A case for Jellyfish.

Discussion in 'Fred's Barcalounge' started by Crooner, Aug 12, 2016.

  1. Crooner

    Crooner Friend of Fred

    Apr 15, 2009

    I know we usually see posts like this in the form of gear reviews, but having recently posted in the thread about memorable guitar solos, I was reminded of a solo in a song called "New Mistake" by a band called Jellyfish. Rather than simply adding to said thread, I decided to expand my thoughts and take a few moments to talk about the band in larger extent.

    In the mid 1990's I was in California and was introduced to a drummer named Dan McCarrol. He was in a band called The Grays that had just finished their first and only album, Ro Sham Bo. It was a very good, clever album and The Grays were, in some ways, an under the radar "supergroup." It boasted a lineup containing a new rising star producer and player named Jon Brion, McCarrol, a hugely respected session and touring drummer, and a guitarist named Jason Faulkner. I was told that Jason had previously been the guitarist for a band called Jellyfish. When I confessed that I had never heard of them, I was told emphatically to get their two albums, sit down with headphones on loud, strap myself in and prepare for my mind to be blown.

    I did as told and instantly heard several strong influences: The Beatles (obviously), Queen, Badfinger, ELO, Paul's solo work, XTC, The Beach Boys, and other important Pop/Rock signature groups. I was incredibly impressed, but as I was immersed in a heavy gig schedule, I moved on.

    Cut forward about 20 years…

    About two weeks ago I stumbled upon an article about Jellyfish and decided to dust off my MP3's (don't you miss the days of Vinyl? CD's even?) and re-listened to their catalogue. I then took it further and found some live recordings, demos and live videos. I'm now in a full blown Jellyfish binge and all I can ask, over and over, is how is it possible this band didn't become the biggest band of the era and not enjoy at least a decade long dominance atop the charts?

    Before I answer my own question, let me talk a bit about the band and its music.

    If you are a lover of harmony, inventive and quirky, hook laden melody, prodigious playing, songs that grab you and somehow sound familiar yet never fall victim to easily anticipated chord changes or formula, Jellyfish will give you eargasms.

    The band originally consisted of Andy Sturmer, drums, guitar and lead vocals; Roger Manning, keys, guitar, vocals; Jason Faulkner, guitar, vocals; and Eric Dover, bass and vocals. Sturmer and Manning co-wrote the songs and were the driving force of the band.

    When they were in the process of signing a deal, close to ten labels were bidding for them, but they chose to go with a slightly smaller company, Charisma, because it was the only one that didn't propose changes to their sound. In fact, the band was given total and complete creative control. One of the band's first decisions with this power given to them was to hire Albhy Galuten to produce their album. You may not know that name, but you've heard his work. If you ever saw or listened to the famous tracks from the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, you know Galuten's work. His sound is that of rich, warm, analog gear, elegant and tasteful arrangements and unmistakable hits.

    The result of the partnering of Galuten and the band are two albums of sonic masterpieces. The songs are brilliantly written, original and inspired, but at the same time pay homage to the music on which the band cut their collective teeth. There are hooks everywhere, clever, introspective lyrics, inventive melodies, eclectic tempo changes and some of thickest, most lush harmonies you'll hear on any record.

    The production is incredible. The sounds are huge, luscious and 3-dimensional. You feel the kick in your chest and the snare puts its foot in your behind. The instruments are layered and painted with care. The vocals are warm and in your face. You can listen to a given song over and over and discover something new each time. When I listen to the songs I think to myself, "I hope I can someday have a chance to record my material in this type of quality."

    Even with this amazing sonic character, it is the music that takes center stage. It's very hard to listen to Jellyfish and not walk away humming at least a few of the songs.

    Their first album, Bellybutton, was released right in the midst of the explosion of the Seattle "grunge" sound. It stood apart in nearly every way. So much so that it would have been easily believed if it were marketed as a long lost, late 1960's or early 1970's record that was never before released. There are certain songs that jumped out to me…

    "That Is Why"

    This was the band's "first hit." It got air play and is immediately catchy and memorable. It's an excellent introduction to the band, but it only scratches at the surface. They wasted no time in showing how far they were able to take their musical vision with…

    "The King Is Half-Undressed"
    This song is an explosive jet engine that defines, in many ways, the band's "PowerPop" labeling.

