By GUY D’ASTOLFO
This time around, The Jellybricks didn’t waste any time getting their new songs onto a CD.
The Harrisburg, Pa.-based power-pop band — which includes Boardman native Larry Kennedy on guitar and vocals — usually tries out its new songs on live audiences before recording them.
But sometimes songs would be on the set list for years before making it onto an album. As a result, when the songs finally got released, fans had already heard them many times.
That all changed for the band’s fifth release, “Suckers,” which dropped this week.
“We wanted to put out a record that would be a surprise, something they hadn’t heard at all,” said Kennedy.
“The way we’ve worked over the years is, we were interested in writing songs for recording but we could never resist taking them to the stage. But the amount of time it takes to get a record released is unpredictable. We’ve had songs that we started playing live in 1997 that didn’t make it onto a record until 2004.”
There is another reason for the new approach. “We used to just please ourselves, but we have a new manager now, and he wanted to get some new music out now,” said Kennedy. “We got an edict. He needed it fast. So we hurled ourselves into the creative process.”
The resulting sound is grittier and with a sharper edge, because most of the songs were recorded in one take. Nevertheless, “Suckers” retains the band’s sonic trademarks of irresistible hooks, high-gloss guitar work, tight harmonies soaked in background vocals and those witty lyrics.
“Suckers” has five new songs, plus two bonus tracks from the band’s back catalog: “Beryllium” and a remake of “Who Is God?”
The latter song has been a staple of Jellybricks shows for more than a decade.
“‘Who Is God?’ continues to be an enduring favorite, but this is the way we play it now,” said Kennedy.
Recording songs without testing them for an audience is something The Jellybricks — who formed 16 years ago — might not have been able to do in its early days.
But as Kennedy and bandmates Garrick Chow (bass, vocals), Bryce Connor (guitar, vocals) and Tom Kristich (drums, vocals) matured as songwriters, they learned to let the song be what it should be.
“When I was first getting my legs as a songwriter, I wanted the same thing, but now I understand better how to achieve it,” said Kennedy. “That extends to the whole band, because we all write.”
Kennedy said his approach has grown more relaxed.
“I had a lot to say as a young person and tried to fit it all in,” he said. “Now, I get an idea and try to make sure that it’s not so big or detailed that it can’t be enjoyed. What I love about [the band’s 1999 sophomore album] ‘Soapopera’ is that we were at our most creative and adventurous, and I always wanted our band to ignore the limits of style. But with ‘Suckers,” it’s more of just The Jellybricks, and not so much of an effort to produce a certain type of music. We just do [the songs] the way we feel at the moment. We’re still as concerned about the final product, but now we let the song dictate to us instead of over-controlling it.”
The Jellybricks, who have fans up and down the East Coast, got an unexpected boost in 2009 when Rolling Stone magazine called their video for “Ruin Us” (from 2008’s “Goodnight to Everyone”) “the first truly clever viral video” of the year. In it, the band appears as though they are trapped in the “Rock Band” video game.
It was a boost. But it would have been even better if the recognition came solely for the song itself, because if “Who Is God”? is the enduring theme song of the Jellybricks canon, then “Ruin Us” is at least the band’s latter-day masterpiece.
“It was bittersweet that we were recognized for the video and not the music,” said Kennedy. “It’s one more example of the music business not getting us for our music but being more interested in a viral video.”
Still, the band isn’t exactly under-appreciated. The Bricks have plenty of fans who do get what they are doing.
“We’ve come to realize that Jellybricks fans who do get it, get it en masse,” said Kennedy. “If they hook in to one song, they get everything we are doing, and they want to hear all of our records. They stick around.”
The best part of the band’s 16-year saga, in fact, comes from its fans, said Kennedy. “The kids who were 11- to 13-year-olds when we started are still our fans,” he said. “We didn’t lose them. And now their kids are being turned on to the band.”