I always remember when your first album came out, “Bellybutton,” it blew my mind because it was so poppy and then the outfits looked like H.R. Pufnstuf. As if you came off that set and kept the outfits. For those who liked the band then and still are a fan, it can be frustrating to see that people don’t get it. Were you just philosophical about it? “We weren’t ahead of your time, we were in no time, in this time and that time and every time. Some are going to like it and some aren’t going to get it, but we did what we wanted to do and now we’re movin’ on.”
That’s a really great way of putting it. We definitely set out to do something where there was no compromise and we wanted to have the freedom — thankfully, we had a record company that believed in that — to present our vision. Then, it’s like whoever wants to come to the party, great. It was important to me that we had a major label forum running behind us, advertising us…All I ever wanted was to have everybody at least hear it. In other words, Jellyfish be given a chance. And I believe we were. We had three Buzz Bin videos on the first record, lots of press. There was less on the second album, but it was still out there. People knew who Jellyfish was and knew when the second record was out. And, we saw the results.
I always joke that in the late ‘80s, Jellyfish came out amidst the height of Hair Metal — the success of Guns N’ Roses and all those MTV hair metal bands and here we were doing our thing and yet we still managed to get some airplay in front of an audience. And then by the second album we came out at the height of grunge and still managed to make some noise and our wares be shared with the public.
I often say Jellyfish was the most punk rock thing happening at that time because while it was sing-along pop, which is part of what our intention was with what we believe were very straightforward sing-along melodies and classic pop elements, it was very much against the grain of the current trends at the time, which is just funny. It’s almost like all of a sudden, “There’s this other sound besides grunge so I don’t know what to do with it.” And that’s okay because maybe that kid never heard the Beatles. Maybe that kid had never heard Cheap Trick. From his perspective that music was old people music. It was no different than when I was a child and I would hear the Duke Ellington big band or Bing Crosby or something. That was old people’s music in a time so far away I couldn’t even conceive of it. The fact of the matter was that the sounds of Duke Ellington or Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley, that was only 15 years before Kiss and the Sex Pistols, Queen, Cheap Trick and all that stuff. So, I get that.
We weren’t afraid to be happy and light and celebrate the whole range of emotions that can be part of the human experience. It doesn’t have to just be the heavy, tough guy attitude, although I love that stuff, too. I’m a huge hard rock fan.
I always also say that there are never any middle-of-the-road Jellyfish fans. You either totally got what we did, and have basically stayed with us until now and you have fond memories of your experience with those records, or you didn’t get it and didn’t bother with it. People are either super-rabid and travel around and catch all of our shows, buy all of our merchandise, join the fan club, all that stuff or it’s kind of like, “Who are those guys in the silly hats? It doesn’t speak to me at all. I’m going to be over here listening to hip hop.” That’s fine. You do what you do. Like I said, I’m eternally grateful that we were given a chance. I would have loved for Andy and I and the rest of the guys to have been able to evolve through our differences as people and heal through our differences and be making records to this day, but that was not to be.
On the “Fan Club Message,” you and Andy mention that you met Brian Wilson and possibly doing something with him. Was he still under the influence of Dr. Eugene Landy and not quite himself, and did anything come out of that?
I don’t know to what degree or not that he was involved with Dr. Landy on Brian’s healing journey at that time in his life. The only reason that we came in touch with him at all was because Don Was had made it known that he had heard our record and was very much a fan. He reached out to us to work with Ringo Starr and we worked on a song (“Weight of the World”) and we sang for the video for Ringo on that album called Time Takes Time from ‘92. After that, Don Was worked for everybody from Brian Wilson to Kim Basinger, all kinds of people. When he was speaking to Brian about making a new record, they were in very early conversation about it. It was Don’s idea to have Brian write with Andy and I just to see what would happen and to, I don’t know, bring some youthful perspective into Brian’s work. I think they were hunting for what Brian should do next.
