If you’ve read my reviews of jellyskin’s singles (‘Milk of Magnesia’, ‘Eater’ and ‘Only Rain (Flows to Beach)’) you’ll have realised that I like this band, I like them a lot. In a way this makes writing about them more difficult, rather than easier. It’s way too easy to fall into waxing lyrical about their music rather than trying to write something objective. So I decided to start this by trying to answer the two questions people ask when I tell them about jellyskin – why do you like them so much and what do they sound like? This isn’t going to be at all objective to be honest, but hopefully it’ll give you some sense of why you should at least give jellyskin a try.
I’ll going to answer the first by answering the second first (if that makes any sense). Jellyskin make (or perhaps that should be compose) music which I describe as post-punky, psychy, gothic, moody and atmospheric with this sense of dark joyousness. Sometimes it is fast and industrial – ‘Eater’, sometimes it is slow and gloriously grandly gothic (that’s gothic and not goth I must emphasise) – ‘Milk of Magnesia’, and sometimes it’s something I’d guess you call psychy post-punk – ‘Only Rain (Flows to Beach)’. ‘Milk of Magnesia’ by the way is so slow it almost feels like it’s going to fall over and come to stop.
So their songs are different, in some cases very different, but there’s something I find hard to put a finger on that makes them work together – something I call that ‘jellyskin thing’.
The band are cagey about influences but for me it’s clear that they are pretty steeped in music from all over the place and times. What results from this is music that’s hard to place as music from now. I’ve had friends who’ve insisted it comes from a late 70s’ post-punk band until I tell them about the band for example. But in taking all that stuff and mixing it all up, then adding that ‘jellyskin thing’ they make music which is very much forward looking, and importantly very much their own. This is pretty rare, the only other band I can think of that do this is Vukovar (you can read my review of their album), although Vukovar come from a different place.
jellyskin having very much their own sound is one of those things that got me liking them in the first place. Originality is something that’s really important to me. I dislike bands who just ‘jump on a bandwagon’. When friends ask me whether I like a particular band they almost without fail start to say ‘you’re just about to say, “no they just sound derivative” aren’t you’. I spend my life looking for music that at least shows signs of originality, to be honest I find very little. I don’t need much, just take a whole bunch of stuff, mix them well, and add your own thing is all I need.
And let me just pick up on my almost throw away comment ‘or perhaps that should be compose’ – I guess what I mean by this is that it’s obvious to even the casual listener that their music is very carefully put together, but it still sounds organic, it doesn’t sound constructed, it has a soul.
So, for me, it’s this sense of timelessness, the originality and the fact that they’re not afraid to make music that varies in style (and don’t all the best bands do that), that makes the band worth listening to.
I put some, at times awkwardly phrased, questions to Zia and Will, they thankfully gave me some really thoughtful answers.
How did the band get together, and when? Had any of you been in other bands or done anything solo before?
Z: We formed in early 2016 and spent a few months holed up in our halls getting things organised, then released our first single in the summer, and we’ve been gigging since September. Although jellyskin is the only ‘band’ I’ve been in, we’ve both played music before; Will was in a great band in Stroud and I’ve been performing solo since I was little, and I used to play gigs around Merseyside performing my own stuff. I still get butterflies when I’m about to get on stage though despite my past experience!
W: I’d been in one band before, called Dollhouse, and I was in that for about five years. We didn’t do too badly for just a school band (note: school band as in we formed in school, we never played in school or had any affiliation with school. We never sold out!). We supported Moon Duo and played in London a few times but it was unsustainable, especially with everyone going off to university.
Where does your music come from? It seems that you’re reaching further back than some other bands do, at least to me.
W: I like to think we’re looking forward, obviously all the old stuff is brilliant but I like to think there’s always a few elements in our songs that are futuristic. All the stuff we listen to must feed into the tracks, but we never sit down and say ‘let’s make this song sound like X’. If you’re ever obsessed with a band or a single track, then if you do try and emulate it, then the track will always sound awful because it’s not organic. The stuff that’s most inspirational is probably the cutting-edge stuff, for me anyway.
