Jellyfish finds inspiration in era of disco and bell bottoms

The music may sound frivolous, but band members take their musical craft seriously.

By Joanna Young for the Union-Recorder

For a moment, step back into the 1970s and remember the music: the sugary-sweet pop melodies. The breezy vocal harmonies. The pep that radiated from those songs.
Now, return to the '9Os and meet Jellyfish. The quartet, originally based out of California, takes pride in the era of disco and bell bottoms. The band's music doesn't skimp on '70s style--Jellyfish uses only real orchestral sections, rather than resorting to synthesized imitations. While halfway harmonies suffice in today's popular music, Jellyfish produces full, tight-knit vocal harmonies, comparable to the Beach Boys. Even spoon playing--an odd, talent atypical to the music of the '9Os--occasionally adds an unusual touch to some of the group's songs.
Although Jellyfish's music may sound frivolous, band members take their musical craft seriously. The band's latest album, Spilt Milk, shows the quartet's dedication to perfection.
"We wanted to make a record that would stand the test of time," bassist and vocalist Tirn Smith said via phone from Tampa, Fla. "In 20 years, we could put on (the album) and still be proud."
The 12-song album loosely revolves around vivid night dreams, from the peaceful to the chaotic. The opening lullaby, "Hush," jumps into the theatrical, guitar-heavy "Joining a Fan Club," a song that parallels teen idol fan clubs to church hierarchies. "Sebrina, Paste and Plato" could be considered for a children's album with its story of Sebrina and her imaginary picnic.
The flowing harmonies and accompaniment of "The Glutton of Sympathy," provides a soft transition into the pounding "The Ghost at Number One." "Number One," the first single from the album, is a sarcastic rocker that mocks dead rock stars who have become deities. "All is Forgiven" sounds like today's grunge rock, with squealing guitars and feedback.
The pastoral Iyrics and simple jazzy accompaniment of "Russian Hill" is a tranquil escape, but the album comes full-circle with "Brighter Day," that combines madness and bizarre circus sites to create the finale in a dream sequence.

Recording Spilt Milk didn't come easy to Jellyfish. After the band's successful 1990 debut Bellybutton bassist Chris Manning and Guitarist/vocalist Jason Faulkner left to pursue other interests. Lead vocalist and drummer Andy Sturmer and keyboardist/vocalist Roger Manning went about filling the group's vacancies.
Luckily, Sturmer and Manning found bassist/vocalist Tim Smith, an Atlanta native who previously had been a member of the now-defunct Georgia band, The Producers. Guitarist and vocalist Eric Dover, a friend of Smith's from Birmingham, Ala., completed Jellyfish's new lineup.
Because of the orchestral arrangements on the album, recording Jellyfish's follow-up took a lengthy six months. Smith says the hard work paid off.
"I think the band is trying to be a little more in tune with playing more serious songs and not be quite as cartoonish," Smith said, referring to the band's first hit music video, "Baby's Coming Back," in 1990. The video, which was an MTV success, portrayed band members as cartoon characters. But Smith admits that the band still has it's childish side. Smith says his year old daughter, Rhanatah, adores Roger Manning's playfulness and loves watching the group's videos.
"It's refreshing to try to keep that kind of childlike nature in what you do," he said. "It kind of keeps you pure in some way."

As part of its current U.S. tour, Jellyfish will perform Saturday at The Masquerade in Atlanta and Sunday at the Riverwalk Amphitheater in Augusta. The band performed in Europe earlier this year and will extend its tour to Japan and Australia this summer.
Meanwhile the song, "New Mistake," is ready to be released as the second single from "Spilt Milk."
Speaking about what Georgia fans should expect, Smith says Jellyfish's live performance matches that of the album.
"It's gonna sound really full," he said. "We don't use samples, we don't use tape machines. It's four guys making all this music."
Jellyfish hopes its tour will change listeners' perspectives of the band.
"Usually we've found when people see us live, it really gets them excited about us," Smith said. "Then they see we are a band. It's not like a studio, Steely Dan kind of project or something."