I’m in the Fan Club: A Conversation with Jellyfish’s Roger Manning, Part Two

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: I remember one of those live-in-the-studio sessions you did back around the time of the second album. It was for 99X, a radio station in Atlanta (WNNX-FM). The thing I remember most from the interview part of that session – and I don’t know if it was you or not who was responding – but the DJ made the point of comparing Jellyfish’s sound to Queen. Whoever it was, he didn’t appreciate the comparison. But while Jellyfish always sounded modern, there was a clear, shall-we-say, classicist bent to the music, especially the arrangements. So if not Queen – and I’d agree with you there – what sort of aesthetic were you aiming for with the band?

Roger Manning: Well, thank you for your kind words and the way you put it. You pretty much nailed it: for us, the biggest priority was, no matter what we did, we did something that gave us a chance to be adventurous and bold. And respectful of artists past, one s who had various influences on us. The main thing was to create something that had a classicist feel to it. In a nutshell, we were operating on a tradition of rock/pop history, and putting our own stamp on it. That’s all we ever wanted to do. And Queen was as much a part of what influenced us, inspired us in that direction, as anybody. Certainly, vocally. People don’t realize that there were groups like The Carpenters, Fleetwood Mac and 10cc who were very, very strong vocal influences on us.

BK: When the first album came out – and even more so when Spilt Milk was released – I evangelized about Jellyfish to any of my friends who would listen. But the band never really broke through with the massive success I thought it deserved. I even thought the timing was right. You had it all: the music, the lyrics, the arrangements, and a distinctive visual style, so important by that period. So why do you think the band never truly broke through in a bigger way?

RM: Although I agree with you that we possessed a little bit of each of those qualities, at the end of the day, I think we were just too damn intellectual. Even though we were writing three-and-a-half-minute, simple, hooky pop, we were still operating in a tradition that had [already] its heyday, if you will. The production approach that we were using was present with everybody from Steely Dan to…even Cheap Trick was more intellectual than rock bands that were happening in the early 90s.

When our first album came out, “Sunset Strip metal” was coming to a crashing halt because Nirvana was coming through. Grunge was about to dominate the airwaves. And of course grunge was another sort of post-punk statement. It was very rooted in punk and in classic hard rock, and there’s nothing intellectual about any of that stuff. Some [of those] bands did some wonderful things…

Obviously, we attracted people, and people “got” it, but on the bell curve of middle America, frankly it was like a foreign language coming into a lot of ears. I remember that right during Spilt Milk, the second Pearl Jam album came out. And I was just scratching my head: “Wow. I’m in the same age group as all of these people, and for the most part the bands too, and I don’t understand what the appeal is.” That’s not a slight to Pearl Jam. It’s just a comment on me, and where my head space was. I was like, “This is just not meeting my needs.” Clearly it was meeting the needs of a whole lot of other people!

You could analyze it for days. I think that though the melodies we offered were catchy and singable and so forth, it was still not as…it would have been the equivalent of, say, all of those great Dionne Warwick Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, if all of those songs came out the late 80s. Or the early 90s or something. Or even in the last decade now. It’s like, “Wow. Fuckin’ masterpieces!” and the general public says, “I don’t care!” It’s irrelevant to the cultural climate [of a given time period].

Jellyfish’s 2CD Stack-a-Tracks is out now on Omnivore Recordings.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.