Not every great album needs a fancy studio.
There are myriad ways to occupy yourself during lockdown. You could alphabetise your record collection. Maybe you could alphabetise your books. Or, for a special treat, why not alphabetise your spice rack? If you’re musically inclined, instead of spending the next three weeks trying to figure out if wild thyme should go under W or T, it might be a better use of time to get those creative juices flowing.
For a little inspiration, here are ten bands and artists who forewent the conventional studio setting and stayed at home, ushering forth great records from their kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms (great for reverb and mid-guitar solo toilet breaks).
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
After the commercial success of The River, Springsteen set about recording demos for his follow-up on a Tascam 4-track recorder in his bedroom. Some of the demos went on to form the backbone of Born In The USA but the darker, brooding songs didn’t mesh well with the E-Street Band, leading Springsteen to decide to release them as they were. The result was a critically acclaimed masterpiece that remains a fan favourite to this day.
The Wrens – The Meadowlands
The New Jersey quartet lived together in a house in Fort Lee – drummer Jerry MacDonald wisely moved out when he got married – where they recorded their acclaimed third record. After a turbulent split from the label that released their first two albums, the idea was to spend a few weeks writing and recording number three. Four years later, the band were finally finished, resulting in one of the defining indie rock records of the ’00s. A further 17 years down the road and they’re still working on album number four.
The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main St.
The Stones began work on their epic tenth album in England, but with the taxman hot on their trail, they decamped to France to complete it. Holed up in Keith’s rented villa in Nice, the band brought over the mobile studio they’d used on Sticky Fingers, recording the rest of the album in the midst of a seemingly never-ending party. That loose, debauched vibe is ever present on an album that might just be the band’s best.
Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Style
Will Toledo (aka Car Seat Headrest) spent years recording songs in his bedroom in Virginia and releasing them on Bandcamp. Embarrassed to even let his parents hear him sing, he’d record his vocals in the car, parked outside a supermarket. Once signed to indie label Matador, he decided to re-record the best songs from his online releases, sticking to the bedroom format that served him well. The resulting album earned rave reviews from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, setting the scene for the more sonically ambitious follow-up Teens Of Denial.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Justin Vernon’s debut as Bon Iver is one of the most famous stories of recording in isolation. Nursing a broken heart, Vernon went off to his father’s cabin in the woods and returned with a stark, stunning break-up album that struck a chord with millions around the world. Remote desolation seeps out of every corner of a record that couldn’t have been created in any other situation.
The Mountain Goats – Songs For Pierre Chuvin
When John Darnielle began recording as The Mountain Goats, his albums consisted of his high nasal bleat accompanied by desperate strums on an acoustic guitar, all recorded ultra-lo-fi on a Panasonic boombox. With success came proper recording studios, but then lockdown intervened. Much to the delight of many fans, Darnielle took the opportunity to return to his faithful boombox, taking 90-minute breaks from family life to write and record a song a day. It all goes to prove that you don’t need fancy studio trickery when your songs are this good.
Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Indie rock and moody folk seem like natural bedfellows for DIY home recording, but it’s a little more unusual for one of the biggest pop albums of the last ten years to come out of a teenager’s bedroom. Nothing about WWAFA,WDWG? feels lo-fi, but from the initial sounds of Eilish removing her braces and the ensuing laughter from her brother and producer Finneas, this feels utterly rooted in the bedroom, as uncomfortably intimate as reading your best friend’s diary. Note: if you’re going to record an album at home, it helps if your brother is an incredibly talented producer.
Paul Westerberg – Stereo
Westerberg spent his entire time in The Replacements defying the expectations of the record industry and then his first three solo records half-heartedly trying to play the game. Remembering that none of that ever interested him in the first place, he imposed new conditions on all future releases: no more studios, no more producers. He would record all of his albums on his own in his basement. His first transmission from that basement feels like the true Paul Westerberg: slightly shambolic, utterly authentic and endlessly charming.
Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand
The best GBV songs feel like a radio on the fritz, noise and static occasionally making way for brief snippets of pop genius to drift in and out. Bee Thousand – recorded in the band members’ garages and basements – is the pinnacle of this, sometimes sounding as if someone taped over half a rehearsal session with parts of another rehearsal session. When the fragments come together into something like a whole song, the effect is glorious.
Bob Dylan & The Band – The Basement Tapes
The Basement Tapes were actually recorded in two basements: Dylan’s in Woodstock, New York and The Band’s legendary Big Pink just up the road in West Saugerties. In 1967, after the “Judas” UK tour and a serious motorbike accident, Dylan set about healing both body and spirit. Holed up at home, he got together with the members of The Band and recorded hundreds of songs in a homespun fashion, something Dylan has referred to as his rejection of increasingly ambitious records by The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Some of those songs finally saw the light eight years later as The Basement Tapes, while a 138-song compilation of the sessions followed in 2014.
For more from the world of music, check out our Concerts and Tours Guide.