I first stumbled across Jellyskin when they were first on the bill for The Vacant Lots in Leeds. I liked what I saw and heard and made a mental note of the name. Since then, their name keeps popping up, both locally and a wider afield. Following a recent support slot with Shonen Knife we caught up with the Leeds duo and asked them to introduce themselves…
BM: Who’s who and where you from?
Will: I play guitar and make most of the beats and operate the laptop onstage. I also sing a bit.
Zia: I sing and play synth. I guess you could kinda count me as the bassist as well, but they keyboard kind.
W: We’re based in Leeds, but I’m originally from Bristol.
Z: I’m from Merseyside.
BM: They’re a fair few miles apart, how and where did you meet?
W: We met when we started university in Leeds. We first locked eyes in Leeds’s centre of culture: the Stone Roses Bar.
BM: Classy. When did you start playing together ?
W: We started playing together in the summer of 2016, and our first practice was in my room, with Zia playing one of those classic Yamaha PSR keyboards that you’d find in school, and our friend Olly hitting my guitar case with some wooden spoons.
Z: Auspicious beginnings…
BM: Have you been in any previous bands?
W: I was in a band called Dollhouse, we did okay, released some stuff and supported Moon Duo once which was cool, but once everyone left school it got a bit unwieldy and hard to manage so we threw in the towel.
Z: Not a band but I used to write and record lots of my own songs, then stick them online and play them at gigs. I also sang in various choirs and did lots of performing through that.
BM: Jellyskin ?
Z: It took us weeks and many hours in the pub debating but I wanted the word ‘jelly’ in it, then Will suggested ‘skin’. Nothing sentimental behind it.
W: I like the image it suggests, and people have said it conjures up an idea of something that’s really gelatinous and ‘orrible. It’s a bit unnerving which is our vibe
BM: What were the records you first bonded over?
W: The first Velvets record, Nuggets, pretty classic stuff I suppose.
Z: Yeah definitely those two. We also occasionally find a gem of a song that we both adore and keep it secret haha.
W: Get Lucky – my sound of the summer
(that’s Limmy’s joke I take no credit).
BM: Would you say they’re the bands that influence your music the most?
W: I know it’s clichéd but The Velvet Underground remain for me the greatest band to ever exist, and everything I like and will like can be drawn back to their influence. At the moment, I think we’re being influenced by electronic music a lot more, industrial techno in particular like Sote. I think Beefheart is a big one for me, too, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, The La’s. The Horrors, too, are big influences just in terms of loving their music, rather than any particular sound. Neu are a massive influence as well.
Z: The B-52’s who are criminally under-appreciated and one of my favourite bands, 60s girl groups (particularly the Shangri-Las), Goldfrapp who make the most perfect electro pop, The Doors, Gomez, Nick Cave…
BM: How about growing up? Was there music at home?
W: There was music always on, and my Dad played guitar, he taught me a few chords. In terms of stuff my parents introduced me to, there was the Stone Roses’s albums, the first couple of Doves records, Massive Attack, The La’s’ BBC Sessions, Grant Lee Buffalo’s albums, all of which I love. I had to dig a little deeper myself to start getting into stuff outside British/American music in the 1990s/2000s though.
Z: Mine is a very musical household. Mum and Dad were both in bands during the punk era in Liverpool, and they have so many amazing stories about Eric’s – the iconic bands they got to see for like a quid in a tiny room. Music was blasting every day in my house, which is where a lot of my influences come from. Everything from Leftfield to Patti Smith to Lee Scratch Perry to Bowie.
BM: To a bystander how would you describe the Jellyskin sound?
W: Often abrasive and fractured drum beats, mixed with simple, yet grand guitar lines, harmonies and synth parts. Industrial music viewed through a lovely clear window-pane of pop music.
Z: So in other words, we don’t know.
BM: Your latest single is out…
BM: It’s a bit different to the earlier stuff…
Z: Will brought the main sketch of it to me and I fleshed it out with my own ideas.
W: It definitely signifies a change in direction, away from any hint of ‘dreaminess’ and towards something a bit more abrasive and fuller.
Z: It was recorded and produced by one of our best friends and a superbly talented musician Theo Cookson, at his studio. He also added a couple of suggestions and produced it with us. He let Will play his steel pan on the track, too.
W: Judder was a kind of new beginning for us, new producer, new-ish sound. We’re gonna work with Theo on our next couple of tracks hopefully.
BM: Were you aiming for particular sound?
