The Feelies - Home page



 

Send an email

News & Updates | Live shows | Biography | Discography | Images | Lyrics | Sounds | Press | Links

RSS feed

 


 

FEELIES: FOLKS FROM JERSEY

The BOB magazine
Issue 35 February/March 1989

Interview: ERIC FLAUM   

Pix: PAT BLASHILL

This issue included a free flexi-disc: 
see details in Discography/Singles

 

Visiting The Feelies On Sugar Mountain

What if Neil Young had never left home? What if Neil had never been banished from Sugar Mountain (a teen club he could no longer frequent after his 20th birthday)? What if Neil had stayed in Winnipeg and played music with friends? If Neil had stayed home, he'd probably be in a band playing music for the fun of it. Playing for some personal need. Playing whether the money and acclaim were there or not. Odds are, Neil would be in a group like the Feelies. The Feelies, it seems, were never banished from Sugar Mountain. They stayed home, some members literally and others figuratively. Each one has a different story, yet each found oneself in a position to continue being in a band that wasn't exactly raking in the dough. For different reasons, all were free from the necessity of making a band work financially. This freedom allowed them to operate on Feelies Time. In a part of New Jersey that stops looking like NYC-burbia and starts looking like the outskirts of any small, old, decaying Northern city, the Feelies maintained their own Sugar Mountain. And it's a good thing for all of US.

Brave New World

In the final years of the '70s, when a decade's despondency was pulverized by punks, the Feelies became known. They played the clubs that the first Wave had established as hip, and got themselves signed to a way-cool label. They released a superb album, and soon thereafter ceased to function as a band. But the creative core of the original Feelies, Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, didn't abandon music. Instead, they chose to involve themselves in a number of musical projects that included electronic experimentation, a soundtrack, and a couple of peculiar bands. Eventually, slowly, Mercer and Million re-formed the Feelies, and returned to vinyl with The Good Earth. Since that time, the Feelies have gone about reestablishing themselves as a band of great vision and complexity. This is, for the most part, the story of two guys and their friends, who were stupid enough to believe they could do it their own way. So far they seem to have gotten away with it.

Glenn and Bill

Glenn Mercer does most of the singing, plays the impressive guitar stuff and writes nearly all of the lyrics. Bill Million does a bit of the singing, strums a rich rhythm guitar, and co-writes some of the songs. The two have been together for a long time, and form the heart of the Feelies.

Bill: We both came from pretty small towns. And in these towns, way out in the suburbs - far away from the hip scenes that were happening in the cities - there were very few people that were listening to the music of The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers. And if you came across another guy walking down the street who was into that stuff... you know, that's pretty much how it started.

Dave

Glenn was friends with original Feelies drummer Dave Weckerman even before the band formed in 1977.

Dave would become an on-and-off member, performing live as a percussionist while a succession of drummers passed through. But he didn't appear on the band's first album, Crazy Rhythms. Weckerman joined on as a full-time member during the reformation that eventually brought in drummer Stanley Demeski and bassist Brenda Sauter.

Dave is the oldest member of the band, and possesses more charisma than the other four Feelies combined (which is probably fine with them). He's an animated conversationalist, humorously graphic in his descriptions; and a touch hard of hearing. He's a beneficent version of Dennis Hopper, a little "out there". He's just back from his 20th high school reunion.

Dave: I didn't really fit in at my reunion. A lot of them are old and married, and they're real into real estate. I got real out of it.

But Dave, did you fit in even back then ? 
Dave: As a matter of fact, I was a pretty popular guy in high school. I guess. Everybody was my friend: the football players, the down-and-out burnouts. I liked everybody... and (he smiles) they liked me. High school was a very class-oriented society, and I just went across the board. I saw humor and adventure in hanging out with everybody.

Weckerman is the leader of Yung Wu, the Feelies spin-off project that features his lyrics and vocals. Between The Good Earth and Only Life, Yung Wu experienced its peak of activity, which included a number of live dates and the release of a wonderful album, Shore Leave. It sounds much like the Feelies musically (except for the addition of keyboards), but Weckerman's raw, painfully sincere vocals make all the difference in the world. What Weckerman clearly lacks in technical proficiency he more than makes up for with intriguing lyrics and enthusiastic delivery.

