The Feelies Are Here Again: An Interview
After a long hiatus, The Feelies are back with their latest release, Here Before, a lovely work of upbeat power pop, fierce guitar solos, and themes of rebirth and starting again. Glenn Mercer, lead singer-songwriter for the band, talked to me here.
ELM: How’s everything been going with the new record?
GM: It’s going real well. We’re really pleased with it. The record company’s happy so it’s going well.
ELM: What’s it like returning to put out a record after such a long time away?
GM: Well, I have put out records since The Feelies disbanded. So, my last record was not that long ago. But it’s exciting to be playing with everybody in The Feelies again.
ELM: Has the reception been pretty much what you anticipated?
GM: I’d say yes. At least that, yeah.
ELM: So what did you do differently for this album than you’ve done in the past?
GM: Well, it took a lot longer to prepare for it because Bill [The Feelies’ guitarist] still lives in Florida, and Brenda [The Feelies’ bassist] is in Pennsylvania. So we really don’t get together too often. I guess the first year or two after the reunion we spent most of that time, when we did get together, rehearsing for our shows, so we really had to make a conscious decision to stop playing live for a while to concentrate on getting material together for the record writing the songs and rehearsing, and we recorded demos, and the recording of the record spread out over the period of about four months, we’d do four or five days at a time, maybe once a month. So it wasn’t a real long time recording, but it was kind of spread out. And really the whole thing, from when we first decided to pursue that as our top priority was really almost a year.
ELM: Where did you record it?
GM: It was recorded in Hoboken, New Jersey.
ELM: In a studio there?
GM: A studio, yeah, Water Music, and some of it I recorded here at home, in my house, I have a small studio here. And we recorded some stuff and then transferred it to the master tape.
ELM: Do you find that there’s anything that’s surprising you about how things have changed now that you’re returning with The Feelies?
GM: Well, not necessarily surprised, at this point now, but in recent years I’ve been surprised at how records have declined in sales so much, and people have been illegally downloading, so that’s a big difference from when we used to put out records.
ELM: I was reading some of your history and saw that you toured with Lou Reed, how was that?
GM: It was okay, we had done a similar tour on our own cross-country a few months prior to that, so, kind of covering the same ground, so in that sense it was a little redundant, but it was different enough for us, playing in some real nice theaters, and it was a fun time.
ELM: Who else have you played with?
GM: We did a part of an R.E.M. tour. One leg of the Northeast, up in to Canada. It was about two or three weeks with them, I think it was ’87 maybe? I think it was their “Pageantry” tour. We haven’t really done a lot of touring as a support act. Most of our cross-country tours have been headliner.
ELM: What is the tour for this time around? What does that show look like?
GM: We’re actually not really touring, we’re doing kind of dates here and there, we just did Brooklyn and Boston, and we’ll do Philly and D.C., and every year around the fourth of July we play in Hoboken. Our favorite club–Maxwell’s, in Hoboken, where we used to rehearse, our former manager used to be the owner so we spent a lot of time there. That’ll be in July, and then probably do something in September, but no real major touring, it’s kind of hard for us now at this point.
ELM: Have you been playing older material now as well as new material?
GM: Yeah, we cover all five albums, we’ve been doing two sets, that’s kind of our preference to not having an opening band, we just play our own two sets and do an extended encore. So we’re able to cover quite a bit of material, and cover all the albums pretty well.
ELM: Do you have a favorite song from the new record?
GM: Not really, I like them all.
ELM: Is there anything that you would consider sort of a central theme in this album?
GM: Not consciously, not that I even thought about, but I guess in doing these recent interviews a lot of people point out, you know, it’s kind of about perspective. You know, time, passage of time, you know not any one, particular theme.
ELM: It sounds very hopeful, I mean I don’t know if you see it that way or not, but it definitely seems more like an optimistic record than a downer.
GM: Well thanks, yeah I guess so, yeah. Because, you know, my mood is pretty upbeat, most of it.
ELM: Do you write all the lyrics?
ELM: What comes first for you, the music or the words, or do they sort of come together?
GM: You know, it’s always the music, usually rhythm, and chords, kind of at the same time, and then once you get an interesting chord progression, that sort of suggests a melody, and the melody, when that’s in place that sort of inspires sort of certain types of sounds, eventually it gets kind of refined to the point of lyrics.
ELM: Do you ever get writer’s block?
GM: A little bit, but usually I think at this point I know enough to not push anything, and to not try to write, because we don’t really, since we’re not doing this full time, we don’t really have a lot of deadlines, a lot of pressure put on us, so it’s much more natural and laid back, organic, kind of process, so I don’t really feel writer’s block, because I only write when I’m in the mood. So far I had to write, and you know probably would definitely feel writer’s block.
ELM: Who are your favorite writers to read?
GM: To read? like books? I mostly read non-fiction, a lot of biographies, and stuff.
ELM: Who do you like to read about?
GM: Musicians. Really almost any person involved with music, because there’s a lot I can relate to. You know, the music could be different, the process and lifestyle, and you know there’s a lot of similarities, for different genres of music, it kind of ties them all together.
ELM: Is there any one in particular that you relate to?
GM: Well, it’s more the circumstance more than the person, of being in a band, playing songs, it’s really the same for all of us. The process.
ELM: Are you doing any videos for the record?
GM: Nothing definitely planned, we had filmed some shows early on, with really no idea other than just to kind of document it. Bill, the guitarist, his nephew is a filmmaker, so he had equipment and access to film some shows, so kind of looking at that footage, trying to decide what to do with it.
ELM: So you think it’ll be something more like live footage, or more of a documentary style?
GM: Well, I’m not sure what we’re gonna do, if we did do a video, we’re thinking to probably include a lot of non-performance footage, and more casual, candid, backstage kind of stuff.
ELM: Do you guys have anything you like to do when you’re playing shows? Any rituals that you have? Or things to keep you sane on the road?
GM: Well, we don’t go on the road anymore. I just, you know, have a cup of coffee or something.
ELM: That’s very rock star.
GM: Oh, well, it’s a lot better than doing drugs.
ELM: Yeah, exactly. I guess coffee is one of the better drugs to do if you want to do drugs. What else would you like to talk about about the record, or your music?
GM: I don’t know, just in general, it’s kind of hard to talk about, I’m kind of a shy, quiet guy.
ELM: I’ve heard a lot of musicians say, well, if I wanted to talk then I wouldn’t have made the record.
GM: Well, I, you know, I appreciate people’s interest and the exposure that you get from doing publicity, so I don’t know.