    "I Wanna Stay Home"
    This introspective, delicate and beautiful song shows the band's maturity and confidence to break out and stray from "PowerPop" and display their adeptness at producing a gorgeous ballad that still has balls.

    "Bedspring Kiss"
    This one took me completely by surprise. I believe Jellyfish brought in world class bass player Pino Paladino to play upright on the tune and the song is so thick and lush with it's warm percussion and rhythm, it almost seems crazy that they managed to still leave a beautiful melody at center stage and own the song.

    "Calling Sarah"
    This deep sonic ballad seems to come out of the speakers and surrounds you and almost lulls you into a near hypnotic state.

    Album number two, Split Milk.

    "Joining a Fan Club"
    Jellyfish's second album noted the departure of Jason Faulkner, yet they didn't miss a step. This song bursts from your speakers with their usual hooks but ups the ante with a hard rocking middle section that causes one to want to head bang like Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey in Wayne's World listening to Bohemian Rhapsody.

    "New Mistake"
    One of my favorites, this song reminds me a little of a John Lennon song and the guitar solo section (cleverly embedded in a key change) is so pretty it makes me close my eyes and smile. Yup… it's gong to remind you A LOT of George Harrison, but is that ever a bad thing?

    "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late"
    Another perfect pop song dripping with hooks. It's basically a cool guitar song, but it goes so much further. It's like having a perfect dinner placed in front of you. You take a first bite and have to settle yourself because the taste is so good. And just when you think you can't get a better mouthful, you do. Each next bite is more delectable than the previous. It's one of those songs that makes me think to myself, "Man, I wish I wrote that!"

    Getting back to a previous question I raised, why didn't this band enjoy mammoth success and a long lasting career? I think there are several factors…the obvious thing that first jumps out to me is that they were the lone Pop band in a sea of of grunge bands when they debuted. While some grunge bands had some good things going on, the sound, in general, was very paired down and didn't require a ton of attention to hear any subtleties. The music was in your face and was, in some ways, a new generation of garage rock. It seemed to inspire folks to think that anyone could throw together a group and recreate that sound. Jellyfish, on the other hand, was complex, intricate, layered and begged all parts of your mind to sit up and take notice. Their music challenges the listener as much as it meets you more than halfway. If I were to put it in a less elegant way, I'd say it was simply too smart at a time when the vast majority of its competition was easy access to a lower common denominator of listeners.
    There was also some inter-band politics going on that began playing out before their second album. Aside from Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning, there were a handful of personal changes, and soon, even the partnership of the two key members began to wear thin. I was struck by an interview I read with Manning in which he confessed to hearing a new song that Sturmer had written. Manning described hearing it and replying, in so many words, "I love it, it's amazing, and I have no desire to record it." Not good.

    I've also read some pieces that quote both Jellyfish members and close friends who have said that their initial success was a bit much for the band and that Sturmer was not all that comfortable with the typical "lead singer" role. While I don't think we expect rock 'n roll bands too be particularly excellent public speakers, interviews with the band I've seen seem, to me, to show a group of young guys trying to navigate their way through very unfamiliar waters and never quite finding the right pace at which to swim, tread water, and ultimately stay afloat.
    Ultimately, I don't know if anyone can give a perfect explanation for why a truly good band did or did not succeed. All we can do is not forget a great band that gave us two albums that deserve celebration and recognition as fantastic contributions to Rock 'N Roll/Pop history.

    I apologize for going on so long and for running out of superlatives and adjectives. Obviously, I'm biased and really have fallen in love with this band. Not everyone will feel the same and that's cool. For those who have been kind and gentle enough to read this far, I thank you for indulging me and I hope you get as much pleasure from the music of Jellyfish as I do. Some candles burn brought and short, and Jellyfish, sadly, is one of those flames. Nevertheless, we will always have their songs and for that I am grateful.

