By Zach Collier
50 years ago, a prestigious group of librarians and archivists from around the world came together to form a special society. This group, known as Earth Libraries, would ensure protection of the world’s knowledge and social history during times of war. While the group kept their identities unknown, its members are widely credited with developing the study of music, or ethnomusicology.
The number of chapters peaked in the 1960s, with representation in over 20 countries. Tragically, funding cuts took a toll on the organization, and Earth Libraries existed only as a mail order catalog for quite some time. Now, 50 years later, Earth Libraries has resurfaced as an underground and experimental music label.
This is the official bio for Earth Libraries. Is this story true? No. But it’s zany and retro and so much fun. I can’t think of a better record label for Provo baroque pop act the Mellons. It’s a match made in heaven. I first discovered the band through their song “So Much To Say.” Everything about it screamed Pet Sounds in the best possible way. It was like a darker, more mysterious version of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or “God Only Knows.”
Band members Andrew Beck (Vocals, Guitar), Rob Jepson (Vocals, Keys), Dennis Fuller (Bass, Horns, Backing Vocals), and Ian Francis (Drums) have spent countless hours learning how to replicate, refresh, and modernize the sounds of a bygone era. And they do it with incredible effect.
Most of the band members have fond memories of listening to the Beach Boys growing up. Ironically, Rob Jepson wasn’t a huge fan. Their hits, songs like “California Girls” and “I Get Around,” never resonated with him. It wasn’t until he discovered Pet Sounds that Brian Wilson became one of his biggest musical influences.
“I realized that Brian Wilson was both a compositional genius and also an incredibly tender soul,” says Jepson. “His chord progressions often sound simple, but when you dig into them they’re nuanced and complex. His melodies are pure. His harmonies are incomparable. I just love the guy.” Jepson got to see Wilson live a few years ago, and was impressed with how gentle and genuine he was. “I feel like his music helped me realize that it’s OK to be vulnerable. I still try to remember that every time I sit down at the piano – even if I’ll never be able to write as well as Brian.”
While I totally understand the motivation behind self-criticism in the the face of musical idols, I take issue with Jepson’s comment about his songwriting. What Greta Van Fleet is to Led Zeppelin, the Mellons are to the Beach Boys. They’ve managed to capture the vital tones and recording techniques and then provide some innovative new twists in that space. Their songwriting is incredible.
“Denney [Fuller] and I produced the entire album ourselves – with help from Rob and Ian of course,” says Andrew Beck. “Trying to achieve those particular tones and techniques was one of our priorities. I don’t know what was in the water in the mid-late 1960s, but to me, the art and culture coming out of that era has the touch of pure magic. The movies were amazing, the music was amazing, the fashion was amazing, and on and on.”
The Mellons draw inspiration from more than just the Beach Boys. The Kinks, the Monkees, the Beatles, Harper’s Bizarre, the Association, the Mamas and the Papas, Donovan, and more are all touch points for their sound. “Bands that started to reach out past traditional rock and roll and begin experimenting with orchestral instrumentation in their songs like timpani, brass and woodwinds, strings, and gongs (to name a few), are of particular interest to me and the lads,” says Beck. “Also I love the experimental and psychedelic edge of the later sixties. When the rock, orchestral, and psychedelic all come together, that is the sweet spot for me.”
“As far as producers who influenced us go, I think Phil Spector is right on the nose,” says Fuller. “A couple of other producers that were very influential to the sounds we were going for are Curt Boettcher (The Millenium), Norman Smith (The Pretty Things, Syd-Era Pink Floyd), and of course the inimitable George Martin. Martin had such an inclination to add baroque and classical things to his productions, and that is right up our alley. I feel like Brian Wilson is the perfect combination of Phil Spector and George Gershwin, but with the sentiment of an American child.”
To engineer the record, the band used tons of vintage microphones from the 60s and 70s – or microphones that would mimic old ones. In trying to recreate that wall of sound technique, they ended up with 128 tracks on their song “What a Time to Be Alive.”
The video for “What a Time to Be Alive” is absolutely wild. Again, it nails the vibe of the era: The 4:3 aspect ratio, the pastels, the bubbles, the silhouettes, and the puppets… gah, the puppets! So good. It’s the best of the Beatles, the Monkees, and H.R. Pufnstuf all rolled together.
“I’m so glad you mentioned the Beatles, Monkees, and H.R. Pufnstuf – those were all direct inspiration for the video, along with Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rodgers and some other corny stuff,” Beck told me while I was geeking out about the video. Beck directed the music video, and I was surprised to discover he doesn’t have a background in film. In addition, he directed the video for “So Much to Say” and the promo for “Hello, Sun.” He also handles all other visuals for the band.
“But I have always loved it and have been very excited to pretend that I am a film director here in the Mellons,” he says. “After we designed, built, painted, rented, or created all the props and backdrops ourselves, we shot the video locally in a printing shop called Copper Palate Press. We worked with Shelby Rickart, a woman who locally owns Puppets in the City, to get the puppeteering done right. Brennen Bateman, a local filmmaker, served as director of photography and this is our second shoot with him behind the camera. Our close friend Vern, or ‘The Captain,’ was key in helping us bring the whole sha-bang to life, and a lot of groovy friends and lovers showed up to support and help us with the dance scene and other parts of production!”
“Andrew’s vision for ‘What a Time to Be Alive’ (and for the band in general, really) is key to helping people know who the Mellons are and what we’re about almost instantly,” says Ian Francis. “I don’t know if we’d be where we are today without his design and brilliant brain.”
Even though the vintage vibes are strong in the band, they also share a kinship with modern chamber pop. The band also cites contemporary influences like Grizzly Bear, Dr. Dog, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, and more.
“I could go on for hours,” says Beck. “I like listening to how producers try and ride between vintage and contemporary. I wouldn’t say that we strive to sound particularly like Tame Impala, but his particular way of blending the old with the new is really really fascinating. Conversely, The Lemon Twigs are a group that is doing some strong baroque stuff which sends me to outer space. I would love for the Mellons’ music to continue to be even more baroque—I want to get some really crazy and ornate classical sounding stuff in there.”
Francis noted that capturing the tastefulness and simplicity of big name drummers from the 60s like Ringo Starr and Hal Blaine was a challenge. “I tried to keep that style in mind for this album,” he says. “But I also wanted to embellish a little more so some of the drumming is a little more busy than the style of those earlier drummers. Imagine Ringo, but he’s hopped up on caffeine I guess?”
That description sums up everything I love about the Mellons. They’re the 60s but 60 years later and hopped up on caffeine. Everything is dialed up to eleven, but done with such love and attention to detail. Their music may be one of the most artistic, intelligent, and breathtaking examples of Utah music in recent memory. It certainly has the most puppets.
If you’re not a fan of the Mellons, you will be.
Make sure to follow the Mellons on Instagram. Their debut album, Introducing… The Mellons! is out everywhere now. You can stream it below.