Jellyfish finds inspiration in era of disco and bell bottoms
The music may sound frivolous, but band members take their musical craft
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
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
"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."