That afforded a wonderful encounter with Brian. That was all because of Don. In a nutshell that was a very awkward afternoon. We went to Brian’s studio in Santa Monica. Prior to that, I knew that we were going to meet with him, I told Andy, “I’m not walking into that room without at least one idea to try to play because I don’t want all of us to be sitting around the piano going, ‘Duuuuh.’”Here’s our hero, expecting him to come up with something. “Oh, do you have any ideas?” “No, I don’t have any ideas.” “Do you have any ideas?” I knew Andy and I were going to be nervous and in awe being in the presence of one of our favorite composers of all time. I certainly was. I knew if I had some ammunition that would alleviate some of that. So, I feverishly set out to come up with an idea. I came up with a verse and a chorus for a song. No lyrics. I played it for Andy and he thought it was really solid. He said, “That’s great. Let’s at least show up with that.” And we did. We got in there and nobody had an ideas and I sat down and said, “Well, here’s one Andy and I like. We’d like to play it for you.” And I just mumbled a bunch of gibberish as I always did when I didn’t have lyrics. Brian got quite excited about it, which was incredibly weird and flattering. In fact he got so excited about it, he started to come up with a bridge idea for it on the spot. I noticed as we were all working on music together, myself and Andy and everybody, all got very relaxed. And Don was sitting there, and he was getting into it. We were all talking. This wonderful environment was being created. I’m like, “This is so cool. We’re all relaxed. We’re all making music.” That took about an hour. And after one hour, one of his many assistants comes running up behind him, taps him on the shoulder and says, “Brian, sorry to bother you but it’s time for your 2:30 nap.” And he looks at all of us and he says, “Well, that’s it guys. Great working with ya. Gotta go take my nap. I’ll see you around.” And that was the beginning and end of our encounter with Brian Wilson because I don’t know what happened afterwards.
I think what happened was that he and Don decided to not pursue working together. So, even if Don wanted us to follow through with that, there was something politically going on in their relationship where that was not going to happen. And we all know, Don never did do a record with him.
However, I was so happy with that idea, that 15 years later I decided to complete it, and it became the song, “I Wish It Would Rain,” which is on my first solo album. Now, I did not include Brian’s bridge because he came up with it very, very quick and I thought it was, do I dare say, just a bit average even for him. I didn’t think there was anything special about it. I would have loved to have sat down with him and written something more special but that was not to happen. So, I came up with another bridge and wrote the lyrics and fleshed out the song myself, and I’m very happy with what I came up with. But that’s the story behind that tune.
I saw a video of you onstage during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony doing “Satellite of Love.” What was that experience like for you?
For me the most exciting aspect of that was, and I didn’t realize to what degree this was going to happen, I got to see and be up very close and experience – just to see them play live and experience their person — a lot of my heroes. While it was wonderful, of course, to see Ringo and Paul McCartney — Ringo and I had already met, of course — I was very much taken aback and in awe in the most pleasant way with seeing Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers in their glory. Stevie Wonder played so much that night and he spoke. I even accidentally rode an elevator with him. I was too shy to say anything, but just to have that closeness…Stevie is one of my favorite songwriters, performers, keyboardists ever. The amount of what he’s offered that I’ve connected with compared to other artists is just mind-blowing to me.
Anyways, to see him perform…and Bill Withers is such a talent and such an incredible songwriter. I loved being around Joan Jett and seeing her get inducted. The rock ‘n’ roll spirit that the Runaways represent and capture is so important to me; a brilliant time in American glitter rock, if you will, teen almost punk, early punk. It had such an influence on me as a kid and even to this day. I saw her name on the induction list but I was very surprised when I got there how much I was emotionally affected by her presence and I got to say something nice to her and to Kenny Laguna, the gentleman who was basically responsible for her solo career. He really helped her launch. I got to talk to him for two seconds about his involvement with bubblegum bands in the Sixties and he was blown away that I knew any of that.
That music, the bubblegum music like 1910 Fruitgum Company, Brooklyn Bridge and the Katz & Kasenetz production team was very much inspirational to Jellyfish, if for no other reason just their aesthetic, their visual conceptual side. So, that was super cool.
Finally, your next solo album, do you have a time table for its release?
Unfortunately, when it’s done, it’s done. You’ve got to keep in mind, one of the things that’s been going on last year and a half for me, not only has Beck been promoting the most recent record I’ve played on quite a bit and I’ve enjoyed touring again with that family because I don’t normally tour at all. That’s been new and exciting but I’ve also been doing a lot more session work as a keyboardist and doing something very new — I’ve done it my whole life but nobody knew me for this or asked me to contribute in this — as an arranger. So, I’ve been doing more orchestral string arranging for people’s projects, and it’s been so much fun.
I’ve just been very busy working on other people’s records. Then, if I’ve got three days here or a week there or a weekend there I pull up my album and I start chipping away at it. I’m making progress. I’ve got 14 songs in the works that I’m very proud of. They’ve all got lyrics. They’re all ready to be sung. It’s just fleshing them out. I have not changed my standard of perfection and excellence and what I’m going for. Sometimes, I can be my own worst taskmaster but I’m not going to give my fans anything that doesn’t…hopefully, it’ll blow them away as much as it’s blowing me away. So, that’s what the delay is, but just suffice to know that it is happening and moving forward.