Published Nov 22, 2009When the Feelies reunited in 2008 after a 17-year absence it wasn't one of those "strike while the iron's hot" deals. Unlike a lot of the recent "reunion bands," interest in the Feelies had been strong not just by the members but by promoters and record labels trying to get them back together. (We can thank Sonic Youth for actually getting them back on a stage last year.) Originally forming during the peak of punk in 1976, the Garden Staters are known best for their classic 1980 album Crazy Rhythms and its roomy, minimalist arrangements anchored by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million's guitar duels (not to mention that iconic album cover). The band went on to earn cult status and influence the likes of R.E.M. and Galaxie 500, among others, as well as record three more albums before dissolving in 1991. Now thanks to Bar/None in North America and Domino everywhere else, the Feelies' first two albums ― Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth ― are finally back in print and the band's "classic line-up" featuring Mercer, Million, Dave Weckerman, Brenda Sauter and Stanley Demeski are back together. Singer/guitarist Glenn Mercer filled Exclaim! in on how the reunion came to be, how it's going and whether we can expect any new material from the Feelies.
How did it feel to go back and play Crazy Rhythms in its entirety at All Tomorrow's Parties this past September?
It was fun, exciting. It was kind of a blur really. We didn't get a sound check, and I guess we played pretty fast because it was over in 40 minutes. It was kinda hard work playing fast songs in a row.
Did it feel different playing the album now than it did back in 1980?
Well, we never played this album in its sequence, so that was a bit different. But we've really been playing most of the songs for the past year, since we regrouped.
Was there a lot of rehearsal for that performance?
Not for that particular show, no. I think we only rehearsed the sequence only once or twice.
Did you have to relearn a lot of those songs or was it natural coming back to it after all these years?
Personally speaking, I find it's easier to play those older songs because you had more years of playing them. They're locked in your memory a lot better than the recent stuff and the songs that we didn't play live as much, like a lot of the later songs, those are a lot harder.
What made you decide to reunite last year after a decade and a half?
We were feeling a lot of interest in the band. There were record company offers to reissue the albums, licensing requests and a lot of internet activity, which showed us there was a lot of interest in the band. We were even talking about it for a number of years, it was just a matter of getting everyone's schedule to align, and to do it with 100 percent focus. Y'know, we didn't want to do it without having enough time to get it right.
So you were talking about reissuing the albums previously?
Yeah, about five years of serious work, but we'd been getting offers since 2000.
How long exactly were the albums out of print for? You'd see them every now and then as imports...
I don't know. I never checked. I never had a need to. The band was over so my involvement kind of ended there, shortly after they became out of print.
How committed is everyone to the reunion?
Well, we've talked about recording another record. So our focus is to write more songs and record them.
And will you do a tour or just do invitation gigs?
Well, it would be pretty difficult for us to tour. We've had some offers to play that we had to turn down. It's tough at this stage to do a tour, what with the economics of it and taking time from our lives to devote to it. We've been basing our decisions on how much time we'd have to do it. Obviously money's involved with it too. We've done a few things for little money, like we played the Whitney because it was something different for us, playing at a museum. It's been tough, which is why it's mostly been a weekend thing.
You've done music for a number of movies and TV programs, as well as a solo album, Wake Ooloo and the Sunburst. But I read that Bill hadn't played music since the Feelies broke up in 1991. How did you get him to come back to music?
There we talks on and off over the years, and like I said there was business stuff that had us talking on a regular basis. And as the offers came through I'd forward them to him. He had some personal things to deal with, but he had expressed interest. And then last summer (2008), where Sonic Youth offered us a slot for their Summerstage show at Battery Park, I guess it was a good time for him when it came up.
You mentioned your interest in writing a new album. How much is written?
I'd say a handful of songs.
Was "Time is Right" written as a way of describing how is it being in the Feelies again?
A little bit yeah.
I noticed the extra material is for download only. Why was it so important to keep the albums in their original form?
Well, we noticed that we'd made a mistake on the first Crazy Rhythms reissue when A&M put it out. They talked us into adding a bonus track, and we put "Paint It Black" on there and regretted it. Just didn't really fit the album. So we kind of look at an album that is a piece of work that you listen to from beginning to end, and that was a distraction. We felt with the downloads people aren't necessarily going to listen to it from beginning to end, they might just pick songs to download, so [the bonus tracks] were an incentive to get the whole album. It's sort of a promotional thing, I guess. Like when iTunes have an exclusive bonus track.
Did signing to A&M change much for you after The Good Earth?
Yeah, probably, because there were a lot more people involved. The Good Earth was released by a friend of ours, one guy, so once we signed with A&M it was a lot more of a corporate feeling. It wasn't actually too bad. It was seen more as an independent at the time, but after the Time For A Witness record they got bought out by Polygram, which got bought out by Universal, so a lot of the people we had developed a relationship were let go. And there were new people we had to deal with who weren't familiar with the band, and didn't appreciate the way we worked. So it was really between those two albums when things started to sour with them.
Was that when you decided to end the band?
That was a factor, but I don't know if it was the factor but it had something to do with it.
You're often compared to the Velvet Underground for the strummy guitar style. But I also feel like there's a similarity in that you guys didn't really get the respect you deserved. Did any of the band feel that way?
Not really, I never felt disrespected. We always got good press. Some people thought we should have gone to a higher level, but to be honest we always felt comfortable where we were. It wasn't our goal to play arenas.
Do you have a new goal?
Just what I said, write new songs and record an album.