Life After Wartime

The first "big break" for the Feelies came in 1978 when the Village Voice pasted their faces on its cover and proclaimed them the best underground band in town.

Glenn: I guess that's the point when we realized that maybe the band had a chance. When the article happened, we figured that maybe the band could go on, make records. But now you kind of put it in perspective. What they meant was the best unsigned band, and there weren't too many new bands at the time. We were kind of what they called the Second Wave. The Talking Heads and the Ramones had record deals. We just came after them. They were playing to packed houses and we were playing to half-empty.

The band that drew this attention replaced original bassist Jimmy J with the DeNunzio brothers on bass and drums (transferring Weckerman to percussion). A number of labels made overtures to the band, and an early single was released on Rough Trade. But the band's first album came from Stiff. Problems with Stiff began immediately.

Glenn: We were into the idea of a video when video first started. With Stiff, it was one of the things we talked about before we even signed a contract. We were not a big touring band. At the time, we only played maybe five times a year. They said they were really -into video, and they said that if we did well in a particular market, maybe they'd send us there for a short tour. And after we signed they said they wanted us to go on a six-month package tour, and we realized that it would have been the end of the band.

Dave: If the band had toured, done all those dates that Stiff wanted us to do, the band probably would have broken up forever. That's all we were offered - to go with the Plasmatics and Joe "King" Carrasco for like three months. Forget it. Nobody in the band would ever want to play music again after something like that.

Relations between band and label, which had started off poorly, just kept getting worse. The result was the eventual dissolution of the Feelies in 1981. Steve Fallon (Feelies manager, and owner of Coyote Records and Maxwell's) describes the break-up:

Steve Fallon: They'd gotten this huge advance from Stiff, so they bought this really sophisticated equipment. They first played (at Maxwell's) to try out the equipment for the "big European tour." But when they got over there, their equipment never showed up. So they were totally bummed and they just freaked out and left. That's when the band broke up. They were a band that didn't exist anymore. Then came these other things like the Trypes, the Willies. And then Anton would show up and end up playing with them. So they started playing out again as the Feelies, and they were better than they ever were. They were like the hottest band in the world. But Anton's personality, and their personalities... well, sound checks with the Feelies used to take eight hours. Anton used to polish his cymbals before sound checks just to annoy them. I think there was this whole annoyance thing going. So the band kind of dispersed for a while.

In a separate interview, Million recalled the difficult times:

Bill: We played with people that weren't able to grasp what we were saying musically. It was like going up against a wall. That doesn't occur in this band now. A lot of times, very little has to be said. It just happens.

Glenn: Playing with Brenda and Stan in the Trypes just felt right. They were people that we liked.

Getting Stiffed

Crazy Rhythms is almost dismissed by its creators. Million describes it as something "that just documents what the band was at the time". But it's also a great album. Mercer's lyrics were sometimes as nervous and jerky as David Byrne's. At other times, however, the droning verses were practically minimalist (back before that word had been milked to death). He told us he was the boy next door, and he sure looked like him. But none of my neighbors were listening to music like this. To recreate the zeitgeist of the time, it's important to remember that folks were going bonkers over Cheap Trick and the J. Geils Band. The Clash were still relegated mostly to the left of the dial. The best Lou could do at the time was Growing Up In Public. Ronnie was our now president (back then it seemed funny, not pathetic), John Lennon released his last album, and all of the Pretenders were alive. Crazy Rhythms was a minor release for a label that seemed more intent on selling itself than its bands. Stiff was long past its original burst of success. The relationship between Stiff and the Feelies degenerated steadily, helped along by such meetings as the one in which Stiff execs lectured the band on how to write a hit song, and offered the work of Lene Lovich as the kind of thing to strive for.

Glenn: One of the things Stiff said when they first approached us about signing was, "Hey great, a band with people who wear glasses". They made more money from T-shirts than they did from records.

