Thursday, November 1, 2007

Give it up for Andy Sturmer

PUFFY seem to be taking a bit of a rest as they prepare for the North American component to their Honeysweeper tour, so there hasn't been a lot of news out of Japan over the past week or so. Figured I'd take this opportunity to turn the spotlight onto former PUFFY producer Andy Sturmer and his band Jellyfish. I gotta say that Andy's work with PUFFY is probably my favorite of all of their various incarnations, and now that he's moved on, I feel like it's important to give him some props and respect. It would be a shame if fans were to ever forget his contribution to the PUFFY back catalog.

PUFFY - Akai Buranko
Still probably my favorite Andy Sturmer PUFFY song

Sturmer is actually credited on amiyumi - their first album - as the "godfather of PUFFY" for naming the band. He's been around them since the beginning. I can't say I know a whole lot about his personal life, but he definitely seems to be something of a Japanophile and was apparently friends with Tamio Okuda prior to his (Okuda's) introduction to Ami and Yumi. He (Sturmer) worked with them off and on through their early projects, finally taking over from Okuda as full-time producer and songwriter for the albums 59 and Nice, as well as the music for the "Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi" cartoon.

Jellyfish - New Mistake

Before his involvement with PUFFY, he fronted the California-based pop-rock band Jellyfish, a short-lived group that only put out two original albums (1990's Bellybutton and 1993's Spilt Milk) but still managed to make a pretty big impact with their core fans. They're one of those bands that not many people know, but if you happen to meet someone who does and make the mistake of mentioning that you have something in common, you'll probably never hear the end of it. It'll be Jellyfish Jellyfish Jellyfish day in and day out from then on. (I say this from experience!)

Jellyfish - The King is Half Undressed
You can definitely hear Sturmer-era PUFFY in many Jellyfish songs - and not just the ones they covered outright! His songs often sound like a slightly harder-edged Beatles or ELO, with lots of harmonies and alternately soaring and swooning melodies. He cranked up the distortion level even a bit more for his work with PUFFY - I'd bet at AmiYumi's request - but the songs he wrote for them are (for the most part) unmistakably his.

PUFFY - Joining a Fan Club

Jellyfish - Joining a Fan Club
(live, and sorry about the quality, but it's all I could find)

A few people have asked me privately if I know what Andy's up to these days and why he's no longer producing for PUFFY. Well, I confess that I'm not one of those rabid Jellyfish fans, so I don't follow him too closely. And I can only speculate on why he's no longer PUFFY's producer. I doubt he really "left", though - they've always seemed to be on good terms, and I certainly haven't heard or read about any sort of falling-out they may have had. He most likely just moved on to other projects. One that he's involved in right now is called "L.E.O.", a sort of "super-group" made up of members from various other bands (including Bleu, another friend of AmiYumi), and he's apparently taking a lead role in that.

He has also been writing songs for another Japanese artist, former Judy and Mary vocalist YUKI, since at least 2002. This doesn't seem to be a full-time gig for him, though, like PUFFY was. Here's one of his early songs written for her:

YUKI - Prism

Japanese audiences unfortunately never really warmed up to Andy Sturmer's PUFFY sound (except for the early "Talalan"), as 59 is still the slowest-selling of all their albums and Nice helped cement their reputation at the time as almost more of an American band. So it is possible that Andy's departure was part of an overall change in strategy to try to refocus more on their core Japanese fans. If so, I doubt you'll ever hear anyone confirm it in public. Some of PUFFY's strategic decisions seem pretty transparent, but they rarely ever talk about them - they try to maintain the illusion of a totally organic ebb and flow.

It would be a shame if that were the case, though, because the guy's a really talented songwriter and he knew how to get the best out of Ami and Yumi vocally. His stuff was different than Tamio Okuda's or any of the other Japanese artists they've worked with, but to my ears, it was actually more satisfying. (Then again, I am an American, and my tastes are probably slightly different than most Japanese fans'.)

If you want to check out Jellyfish, click either of the images below to buy the corresponding CD (links go to Amazon):

BellybuttonSpilt Milk

1 comment:

  1. I got "Spilt Milk" when I was 14 years old and it changed my life. I was not surprised in the least when I found out that Sturmer wrote and produced for Puffy. Such a wonderful and unique 60s inspired sound.