Z: Yeah I agree, we want to sound new – whatever that actually means. Distinctive is probably a better word. Having said that, most of my favourite music and most important influences come from old-ish music, and from the massive spectrum of different music my parents brought me up on, so I guess that subliminally plays a part in my writing. But you can cite an artist/band as an influence without sounding like them. I’ll concur with Will by saying that I think what’s important is that you take inspiration and learn from your favourite artists but never try to copy them – you don’t want to sound like a crap tribute (unless you actually are a tribute and that’s fine).
I’ve always been intrigued by this. How did you come up with the band name?
W: We spent ages and ages trying to find a decent band name. Really good band names are few and far between, all I wanted was something that sounds cool and I wouldn’t wince when I told people!
Z: We toiled over this for weeks and nothing seemed right; too cringey, too long, too boring, etc… It got so desperate that we spent a whole evening in the pub suggesting the first names that came into our heads, and it got so ridiculous. Eventually I said I wanted to fit the word ‘jelly’ in there and we went through a myriad of different combinations until Will said ‘skin’. Et voila.
Your songs vary in sound/style so much, is this deliberate or just that different influences come through? Can we expect other sounds or styles in upcoming music?
Z: This is a blessing and a curse for us really – we love the fact that we just write what we want and they come out as completely different genres, but whenever anyone asks us what kind of music we play, we never know how to adequately answer. “Errr… there’s a synth… and a guitar… I sing, sometimes Will sings… sometimes we play fast, sometimes slow…”
In all seriousness, we basically just don’t have a plan – we don’t sit down and say, “right, now we’re going to write a specifically krautrock song’ or ‘this song has to be shoegaze’ or whatever – it might sound lame but we genuinely just write for the love of writing and just see where it takes us. Our willingness to try out different sounds is probably due to the fact that we both have such eclectic music tastes and an open mind to so many different genres. So I would say you can definitely expect other sounds in upcoming music because it changes all the time: we’ll probably come out with a techno banger next. But I can promise that you’ll definitely never, ever hear us playing country.
W: Some of this can be pinned down to how they were written or who wrote them. The first few songs we recorded were just tracks I had written individually after Dollhouse split up. Our last few songs we’ve released have been real collaboration. We’re demoing stuff at the moment, and I’m really trying to make the beats and percussion more interesting, I’m experimenting with less conventional drum sounds and whatnot. We’re just trying to keep maintaining the fine line between pop music and experimentation (though not for the sake of experimentation).
Do you see the band as a ‘vehicle’ for the material you write rather than as a band whose stuff all sounds similar? Or is that, as I happen to feel, that all the best bands produce things in different styles?
Z: I try not to compare ourselves to other bands because we’re just doing what makes us happy and so are they, and we don’t really have a rigid agenda as such, but I do think we’d get bored if we limited ourselves to writing in a particular vein of music.
There’s a certain vein of – how shall I put this – darkness or melancholia that runs through your songs, either in the words or in the music. I call this the darkly joyous sound of jellyskin by the way, although the actual phrase ‘darkly joyous’ was said by somebody I played your EP to. Is this because you find it more interesting to do this, I’m entirely wrong in interpreting the songs this way, or it ‘just happens’?
Z: I don’t think we really think about this stuff too much, we just love making music and people take from it what they want – we just make the sounds that we’re interested in in the specific moment. I guess there is a darkly joyous element to all our songs so far, you’re right. But generally it does just happen. I’ve never really written any overtly conventional happy songs anyway – they give too much away. I like a bit of mystery haha. I like songs that seem a bit gloomy but are actually quite joyous etc. We put a lot of thought into our music and it’s interesting to see how people interpret it. We never include anything in our songs that don’t interest us in some way – we write things that we enjoy listening to and it’s never forced.
W: I think darkly joyous is a good way of putting it. I don’t know about Zia, but whenever I write something, it’s got to have lots of different feelings in it, as pretentious as that sounds! All the music we like has a maelstrom of different emotions. Painting with broad brushstrokes doesn’t produce the goods in our experience. I do think it does sometimes just happen because the best songs just kind of happen. I’ve always found it hard to sit down and try and write something. Usually I’m just pottering around and something will literally just pop into my head and I have to record it before it slips away. I think the music also has a kind of grandeur to it.
How do your songs come together?