The music on Crazy Rhythms was a hodgepodge of seemingly contradictory influences. Imperceptibly building Eno-esque passages connected a series of high-adrenalin compositions, all tied together with a healthy dose of percussion. In most songs there were extensive instrumental passages, punctuated by sharp, staccato outbursts and droned choruses. "Raised Eyebrows" featured some impressive ensemble playing, embellished, simply with Million's repeated observation: "You get old." Elsewhere, Mercer was wordier, but similarly succinct. The production was strictly low-budget, which itself has become part of the album's appeal a decade later. Most current indie releases far surpass Crazy Rhythms' sonic fidelity, but few can match its intensity and sincerity. A 1980 review of the album in The New York Times paired it with Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. The two bands certainly followed different paths after that time - the Feelies' retreat and gentle re-emergence was much safer than Joy Division's jolting climax - yet both works have remained impressive while many of the releases by their contemporaries have grown superfluous with time. Both albums still rip away the pretenses. Both albums still rock.

Feelie Lore

Back in the Crazy Rhythms days, the Feelies developed a reputation for playing on holidays. Veteran's Day. Fourth of July. Christmas in Hoboken.

Glenn: It was really a coincidence. We played a few holiday shows, and then some writer picked up on it. He wrote about it, and then other writers would write about it. And then the clubs would start to request us on holidays. It kind of perpetuated itself.
Dave: It was more fun to play on holidays. They were special events. It was a holiday, and the Feelies were playing. We'd decorate the stage, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Anton

Anton Fier played drums on Crazy Rhythms. He's since played with a host of celebs, and it's his permanent departure that marks, for some, the end of the "first Feelies". Fier is a powerful drummer whose leadership of the Golden Palominos brought cohesiveness to a pretty strange assemblage of folks. His shows with the Palominos have featured some of the best drumming to ever rattle Maxwell's walls.

Steve Fallon: I always thought that there could never be a Feelies without Anton. Anton used to bleed. The only time Anton's ever bled was with the Feelies. From his lips and his hands. Because it was so hard to play. The stuff from Crazy Rhythms was so intense. He always felt the Feelies were important, and he felt that it should work. But when it didn't, he got this negative attitude, like, "Oh man, the Feelies suck. Oh man, they can't write songs". Now I play him the tape and he's like, "Oh, it's not bad, but they still can't write songs". I think he almost regrets not being in the band.

As Fallon spoke, Fier was several tables away, vaguely aware of the abuse he was receiving. "Hey Anton, c'm'ere", Fallon shouted. "We're talking about the Feelies". "No, it would be better if I didn't", demurred the drummer. For various reasons, the Mercer-Million partnership was not willing to expand into a triumvirate. As Fier's ability to control a star-studded affair such as the Golden Palominos has indicated he too has strong ideas about how a band should operate. That the three could not coexist peacefully is understandable. But that doesn't make it any less disappointing.

Soundtrack From The Mountain

Glenn: Personally, I felt frustrated with playing the guitar. I reached a point where I was kind of bored with it. So I'd heard about this band that lived in town, in Haledon, that were just starting out. They were friends of friends. I met them and offered to play drums. I'd played some percussion on Crazy Rhythms and I kind of wanted to explore percussion and drums. I was using my sister's drum kit while she was away at college, and when she came back I had to give her her drum kit back. That was the Trypes.

In addition, Mercer and Million collaborated on experimental, electronic music. As The Willies, they entered the avant arena, playing minimalist guitar with pre-recorded sounds through a variety of experimental speaker arrangements.

Glenn: We had a lot of marginal shows, and a lot of good ones. Some that didn't really work. The idea was to incorporate tapes, try to get a real 3-D kind of mixing going, with speakers set up in the back of the room, or placed throughout the room. Some songs we would actually accompany a tape rather than have the tape embellish what we were performing - actually play along with the tape. It was very difficult to coordinate something like that. We had one show where the tape started the set, and we kind of faded in under the tape. And the guy who was working the machine had it on the wrong speed. So it started, and rather than fade it down he actually hit the speed button, and you could bear it slowing down. One time a set of speakers became unplugged. There were a lot of technical things that went wrong.

Bill: We did a lot of outdoor recordings, a lot of stuff on "When Company Comes" (from the Willies' repertoire, and later reworked for The Good Earth) in particular. Just, like neighborhood sounds. We kind of heard our music as fitting into a lot of different sounds that were going on, like, in the neighborhood. They just worked well together, like dogs barking, the woman who lived next door to me talking... One sound in particular that we used with the Willits was the sound of these crows that went on tape so well. We actually stuck the mike out the window, and we had another mike out another window. And the relationship, how the sound went on tape, it was such that if you put your ear right next to the speaker you still would be convinced that it wasn't coming out of the speaker, that it was real. There was a show in New York that we did, where the club had speakers around the room, which is what the Willies were trying to do at the time - have a more three-dimensional sound. We had our sound man playing percussion. And these crows started. And they actually went around the room and people were looking all over the place, looking for the birds. It's just one of those things you couldn't duplicate in a thousand years.

