Interview with Nick Franglen from Lemon Jelly

It's impossible to agree on just one song as the ultimate summer anthem, but you could do far worse than dig out those psychedelic Lemon Jelly record sleeves and crank up 'Nice Weather for Ducks' when the sun comes out. The duo encapsulates a production style like no other - one that instantly has you bobbing along to weird and wonderful sounds. And their sample sources are equally as unique and varied. They've had a great career, got scooped up by the almighty XL Recordings, got nominated for a Mercury Music Award and generally remain well loved by all those who encounter them.

We were lucky enough to have a chat with Nick Franglen from the group and caught a glimpse of their strange sampling minds...

How did Lemon Jelly first get started?

We were occasional friends from way back who met again at just the right time. I was working on other people's music - playing, programming beats, that kind of thing, and Fred was DJing and running clubs.

How did the leap come about from doing self releases to signing to XL?

It didn't really feel like a leap. We self-released three EPs, and XL got in touch soon after the first one came out. Quite a few labels were after us after the second EP, and we decided to go with XL after we'd released our third one. It was a couple of years after we'd had our first conversations with them. We liked them.

Your music is always hard to slot into an exact genre.  Is that something you strive for or does this come naturally? You always seem to capture that Lemon Jelly sound on every record, it makes every tune instantly recognisable as your own.

It comes very naturally. It's just what happens when Fred and me work together.

Ok, so speaking about the production, what is frontline in your studio? Which bits of kit can you not live without?

We now both know so well what Lemon Jelly is to us I reckon we could now make an LJ track with a couple of spoons, a microphone and a tape recorder, but looking back - the indispensable stuff is what you'd expect: Sampler. Lots of vinyl. Computer. Serato Pitch'n'Time. Waves Plugins. Les Paul. Moon acoustic guitar. Yamaha CS80. Zither. Always the zither.

You clearly sample from a wide range of sources - rock, folk etc. Do you compose from samples or do you have an idea first and add samples after? How do you know when you want to sample something?

We do it any way that falls to hand or mind, but we'll often start with looping pockets of sound that we merge with other pockets to see what happens when they rub together. These could be samples, noises, bits of something we've played and recorded, anything. We throw them all together into a pot and stir it up, see what rises out of the chaos. We'll then write something around that, then throw more at it to see where that takes it. We'll sample from anything - it's the contradictions that make something new. If it starts sounding predictable we'll throw something odd at it. What does Oscar Peterson sound like with a death metal riff? Rubbish? Try something else then. Any preconceived idea of where it's going gets lost as a song develops - it's more like we're being led than leading. It's obvious when it's finished - we couldn't really explain why, but it just is. Done.

One of our favourite LJ tracks is ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’. Where did you find the John Langstaff  sample and what is the story behind it?

The vocal hook came from an album of nursery rhymes in Fred's collection. We weren't aware at the time that it's a famous Dutch nursery rhyme, so whenever we've played it live in Holland it's always been a laugh. We liked the original John Langstaff sample because it had a gentle madness to it, slightly unhinged - for me the song was always about what's going on inside a madman's head. Unfortunately we couldn't clear it for some reason and we were too far down the line to drop it, so we had to re-record it. The guy who sang it was good, but you always lose something when you do that and for me that edge disappeared. Next time you listen to it, please imagine it's a crazed guy with a large mallet singing and you'll get more of an idea of what's going on inside my head.

You are also well known for fantastic artwork and well packaged releases. Tell us a bit about how these were created.
This is Fred's domain. He's a brilliant graphic designer and packaging freak. I've learnt a lot over the years, but I can't pretend I contribute much to the process - it's more a case of seeing it and saying 'wow! yup, that'll do it!'. After the tracks were written we'd kind of split into two, revert back to type, and I'd polish and mix the tracks while Fred and Airside nailed the sleeves. Brilliantly.

How closely do the designs tie in with the music?

They come fundamentally from the same source, untranslated, so they're very tied in indeed. And it shows.

So when is Lemon Jelly coming out of hibernation?

... is the big question we're both asked regularly. We're good friends. It's like a volcano - could stay dormant for years, could go off tomorrow. Who knows?

Any other projects individually or as a group we should know about?

Fred has released two great mix albums since the last Lemon Jelly release, and is currently releasing solo material as Frank Eddie - it's really excellent stuff. I've been moving more into the left field, working with more ambient electronica and sound art, with electronica recordings and performances in unusual places - down mines, in submarines, 24 hours playing a theremin under the Manhattan Bridge - that kind of thing. I released an album as Blacksand a couple of years ago. I've just completed a secret Olympics-based art installation, details of which will be coming out shortly, and I have a solo album of slightly more conventional material ready for release later on this year. People can follow me on Twitter to find out more - @nickfranglen.

Which Lemon Jelly sample would you pick out as your favourite?

Our track 'Soft', sampling Chicago's ‘If You Leave Me Now’. What I love about this one is that apart from a found speech sample and a very simple drum beat, the entire track is made of different samples from the Chicago track, but still our track feels different and valid. The main musical repeat we start with is a half bar snippet repeated throughout - you can hear it at 18 seconds on the original Chicago song on the site. I love finding those little moments and looping them up, focussing on a throwaway part of the original, making something magical out of almost nothing.

Often producers have that one sample that they return to time after time.  It could be a snare or a vocal shout, but whatever it is, it always delivers a finishing touch. Do you have a ‘go to’ sample? 
The beginning of Wagner's opera Rheingold - 4 minutes of orchestral build in the same drone key. Lift a section and put it behind other things for instant add of power, depth, interest...

For more on what Nick is up to check out his site,  follow him on Twitter @nickfranglen and Like his page on Facebook.

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