distributor suggested it. There was a guy who worked with Tanya to translate the lyrics from English to French, who was a known poet in France. I am happy you enjoy this version.
GM: Gail, “Baby’s Arm” is catchy, up-tempo, punk-pop with a great chorus.
GAIL GREENWOOD: I remember recording that with the producer and engineer Paul Kolderie, who is a great friend of the band, at Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge. It was a loose and fun experience. We needed some flip sides to fill out our Now They’ll Sleep EP. Tanya wrote this one and I loved playing bass on it because it was one of our faster tunes.
GM: Let’s move on to a slower song, “Hushabye Mountain.” I saw the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the theater in 1968, when I was ten, but I only remember the title song, not this beautiful song.
GG: Isn’t that amazing. That is due to Tom Gorman. He presented it to the band when we were working on our reunion album Dove in 2018, and he asked, “How about this cover?” I didn’t remember it from the movie either and I saw it in the theater too. Tom played most or all of the instruments, Tanya is on lead vocals, and I did the backing vocals on it, coming up with a weird trill vocal sound. I just had fun with it. Tom is very good at picking very unexpected covers. Isn’t it haunting?
GM: It certainly is beautifully haunting. What an overlooked children’s movie classic song! Then there is “John Dark,” which is a slow 3/4 time, moody and powerful, Alanis Morissette-like headbanging number.
GG: I think that this one, which Tanya wrote, epitomizes that waltz timing swing. I love that song. It was an amazing recording experience in The Bahamas at Compass Point Studios, with the producer and engineer Glyn Johns.
GM: Isn’t that ironic? Listening to Bees, I was comparing it to a Who album of studio outtakes called Odds & Sods, from 1974, which also includes Glyn Johns as a producer. There were some gems on that one, too.
GG: Glyn’s resume is as long as your leg. He looked at my bass and said to me, in his British accent, “You only need to pluck the string like a feathah! That’s what ‘Wymie’ would do.” It took me a moment to realize he was talking about The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman. Isn’t that amazing? To this day that little bit of technical studio feather advice has stuck with me. Between takes he shared the best stories, between The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. It has been a while since I have been in a studio, but I have a practice space in my basement, which we call The Rock and Roll Control Center, and Chris and I, both wearing masks, have recently recorded some of our songs acoustically, while waiting for the pandemic to end, and for live shows to return. It was wonderful playing with him again.
GM: Chris, “Sexy S” is up-tempo and edgy on Bees, reminding me of the band Love’s sole Top 40 hit “7 and 7 Is.”
CHRIS GORMAN: It was a pleasant surprise that we were asked to help create Bees and it was an awesome project to be hands on. It was a lot of fun. Regarding the band Love, I know Tom is a big fan of Love with Arthur Lee, especially their Forever Changes album. I remember that receiving heavy rotation in our home, as brothers growing up together, when we were high school age and older. As our songs were achieving success, we were repeatedly asked to get back in the studio to get more material recorded in short order. We were a new band without a back catalog of recordings, so we had to crank new songs out, like “Sexy S,” and it was very exciting to work that way. It was nice to have access to Fort Apache as a studio, too.
GM: On the other end of the spectrum, “Spaceman” is quite pretty.
CG: Yes, I feel that song was a pivotal flip side for us. By that point we had more of a sophisticated sensibility of who we were. The band settled into a personality. We all had an idea of where we could go with a song and how we could sound. We were moving away from self-imposed constraints. That was a fun song to record, without a lot of rehearsal. It has a pretty simple loopy drum part. It had a different type of groove from what Belly explored at that point.
GM: I bought a Flying Burrito Brothers album in 1972, right as they were ending their first era called Last of the Red Hot Burritos, and it included the song “Hot Burrito #2.” Now, I am finally learning “Hot Burrito #1” from you, so thank you. It is beautiful.
CG: You’re welcome. That has always been one of Tanya’s favorite songs, and one she would not have recorded with her prior bands Throwing Muses or The Breeders, and she said that this would be the first cover song that she would love to do. It is kind of a complicated song. We recorded it with a jazz bass player named Dylan Roy, and he is playing a lot of notes, and I just wanted to stay out of the way. I recorded it with drums that I borrowed from Fort Apache belonging to a guy named Carl, who was the drum wizard. Everything sounded so pretty.
GM: Tom, Chris, Tanya and Gail, in 1993, not only did you debut in the Top 100, but Conan O’Brien debuted as the new host on NBC’s Late Night show after David Letterman’s departure, and you were a guest in his first month on the air. Andy Richter was the co-host and E Street drummer Max Weinberg was the bandleader.
TG: Yes. Andy hung out with us in the green room on the night of the show, which was really nice.
CG: They were super welcoming and seemed genuinely excited to have us. Andy accepted our guest list offer and came to one of our shows.
TD: Conan and I traded stories on being nervous before shows.
GG: Conan, Andy and Max could not have been cooler or more welcoming, which we appreciated, just like you talking with us. Goldmine is so great. It is really an honor. Thank you so much.