Something Solid

The Willies led Mercer and Million to their next recording project, which was the soundtrack for the film "Smithereens". Richard Hell played someone you imagined was a lot like Richard Hell, and Susan Seidelman directed the flick (this was before she got kinda known and then forgotten for "Desperately Seeking Susan".)

Bill: We had a lot of fun putting that together. Arranging it. Laughing. Finding amusement in a lot of situations, things that might end up working in songs, even if you're just doing something on three or four tracks for a film... fooling around with speeds. The music that was used for the horror movie sequence was real fun for us to fool around with on a four-track in my basement in the middle of winter. Ten degrees, big heavy overcoats. It was really comical. And the director would keep calling, "Is the music ready? Is the music ready?" And we'd be down there freezing our asses off until we just couldn't take it anymore, an then we just do it again the next night.

In the meantime, the Trypes were metamorphosing, and Dave was fronting Yung Wu. Mercer and Million were emerging from a phase of experimentation. "I think it was just a diversion that played itself out", said Mercer. "We became interested in other kinds of music". In the process, they began laying tracks for the reformation of the Feelies. Glenn recounts what happened with the Trypes after his sister reclaimed her drum kit:

Glenn: I switched to guitar, and we needed a drummer. So we asked Dave to play, but he didn't fit in, so we asked Stan to play. And then the singer left, so we decided that it would be good to have a bass player that could also sing, so we got Brenda. And then we decided we wanted a percussionist, so Bill joined. So it wasn't like the Feelies at all. Eventually it would become all the people that would become the Feelies, but it wasn't at all like we assembled a band. I guess that's almost what prompted the Feelies to get back together. We really got along on a social level and a musical level. We really felt Brenda and Stan were people we could play with.

Brenda: Sometimes when you look back at something there seems to have been some sort of plan. You don't realize it at the time, but when you look back and see how things evolved, it almost seems like they kind of took a natural course. Next thing you know, you've got something solid and it seems like it was meant to be.

Stanley

Stanley: I auditioned, and I thought it was going to be the Feelies, because we rehearsed Feelies songs and we started working on stuff like "The Obedient Atom" and "Thundering Heard". We rehearsed like eight times, and then I didn't hear from them for a few months when Bill's wife had a baby.

Stanley Demeski sat in on a handful of Feelies and Willies dates, but became a permanent member of the Trypes first. He would also become the drummer for Yung Wu, and finally a full-time Feelie. Stanley plays a simple kit and his style is rather spare, leaving the accents to Dave's percussive garnishes and Mercer's crashing guitar work. He's established himself as the coordinator of logistics for the band, whether it be setting up interviews or taking care of business on the tours. He's the keeper of what Bill calls "the archives" of Feelies articles and historical documents, and probably is the least inclined toward touring. "I don't hang out too much anymore, we stay home and watch videos," Stanley says of himself and his fiance Janice, sister of Yung Wu/Trypes/Speed the Plough member John Baumgartner.

My talk with the percussive Feelies - Stanley and Dave - is the only interview which actually took place in Haledon. Stan's directions brought me past the renamed Peanut Gallery and other historic Feelies landmarks. It introduced me to a town past West Patterson, with lots of two-family houses giving way to more rural and equally unspectacular developments. Haledon, it turns out, is no bargain. Sugar Mountain is clearly a state of mind.

Brenda

Brenda, the first female Feelie (say that five times fast), has had to get used to playing with a bunch of guys. She's had to get used to "those men conversations". She's learned to take less offense at Dave's tasteless (yet funny) remarks, and to suffer the rigors of the road.

Brenda: It used to take until the end of the tour for it to get to the point where Stan would have to say, "Enough, Dave". Now it seems to start five minutes onto the road. The minute we hit Route 80 the little stories and sayings start coming out. They're not inhibited.

