Jellyfish Brothers on Hyper Light Drifter Album: “Only Synths and Drums"

The Miami sun is a multifaceted muse. It's typical for our locale to spawn glammed-out techno or hip-hop party anthems, but travel a bit off the beaten path and there are all kinds of new beachy wonders to unearth. Case in point: Wynwood's Jellyfish Brothers, a no-wave outfit that's been splashing around various genres like surf rock and electro since the band's inception in the summer of 2011.

Since then, literal brothers Greg and Eddy Alvarez have been teaming up with staples from the Miami music scene, like former bassist Janette Valentine of Shroud Eater or recording masterminds Rat Bastard and Torche's Jonathan Nuñez. So far, using this modus operandi, they've forged three albums: 2012's Bloom, 2014's Sentinels of the Space Age, and their latest release, Hyper Light Drifter, which they're celebrating this weekend at Gramps with Boston buds Guerilla Toss and fellow BUFU Records act Free Pizza. We sat down with the boys to discuss how the new album is both a departure and return to form.

“Our first album was a quick little demo. Our second was an LP that we got on vinyl; it was a little more rock, a little more doom-y and surf-y,” Greg says as we chat on the iron stairs that lead to the Jellyfish Brothers' warehouse studio and home. “On this album, we decided to become a two-piece and do it with only synth and drums.”
The Alvarez bros have always flirted with electronics, incorporating keyboards and even theremin into their rock-oriented records, but their latest effort is the first to entirely do away with guitars. To prepare, Greg and Eddy say they listened to a lot of music by synth pioneers like John Carpenter, Gary Numan, and Devo. Additionally, they opted out of recording with a producer, or even seeking any outside assistance at all.

“We did all of the recording, mastering, and mixing ourselves. We tracked it all here at the warehouse, except I did my vocals at my job, because nobody can bother me and I can scream as loud as I want,” Greg says with a smile.

In order to strip away the rock components that had colored the band for so long, it was imperative that Greg and Eddy reach an almost telepathic duality. Paring down to a two-piece allowed them to focus on their unique strengths and helped them uncover a distinct voice.

“If the previous records were quirky, this new one is quirky times a thousand,” Greg boasts joyfully of the unexpected sound they've achieved.

And yes, that claim about quirkiness checks out. A glance at the new Jellyfish Brothers video for “Silly Boi” shows the Alvarezes embracing outsized personalities, akin to those of unclassifiable acts like Gary Wilson. In the clip, they cruise in a red, roofless car through a neon-hued sunset landscape. Eddy drags a switchblade across his scalp while Greg emotes lines like, “Girl, you make it easy to forget,” over a squiggly, cyclical synth line. He bellows, “Why you let me go?/I'm just a silly boi,” while drawing the syllables out and pulling his shades down to eyeball the camera. Both the song and video are evidence of the Jellyfish Brothers' singular creativity — they couldn't have been made by anyone except these two dudes whose muse is the Miami sun.

Compared to earlier albums, the difference in tone of Hyper Light Drifter is striking. But as Eddy says: “Every album is like starting from zero."

And Greg agrees, though he does feel that their decision to pursue this new, synthy direction is a perfectly natural evolution for the Jellyfish Brothers project. “We wanted to take electronics and add a lot of attitude to it, because many people think electronic music is dry or has no dimension,” he explains. “So it's more experimental, but it's also a lot more pop. Every song has a lot of lyrics, really high up in the mix. But there are also moments of pure noise.”

The only other contributor to the album was local freak-noise aficionado Kenny Millions, who plays a touch of “sexy saxophone,” as the Alvarezes describe it, on the new album's closing track. “I tricked him into playing something nice,” Greg smirks.

As for the title, Hyper Light Drifter (not related to the upcoming videogame of the same name), Greg says that it's about escaping the “gravity of relationships by going faster than the speed of light.”

If the accessible punk-funk of “Silly Boi” is any indication, there's enough room on that spacecraft for all of the Magic City’s lonely lovers. And maybe even their exes.

Jellyfish Brothers’ Hyper Light Drifter Tape-Release Party. As part of Bufu Shreds. Presented by Bufu Records. With Guerilla Toss, Free Pizza, Mans Trash, and Other Bodies. 8 p.m. Saturday, May 16, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 786-752-6693; Cover costs $7. Ages 21 and up.
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David Bennett