    For this who wish to listen to the albums in their entirety, here are the youtube links:


    Spilt Milk

    Thanks for reading, folks, and happy listening.
    drmilktruck and 5120mantis like this.
  2. drmilktruck

    drmilktruck Gretschified

    May 17, 2009
    Plymouth, MN
    Thanks Darin for that thorough review. I heartily agree. Jellyfish produced some of the finest Power Pop ever and it's a shame they did not enjoy a long and glorious career. OTOH what they did make was so great that at some point there would have been an inevitable decline. Maybe it's better to love what we have.
  3. T simmons

    T simmons Friend of Fred

    Jun 5, 2013
    Thanks for that review, very thorough.
  4. Henry

    Henry Gretschified

    Apr 9, 2014
    Great review. Love your enthusiasm.

    I think this begs a question I regularly have: what makes a successful musician? World renown? A comfortable living. I consider myself successful on my career, but don't expect to "be known".
    Can a musician or band be successful without being #1?
    5120mantis likes this.
  5. How are the teeth holding up?
  6. loudnlousy

    loudnlousy Friend of Fred

    Oct 18, 2015
    Hildesheim, Germany
    Thank you for this nice article.
    I never heard of them before and only two of the samples could be opened over here due to GEMA-restrictions. What I heard was really great and inventive music.
  7. Tony65x55

    Tony65x55 Gretschified

    Sep 23, 2011
    The 'Shwa, Ontario, Canada
    Absolutely! It depends what you seek. Success and stardom are not synonymous. When I was a child I decided I wanted to be a professional musician. Not a star you understand, but someone who made a living being a musician. I avoided the usual pitfall that usually afflicts those who enter the music business - that is - concentrating mostly on the music, and not on the business.

    I worked for a few decades as a professional musician despite having only mediocre talent. I worked the "business" part and did very well, raising a family with a stay-at-home mom, paying a mortgage and living the dream. That was my measure of success, in that I achieved what I desired and left it when I chose.

    Darin, never heard of Jellyfish but they sound great, super tunes and at least one serious fan. Thank you for sharing this very enjoyable band!
    Henry and Random1643 like this.
  8. drmilktruck

    drmilktruck Gretschified

    May 17, 2009
    Plymouth, MN
    Jason Falkner did some good stuff later, solo and with Eric Matthews.


  9. Lacking Talent

    Lacking Talent Synchromatic

    Aug 5, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Fantastic band. Fans of Manning and Falkner can hear them on disc and see them on stage with Beck, whose work their talents have been enriching for years.
  10. toddfan

    toddfan Synchromatic

    Mar 12, 2012
    Nice write up! I was a HUGE fan of this band when they were around...also loved another band of the era that was also "lost" in the sea of grunge: Trip Shakespeare....if you haven't heard them you should give "Lulu" a listen....you may be pleasantly surprised.

    Also have to give a nod to your mention of The Grays: Ro Sham Bo......another CD I fell in love with when it was released.
  11. Gretschman2

    Gretschman2 Country Gent

    Apr 8, 2013
    Enetai, WA
    We need a review of "Streetfish" next. ;)
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2016
    catfish72 likes this.
  12. Gretschtim1

    Gretschtim1 Country Gent

    Dec 4, 2012
    Dundalk, Md
    Jellyfish was a great band.
    I saw them live a few times during the Bellybutton & Spilt Milk tours.
    I talked with them after the shows and they were really nice guys.
    The Roger Manning solo stuff sounds a lot like Jellyfish.
    I was sad when this group split up.
    It was kind of my only escape from all the grunge crap that was out at the same time.
  13. OldTwanger64

    OldTwanger64 Electromatic

    Sep 6, 2018
    I saw Jellyfish in Kansas City twice- Once in a club across from 'The Lone Star', & then as the opening act for 'Tears For Fears'. I wasn't a Gretsch fan back then, and Jason Faulkner was no longer with the group, but I was watching an old video of them on YouTube yesterday, & was surprised to see Jason Faulkner playing an old Gretsch double-cutaway Duo-Jet (Double-Jet?). I think it was the 'That Is Why' video, but I don't remember for sure because I watched so many. An excellent pair of albums to enjoy, for sure..!
  14. 5120mantis

    5120mantis Country Gent

    Mar 6, 2011
    Great albums, also loved the off shoot imperial drag album.
    Have not looked up Andy Sturmer in a while....time to google that name
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