Sauter's bass playing for the Feelies is alluring yet elusive. With two percussionists and a pair of guitarists who themselves pay a lot of attention to developing the tempo, Brenda is free to depart from the style of most rock bassists. Her lines can complement Stanley's steady backbeat, or work off of it to create the secondary rhythms that are the hallmark of the Feelies' complex arrangements. From the sound of things, Brenda has ventured the furthest from Sugar Mountain. A veteran of Manhattan publishing and her own free-lance enterprises, she appears to have more pursuits outside of music than the other Feelies.

Stanley: Brenda comes from a different field. She doesn't come from the same background. She was from a folk and classical type background. She didn't know "Roadrunner". She'd never heard that before, but everyone else did. We were going to do it one night, as an encore, the first time we'd gone to Europe. It was a couple of nights after she'd broken a bone in her back. And Glenn's like, "Let's go out and play it, let's go out and play it". And everybody says OK, but Brenda wasn't saying anything. And finally she just flipped out and said, "I don't know it". So we went out without her. (She's since learned the chords.)

Brenda, it turns out, is particularly appreciative of being interviewed for this article. She seems tired of being cropped out by a variety of media, or relegated to a quick "other Feelies" mention. In her home town of Oakland, however, she's turning into a real celeb. The cover of Only Life was taken in her home town, in front of one of George Washington's bona fide sleeping stops. Once the tour is over, Brenda hopes to visit one of the monthly Historic Society meetings across the street with a copy of the album. The ladies'll love it! Since Brenda's the one sharing lead vocals on the tasty flexi that accompanies this issue of The Bob, it seems fitting to get her thoughts on the song.

Brenda: The first time we actually did "Dancing Barefoot" was in the Trypes. Everyone keeps in mind cover-songs, and I'm pretty sure it was Glenn who suggested it. I think we only did it once or twice before the band... dissolved. And then, not long ago, we were going to be playing Maxwell's, and it was brought up as a possible Feelies cover song. So we started doing it again, the difference being that Bill was now on guitar. I didn't know too much about what was going on in underground music until I started playing with these guys, but I did know who Patty Smith was. I went to see Patty a couple of times, and as far as "Dancing Barefoot" was concerned, I knew the song from having her album. She's been growing on me lately, especially the older stuff. I seem to like it more and more.

Bucked Up

When the Feelies felt confident enough in their new line-up to return to the studio, they brought R.E.M.'s Peter Buck along with them.

Glenn: Peter was a big fan of Crazy Rhythms and he approached me with the idea of working together. He has a good perspective. We knew that the association (with R.E.M.) could have its drawbacks, but it didn't bother us. The one thing we had going for us was that we'd had a record out long before they did.
Bill: I didn't really see it as a problem or a drag. We worked for Peter for a number of reasons, but it wasn't like there was any attempt at commercial gain. We always like to work with people we have a sense of community with. The good thing about making a record for Coyote was that we were friends with Steve (Fallon) long before we became involved in a business relationship. It was perfect for us. To me, it's the best way to work.

Mercer and Million obviously knew what they were doing, because the result was not just an indie gem, but arguably the best album of 1986. Like the Replacements' Let It Be, the album seemed to capture a point in a band's evolution at which everything was coming together. The Willies' spaced instrumentals were giving way to more standard song forms, but dragging their heels just enough to delay the development of too much standard song structure. The Good Earth paid homage to Mercer's own version of Sugar Mountain. The songs address, in a surprisingly straightforward way, the inner peace of having a comfortable place to sit and watch the world go by. To visit with friends, ponder the mysteries of life, or just sit around doing nothing special. It's about roads leading home, away from external threats and internal questioning. "Out there" is a dangerous place where cars bum along the roadside and people cry for help. "Out there" is a state of mind where the questions have no answers, just unsettling implications. But home is comfortable. Home is where friends are. In some songs, home is a place (or a state of mind) that can't be returned to. But even then it's the subject of desire. The album's peak, and possibly the Feelies' finest moment to date, is "Slipping (Into Something)", a song tucked comfortably into the middle of side one. It meanders into one's consciousness and builds slowly, inexorably, to a burst of fury that belies the simplicity of most of the song, investing those mellower passages with a greater profundity in the process. The song gives way to "When Company Comes", which invites the listener to stay a while and listen to the sounds of the neighborhood. From its evocative cover art to Mercer's meditative vocals, there's a quality about The Good Earth that lets you know they're serious about what they have to say, even if you're not real positive about what it is they're saying. Simple, primary emotions and desires serve as the basis for the lyrics, whose austere delivery prevents them from sounding like trite rock rhymes. Beneath the simplicity is a wealth of detail.

