With A&R man Carter from Beatnik Beatch’s label, Atlantic Records, interested in their new style, but not yet fully committed to paying for a record, Andy and Roger began demoing and recording more songs for their still unnamed project. With BB’s leader Chris Ketner supposedly moving on to electrical contracting (and later, animal care), many of the demos were done as possible future BB songs. They had more and more focus and direction but were still hoping to write whatever would get their label 100% behind the project. When Carter suggested they cover Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch” because of the line “Beatnik’s out to make it rich,” they recorded it.
When it was decided to hire on a full-time guitarist, Roger thought of Jason Falkner, whose musician want-ad he’d answered while still at USC. Falkner grew up in Agoura Hills, in the north San Fernando Valley and was brought up to be a classical pianist until he got bit by the post-punk bug. He and Roger bonded on their shared love of XTC but didn’t start a band….yet. After spending a short time in the goth-tinged Kommunity FK (I…WANT…PICTURES!!!), Jason joined the Three O’Clock at the age of 19, just as they were signed to Prince’s Paisley Park Records. When they played in Minneapolis, they got to meet the Purple One at a crowded afterparty. He walked up to singer Michael Quercio and said “Your voice…is…so….” and was swallowed up by the crowd, never to reveal his revered opinion. They released one synth heavy record, Vermillion, and broke up shortly thereafter. Check out Will Harris’ great Pop Dose article on the making of that last record.
Jason’s sister lived in San Francisco, so he crashed on her couch after Roger convinced him to help with the Jellyfish demos. Most of them appeared on the first disc of the Fanclub boxed set but it’s still unlcear which songs Jason played on (“King” being the song he’s most widely credited for helping on). Besides Andy’s house, some songs were recorded at Dancing Dog Recording in Emeryville, John Altmann’s studio, and Bob David’s RD Recording (both in San Francisco). These demos were hardly rough sketches. Even the most complex arrangements had almost all of the parts already there. Once about a dozen songs were ready, Atlantic finally agreed to sign them.
A lot of trendy dance music producers were brought to the band for consideration until Carter introduced them to Albhy Galuten. He’d played with Derek & The Dominos, Aretha Franklin and Eagles as a keyboardist then produced many huge albums like Barbra Streisand’s Guilty and Eric Clapton’s Crossroads plus the soundtracks for Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Galuten loved the demos he’d heard and went to meet with them. But, instead of discussing their music, they mostly just hung out and watched television. This meant that they could live in the studio together for months, so they signed him up. Since their recording budget was only $76,000, Galuten asked veteran engineer Jack Joseph Puig whose resume was long on soft rock (Amy Grant, Kenny Loggins, Olivia-Newton John, Bette Midler) if he would work for credit and a percentage of sales. He agreed and a house in La Crescenta was rented for Andy, Roger and Jason to rehearse in for a couple of weeks.
From the Fanclub liner notes by Andy Zax:
Recording began in earnest in September of 1989. Half a dozen songs were in various stages of completion when the group received the disturbing news that Carter, their patron at Atlantic, had just lost his job. No one else at the label seemed to have the faintest interest in – or understanding of – what they were up to. “We were dying to get off of Atlantic at that time,” Andy recalls. “They didn’t get what we were about and as BELLYBUTTON began to take shape, we were confident that we’d find a better home. I remember our manager deliberately sending the label mixes that were six generations down. The tapes they heard were mostly hiss! All with the intent of making them think that this project was totally unprofessional and completely unlistenable.” Their relationship with Atlantic had begun to reach a comical level of disinterest (at one point, Andy and Roger were summoned to Los Angeles for a meeting that was cancelled because it was Debbie Gibson’s birthday; the exec they were supposed to meet with had been placed in charge of fetching her a cake). They soon found themselves dropped, much to their delight.
