“We don't try to make happy music,” Lemon Jelly's Nick Franglen says. “It is just what comes out from Fred [Deakin] and me working together. We make uplifting music, but we don't try to make it obvious. We are not writing songs here with an accurate narrative; we are creating landscapes.”
Lemon Jelly comprises Franglen — a keyboard player with recording credits as diverse as Primal Scream, Pulp, Blur, Björk and Hole — and Deakin, a DJ and graphic designer. Together, they have released three albums — the most recent is '64-'95 (Beggars/XL, 2005) — of jolly-good electronica laced with infant laughter, glowing electric piano and acoustic guitar, easy-listening strings, spoken word and beats so jaunty that they recall a troupe of freaky grandmothers shaking their groove thing. Franglen and Deakin do it all with a setup that includes an Apple Mac G4 and Logic rig; a CAD VX2 mic; Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer EP200 electric pianos; an Avalon Vt-747sp compressor; an Apogee Rosetta 800 converter; Empirical Labs EL8X Distressors (for vinyl sampled drums); and two classic synths, the Yamaha CS-80 and the Oberheim 8 Voice.
“A main point of this new album is the love of the sample,” Franglen says from his Camden, London, home regarding '64-'95, which makes no bones about its sampling jones. Covering styles from metal to mellow, Franglen and Deakin wrote songs based on samples of some of their favorite artists circa 1964 to 1995. They sampled the scraping guitars of Masters of Reality and Scottish punks The Scars as well as the blue-eyed-soul croons of '70s popsters Gallagher and Lyle. Two of the disc's most interesting tracks sample the King's Singers (“The Slow Train”) and William Shatner (“Go”).
To coordinate samples, Franglen and Deakin's favorite piece is the Serato Pitch 'n Time 2 plug-in, which they used heavily for “The Slow Train.” And the samples used from the King's Singers, an English choral group with a decidedly gospel feel, presented numerous problems. “All of the eight vocal samples came from the same King's Singers' record,” Franglen recalls. “When stacking that many samples, you can end up with a real mush. Using Pitch 'n Time, we can change tempo, groove and pitch in a way that doesn't introduce loads of artifacts. For that ‘ooo-ooo-ooo’ vocal sample, for example, we found a short section of the track and then created a loop out of it. Using Pitch 'n Time, you can make the groove of all loops the same. I would slice the samples into quarter, 16th or 32nd notes, changing their duration to make sure all the constituent elements were in the same groove. To do it in a way that doesn't feel mechanical is complicated but worthwhile.”
For “Go,” Lemon Jelly traded its song contribution to Shatner's Has Been (Shout! Factory, 2004) album for a live vocal performance. Franglen and Deakin handed the actor a list of words, “and he did them in different styles, from threatening to struggling,” Franglen says. Shatner speaks slowly at first, as the track eventually reaches a crescendo of vocal samples crisscrossing the mix like a hailstorm.
“We did that by finding different anchor points for each word, then quantizing them all in Logic Audio,” Franglen explains. “For a word like power, the p is the anchor point. For underneath, the neath is the anchor point. We placed all these different words into the groove using the anchor points, so some words start before the downbeat and others land directly on the beat. Neath is behind; point is right on it. Shatner's voice is incredibly low — we had to roll off the bass so it wouldn't clash with the bass and kick drum.”
Besides a love of ancient samples and eclectic music, Lemon Jelly's insistence on using authentic sounds and instrumentation separates its music from the wannabes. “We are doing organic electronics,” Franglen says. “The music we make has a soul. It doesn't feel like it is computerized; it breathes in an unmechanical way. We put in a lot of effort to make the music feel that way. However we have generated something through a computer, it is important that it sounds like music played by musicians.”