W: Although you might not hear it, my brother had got me into dubstep and I’ve been a bit obsessed with people like Pinch and Kahn, and so their use of space and that kind of restrained heaviness was an influence on the track. It’s definitely a direction I want to move further in in the future.
BM: Do you both share the songwriting?
Z: It’s usually collaborative. Sometimes I’ll have written the main idea or vice versa, in which case the other will make suggestions and write other sections etc, but mostly we just sit down together with the aim of writing and we’ll both get ideas that bounce off each other. It’s pretty much always music first, although sometimes I’ll think of a song title before there’s a song to go with it, and go from there.
BM: I love the Jellyskin t-shirt. How important is the artwork to you as a band?
W: Always pretty important and the source of many arguments discussions.
Z: So important! We’re both very arty and have a good eye for what stands out, and just really enjoy it as part of the whole creative process.
BM:How do you choose it?
W: By messing around with paint.net and seeing what happens.
Z: Most of the time it’ll be a cool picture one of us has taken and then we edit it beyond belief.
BM: I saw you live a while back now (and I’ll be seeing you again pretty soon) – tell me about your first gig?
W: At the Santiago Bar in Leeds.
Z: It was fun but nerve-wracking – the sound there is more suited to traditional guitar bands.
BM: How would you describe your live set?
W: Still getting there…! We’re still working out our live show. In the future we’re thinking about adding a drummer and possibly another person, but having only two people makes the band so easy to work with, plus we live together so we can practice whenever. I’m not a natural exhibitionist or performer, really, so never try to force anything, or even speak onstage unless I feel like it.
Z: I’m so rubbish at ‘stage banter’ so we just don’t bother with all that. In the future we want to make it more theatrical in terms of lighting and setup – more of a spectacle.
W: When I saw Grant Lee Phillips last year he was so confident and funny onstage, and had a little patter going, a few stories in between songs, it’d be great to be like that (if our music suited it).
BM: What has been your favourite gig to date? And why?
Z: It changes, but most recently maybe when we did this really last minute gig in Sheffield. We weren’t expecting much of a crowd, being the first band on, but when we walked on the room was packed out and they were all really receptive to our set. We ended with a new banger that we’d written a couple of days beforehand and it went so well that we just couldn’t stop grinning. It marked a change in direction for us. But each gig is great in different ways.
W: The one that’s stuck with me is playing in the Leadmill main room supporting The Moonlandingz – amazing venue, massive for us, and there was a big crowd. It was surreal to walk out onstage and hear this wave of applause – the gig was fun and just a great night all round.
BM: Your worst gig to date? And why?
Z: For some reason we were once booked to headline a pop punk bill. All the pop punks had left by the time we got on stage which added insult to injury.
Which songs do you like performing live the best?
Z: Our new ones!!! They’re not recorded yet but that’s our plan for the start of summer.
W: Our newest one is a real banger, it’s got a really fat industrial techno beat and a great chord progression to end with – if I do say so myself.
BM: What gigs have you got coming up?
Z: Supporting HMLTD at Belgrave on the 12th May. After that, we’ve got a lil tour coming up which we’re announcing soon! Including supporting Warmduscher on the 4th June.
BM: Do you prefer the stage? Or the studio?
Z: This is so hard for me. I relish having the time to sit down and record a song for hours, playing around with harmonies, production, etc… you can really get into your own space. I think I’ll enjoy playing live more when there are strangers actually excited to come and see us. I always feel more energised when I can sense people’s enjoyment of our set. Both are important – gigs allow you to connect with fellow music lovers, but you can’t do that without having the music first!
W: Gigs can be the funnest thing in the world but there’s a lot that can go wrong. Cos there’s only us and a laptop, we’ve gotta be really on it, there’s lots of room for mistakes!
BM: Any Leeds bands you think our readers should be aware of?
W: We’re yet to play on the same bill as him but I will never stop recommending Girl Sweat, he’s unique and superb. (I can vouch for that. Bonkers/genius – stAn) I saw him out jogging the other day, which was lovely. His song ‘Human Glue’ is true and beautiful art.
Z: Pepe Sylvia are a brilliant Leeds band, we played with them at the Clue Records Xmas party at Mabgate Bleach and they were my favourite band of the night. Their songs are so interesting, and the vocals are all so clever. They’ve just released a single so have a listen. We’re supporting them soon as well (watch this space).
BM: What next for Jellyskin?
W: We’re going on tour in late May and early June, playing in a few new places. We’ll hopefully release some more new music soon as well.
Z: Definitely more music, I am itching to release it!
BM: Your final word?
W:Be nice, work hard, washing’s for squares.