Five years. That’s the length of time that Bay Area psychedelic power-pop band Jellyfish were together, putting out two beloved albums in 1990 and ’93, before splitting in ‘94. Five short years. And yet few bands of their type and commercial stature command the same level of reverence a quarter of a century down the line. Big Star would probably be the closest comparison.
The members didn’t quietly retire when Jellyfish broke up; Roger Manning and Eric Dover initially regrouped as the criminally underrated psych-glam outfit Imperial Drag, and then everyone went off and did their own thing. But 27 years after the release of the second Jellyfish album Spilt Milk, 23 years after Imperial Drag split, Manning and Dover plus Jellyfish bassist Tim Smith are together again as The Lickerish Quartet. (Yeah, The Lickerish Quartet is a trio — what are ya gonna do?)
“It was clear to me that Tim and Eric were good singer/songwriters in their own right and I was pretty interested in collaborating with them in the Jellyfish scenario but the band broke up so we never got a chance to do that,” Manning says. “So in 2017 I just had a rude awakening about how fast time was flying by, and wanted to try to do something about it. That turned into a lot of writing and recording sessions, and piecemealing the whole thing together. We realized we had 12 songs we were all proud of, and wouldn’t it be great to share that with our audience that we knew was out there — they just hadn’t heard from us in a while.”
May 15 saw the release of the new project’s debut EP, Threesome Vol. 1. Unsurprising considering the talent involved, the infectious melodies and glam riffs that these musicians are all known for are present and correct. Jellyfish (and Imperial Drag) fans will rejoice, though there are clear differences.
“For one thing, there’s no presence from Andy [Sturmer], of course — the lead singer and lyricist,” Manning says. “But the reason we all started a band in the first place way back when is because we were all inspired by similar styles and songwriting heroes. So that’s in our DNA. I think that we’ve successfully forged our own sound with our three voices. I’m very proud of the Crosby Stills & Nash thing we have happening here where it’s like there’s not just one lead singer, and the harmonies add up into this very trademark sound. If it appeals to Jellyfish and Imperial Drag fans in the process, even better. But we certainly had no intention of creating Jellyfish mark 2.”
There was little chance of that happening. The artists that the three of them have worked with over the past two decades or so are startlingly diverse — Slash’s Snakepit, The Finn Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Cheap Trick, Noel Gallagher, Alice Cooper. It’s inevitable that they learned a heap before reconvening.
“Certainly for me, having worked behind the scenes with so many different artists of so many different styles,” Manning agrees. “I’ve learned that there’s no right way to get to the finish line, but when you do get there you better make sure you have all these key stellar ingredients that aren’t average. You’re always doing your best to make people take notice, and also something special and unique amongtt the sea of everybody and their brothers who are so called recording artists with a basement studio. If they’ve got enough clicks on their social media, suddenly they’re Leonard Cohen. Maybe.”
The songwriting process, Manning says, was completely collaborative. They would each bring ideas to the table, and then they’d all enhance them. Some of those ideas dated back to the late eighties.
“We all had scraps and bits n’ pieces of songs lying around that, if we believed enough in them, we’d share them with each other,” he says. “If they inspired our partners we’d pursue it and see where it’d take us. In some ways, that was some of the most fun on this journey because getting that fresh opinion would suddenly resurrect an idea which you didn’t feel was as special as you originally thought. I mean, I was presenting ideas to the group that literally went back to my college days. The song ‘Bluebird’s Blues’ is from 1988/89, right as I was starting Jellyfish. I still believed in the idea, brought it to the guys and they jumped at it.”
Threesome Vol.1 was recorded with longtime friend Jeremy Stacey on drums and engineered by Ken Sluiter.
“These are all guys that I’ve known from making records over the years,” says Manning. “We knew that we could throw all kinds of ideas and experiments at them and they would love an opportunity to explore outside of generic convention.”
Manning says that there are a total of 12 tracks recorded, and so there will be two more EPs and possibly an album forthcoming. When that all happens is anyone’s guess — the band’s work has obviously been affected by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, although perhaps not as much as for some.
“Fortunately, before the lockdown, I mostly work from home in my home cave here with all my vintage synthesizers and keyboards,” he says. “But we’re really trying to do our best to make use of social media the best way possible. Generationally speaking, the whole thing still feels frivolous and non-musical. But it is very much a way that people can not only thank the fans but stay in touch with them and hopefully get that fishing net cast even wider. I continue to do sessions from home. People send me files — tracks to play on their records. In between that I’m editing and doing what needs to be done to get those two EPs out. Plus I’m probably going to put another solo EP out there in between as well. So I have a full plate thankfully.”
Manning also says that, even when the lockdown is lifted, touring is unlikely as he sees The Lickerish Quartet as a studio project. But he tantalizingly adds a “never say never” disclaimer. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The Lickerish Quartet’s Threesome Vol.1 is out now via The Lickerish Quartet/Label Logic. The first single, “Lighthouse Spaceship,” is also available now.