Songwriting With Colin: "Truckin' Bees"

Apr 29, 2014

Chion Wolf's Gibson Hummingbird.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

It's not too often I get to write a song with Colin, but I love when it happens. We had about two hours until showtime when Colin dropped off the lyrics to the song we wanted to use as an intro to our show about bees -- specifically about how bees are trucked to different locations throughout the country. I could hear the tune in my head right away.

Bees, truckin' along.
Credit Mike Baird / Creative Commons

Here's what Colin handed me:

I pulled out of Fort Myers with 500 hives
Crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge, they were all still alive

From Georgia to Jersey, from pumpkins to trees
I'm the bringer of stingers, I'm still trucking bees.

Truckin' bees, truckin' bees
As nice as you please
Just haulin' some pollen
Like a portable sneeze
Give me white pills and coffee and hand me my keys
And I'll drive all night long, just as buzzed as my bees.

I can drive through the daylight with no bathroom stops
Those farmers in Maine, they need me for their crops
From berries to almonds, from peppers to peas
A collector of nectar, I'm still trucking bees.

The lyrics for "Truckin' Bees" - Lyrics by Colin, markings and music by Chion Wolf.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

I usually keep a few instruments in my studio -- tiny piano, bugle, harmonica, toy accordion, and a small djembe -- and I knew that this one called for my Gibson Hummingbird. It's a guitar I saved, and saved, and saved for (see photo above), and bought in 2005.

Finding my way around an instrument isn't too hard. It's fluency that's difficult (as it should be!). I'm most handy with the guitar, but still have a long way to go before ripping any intricate solos. As a player of many instruments, and master of none, thanks to the joys of pre-recorded sound, I can make all the mistakes I want when creating a song.

For this one, I had the simple chord structure of G/C/G and D/G/C in my mind. I liked the lilt of road weariness and sadness that gave me. I'm a sucker for sad songs, and no matter what I did to perk this one up, this particular sound and pace really appealed to me.

I laid down the guitar line after figuring out the progression. Then I went back and sang over the guitar line, which was playing back in my headphones.

The melody starts on a low note, and immediately hops up to a higher one. When that wasn't nearly as easy as I expected, I re-recorded the phrase until it was acceptable. You can go kind of nuts and sing each line over and over again, but thankfully, I always have a deadline, so I could only obsess so much.

This is the finished song in multitrack view. The voice is on top, then the basic guitar line, and the on the bottom are the guitar flourishes.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

I had time to lay down a few individual guitar lines under the work I'd already done. It just sounded pretty, going up and down the neck on the B string. The audio files in multitrack view show the separations of sound waves (whose only job is to arch up and down, depending on pitch, effect, and volume) and the flat lines where there is no sound. I've always loved how visual sound can be.

My singing voice in its raw form over the guitar just sounded too harsh, so I isolated my vocal tracks and added a subtle reverb filter, softening it just enough. I also lowered the volume of the guitar so it wasn't fighting so much with the volume of my voice.

I mixed all three layers (voice, guitar line one, guitar line two) into one sound file for the beginning of the show. Below, listen to the finished product. Lyrics by Colin McEnroe, music and production by me:

Here are some more songs - some written entirely by me, some a team effort with Colin.