W: It’s often a painful and long process, because we each bring ideas that have to be discarded or bastardised. You do have to kill your darlings to progress. This writing process takes a while, but what we do end up with at the end of it is a really tight, vital product that we both love and have slaved over. I’m not very good at translating what I think the song should sound like in my head, so I often resort to weird throat noises when I’m explaining something to Zia. We both have ideas that can be difficult to translate into normal words. There’s a great scene in DIG where Anton Newcombe explains something to Joe Gion just through explosion noises and throat sounds. Often we describe how we think it should sound with a facial expression.
Z: Yep, it takes an age because we’re both perfectionists and both have visions in our heads that aren’t always compatible. But we work well together because we are usually on the same wavelength. Most of the time we agree when something doesn’t sound right.
I saw you live recently and I noticed that the material sounds more loose and slightly more ‘psychy’ than the recorded versions. Do you like to change up the sound when you play live or is this because of something else?
W: We only have a couple of instruments, and the recordings are often quite layered and dense, so that’s probably because of how we have to leave some stuff out, although we only write using two instruments (guitar and synth) so that means the skeleton of the song still exists.
Z: Yeah we have to just maximise our use of our instruments when we play live because we don’t have the liberty of layering a bass track on it, adding extra percussion, all my extra harmonies etc. When we play live you’re hearing our music in its most organic form. But we’ve got some new ideas for improving our live shows that we want to work on over the summer while we’re taking a break from playing.
Do you prefer recording or playing live?
W: I love writing, and am always desperate to do more. Recording allows me to realise what I have in my head, and live we often don’t have the capacity to do that. Saying that, there’s nothing like playing live. It’s cosmic maaann.
Z: At the moment I have to say recording because it’s always been one of my favourite hobbies in the world; I love locking myself in my room for the day and slaving away at a demo or something. Recording all our jellyskin songs is a lot of fun and we have the freedom to take our time – I’m a massive perfectionist so I like spending hours on it. Our gigs have been great fun so far, I absolutely adore playing live, I always always get that buzz – but we’re just working towards crossing over from having audiences full of friends / friends of friends / locals to having audiences full of strangers who have come to see us because they like our music. I can’t wait for that to happen, so when it does, I might change my mind…
You have an EP out, what can we expect from that?
W: Four songs that are already out online, a few re-mastered though, and a new track called ‘Snow Sky’.
Z: A collection of our greatest hits so far plus a bonus – I hope people listen to ‘Snow Sky’, because I think it’s one of the most interesting songs we’ve written so far – it has a really odd time signature change, and the chorus vocals act more like a layer of another instrument rather than a conventional stand-out vocal line. We’re really proud of it so hope people pick up on it. It’s been so fun posting out the EPs and I always send a little note inside thanking the specific person for their support.
And finally apart from the EP, what’s next for jellyskin?
W: We might take some time off gigging and just concentrate on writing and recording for our next EP.
Z: BIGGER GIGS. I’m so ready to play bigger venues now. I’ve got my sights set on summer festivals as well. We’ve just been at Glastonbury for the second time and got so jealous of all the bands – we want to be up there! But yeah, as Will said, we really do need to write some more material now so that’s the main focus for the immediate future. The plan is to just keep working hard and enjoying it, and clueing more people in to our stuff.
Firstly I feel strangely compelled to say that, even though I’m not a huge fan of country music, a country influenced jellyskin track is an interesting thought to be honest. It might work.
OK back to being serious. jellyskin are a young band and we only have a handful of recorded tracks to go on but, in my opinion, those show quality, they show originality and they are worth listening to. The live jellyskin experience is one I can recommend (read my live review here), and it sounds as though this will get even better. So even though though they are just starting out, they’ve got it all in place to succeed.
Working for Local Sound Focus I get to hear a lot, and I mean a hell of lot, of new bands and artists. Some I like, some I don’t but very seldom do I hear something that I really really really like, jellyskin are one of those very few.
Zia: vocals, synth, keyboard
Will: guitar, bass, programming, vocals
Bandcamp: https://jellyskin.bandcamp.com – the EP in download or physical form can be purchased here
jellyskin have been announced for the Thinking Cap All Dayer to be held across various venues in Leeds on 30th September. They will be playing at the Temple of Boom stage.