Attorney Alan Mintz helped their team circulate unfinished studio tracks and, within a month, thirteen record companies and publishers were wooing the band, who still hand’t played a live gig. In a 1993 BAM interview, Andy said:
“It was so ridiculous, we were trying to finish this record, and every night we’d get wined and dined by a different record company. And these guys would make all these gigantic promises and offer us all this stuff, and it was just so obvious that they were lying. I mean, they’d look us right in the eye and lie, and we would just smile…and order the lobster.”
While they weighed offers, recording rolled on, thanks to Galuten taking care of the bills. They eventually signed to a label under the Virgin umbrella called Charisma Records. The label had started in England in the early 70’s, releasing Genesis and Monty Python albums. It was eventually bought in 1983 by Virgin but folded three years later. It was revived in 1990 and Jellyfish was one of its first signings. The album was recorded and mixed at several California studios: Schnee Studio in North Hollywood, Studio 55 Marin in San Rafael, and the famed Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood.
Galuten described making the album when I asked him some questions in 1996:
“They were brilliant. We recorded the entire album in 6 weeks at Schnee’s Studio. Two weeks for tracks (mostly including solos), two weeks for vocals (pretty much all Roger and Andy) and two weeks for overdubs (including bass because I thought it was more important to get the guitar feel on the tracking date than the bass. We also got cooler sounds in the control room). Mixing happened later when they had re-negotiated their contract (w/Virgin) and we had more money.”
They used a few guest musicians, including Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald, who played on “All I Want Is Everything”, “Now She Knows She’s Wrong” & “Baby’s Coming Back”. Roger talks about getting Steve in a Popshifter interview:
“Yeah, we’d been fans for years. The running joke was that in finding the other musicians we wanted to round out the group, Andy [Sturmer] and I would reference Redd Kross. “We want a guitar player like Robert [Hecker].” Or “We want a bass player like Steve.” I had spent a lot of time in L.A. going to college and working in different bands even though I was from the san Francisco Bay Area, so I knew some people that actually knew them. I was actually in a band, very briefly, that was being produced by Robert. Now, we never did a record, but a lot of the same people in the South Bay music scene knew them, so it was only a matter of time before I got a message to them. This girl we knew knew Steve and she invited him out for pizza and introduced Andy to him and two weeks later, he agreed to come in and play bass. I mean, he hadn’t heard anything and he really didn’t know our sound at all. He was a real trooper and I can’t thank him enough for taking the risk. He didn’t know what he was getting into.”
Also on the record was famed harmonica player Tommy Morgan, then-new Tonight Show trumpeter Chuck Findley, jazz fusion bassist John Patitucci, well-known percussionists Lenny Castro and Luis Conte, plus Sid Page’s string section all contributed as well. Despite all the extra instrumentation, Galuten said, “Bellybutton was a mostly live record, it could have been made on 8 track.”
While their home demos were fully thought out, it took months to get everything just right. They were recording ambitious music while trying to decide on a label, a band name, a bassist and an image. Tensions immediately arose in the studio. The solo for “She Still Loves Him” was done during a heated Andy/Jason argument with Jason staring right at Andy and slamming his guitar down after the last note. Picture that the next time you listen to it! They did get out for fun, on occasion. the month Bellybutton was completed (March 1990), Jason did an unrehearsed Three O’Clock reunion set for a charity show and Andy and Roger recalled meeting and gushing to hero David Cassidy at a lavish Los Angeles party…
Andy: ”He wouldn’t believe us — he thought we were making fun of him.”
Roger: ”He didn’t realize I’d just purchased his Colorforms set for $20 in mint condition!”
They were nameless for quite some time and had pages of ridiculous suggestions (Lust Musket, Major Nelson, Peanut Butter Porch Club, Banana Groove Pie, Cheese Puff Gang and even Bellybutton), until Carter’s assistant Axelrod from Atlantic Records walked into the studio one day and said something like, “Hey, I just went to the aquarium the other day. How about Jellyfish?” They scratched their chins at first, but, months later, eventually settled on it, rising to cult fame in the early 90’s alongside An Emotional Fish, Fishbone, School of Fish, Phish and….that Hootie guy.
So, after six long months, there was a band called Jellyfish and an album called Bellybutton.