Bill: The photo on the cover was taken during a tour two years previous to making the album. It's from Illinois. We stopped along the side of the road, driving between dates, and the sky was real blue. The cornfield was real yellow and it looked like a real neat place to take a picture. A memento of the tour.

The cover of The Good Earth, one should note, ran in black and white.

Glenn

People warned me that Mercer could be a pain in the ass to interview. One-word answers. Inside jokes. He smirked a lot, and used his tinted glasses to advantage. Worst of all, I discovered, he'd let you dig your own grave. He's a quiet guy, and not real good at the kind of bullshit most of us rely on daily. So the more crap he hears, the quieter he gets. And in the end, the one who craps feels like an ass.

Fallon: Everyone thinks that they're hard to deal with, but that's not it. They're shy. They're bashful. They don't know why they're so popular. They don't know why people adore their band. They're amazed. They're bewildered.

Glenn: I find it really hard to talk about lyrics. I don't sit down with a preconceived notion of what this song will be about or what I want to write about. I don't think it's really a good thing to spell out what a song is about, because it's really a lot of different levels. It could be something different to different people. I'm trying to share a feeling. I don't think it's necessary to put it into words. You either get a feeling from it or you don't. It's not necessary for people who listen to it, who get something from it, to verbalize what it is they're getting from it.

Such an "outburst" from Mercer is hard-earned. Even in declining to interpret his work, Mercer seems uncomfortable about even explaining why. He keeps close guard over his internal dialogues, and neither nosey writers nor an anxious public seems to enter into his considerations.

Stanley: Glenn doesn't write until the mood hits him. He can't just sit down and crank out songs. He has to be inspired. And the thing is, he'll go through years when he's not inspired too much.

Mercer turned out to be an enjoyable and challenging interview, responding to real questions and smirking when my interpretations of his life's work sounded either far-fetched or dead on. He preferred to meet at Maxwell's than anywhere in the Haledon area, but seemed more than willing to allow the interview to ramble along. And as I dropped him off afterwards he seemed genuinely concerned that I thought he'd tried to wrap things up and give me the brush. Though he'd probably prefer if the word didn't get out, it seems Glenn Mercer's a nice guy. A little weird maybe, but a nice guy. He may try to hide behind those rose-tinted glasses (they may be closer to red, but let's call it rose), but a valuable thought or insightful query can get the eyebrows arched, and the glasses don't cover that up. Perhaps Mercer and Million give the impression, as the New York Times "reported" a few years ago, that they "live largely in a world of their own". But if that's the case, it would appear to be just a short commute away. Just one zone on Jersey Transit.

Another One? So Soon?

Which, finally, brings us to Only Life, the Feelies' newest release. It's their second for Coyote, but this time it's being distributed by A&M. For the Feelies, it's another peek at the big time. Another opportunity to spread their sound. An opportunity to make this band work.

Steve: Everyone's tired of doing this part-time. They're serious. They don't want to be part-time, they want to be a real live band. They don't need to have Coliseum-type shit. There's a following out there that can make it happen for them.

Mercer, and practically every other member of the band, when first asked about the new album, talks about the Power Station, where basic tracks were recorded. ("The sound is a lot different," Mercer says. "A lot more live".) Financially able to step up to a better facility, the Feelies took full advantage, of the equipment. Only Life sounds much sharper than its predecessor, with vocals and drums mixed higher than on The Good Earth. As a result, many of the lyrics are more easily deciphered. Both the sound and the scope of this album are bigger. Whereas The Good Earth, as its title implies, grew organically over the course of several years and a couple of bands, Only Life sounds more specifically like a Feelies album. It's more accessible, and much crisper. The meditative nature of Mercer's earlier vocals has given way to something closer to singing occasionally allowing some of the new compositions to sound less lyrically intense. In a way, Mercer's vocal development is similar to Ira Kaplan's in Yo La Tengo, evolving from Reed-like, nearly spoken voice-overs to more melodic deliveries. The album begins slowly, and builds gradually upward.

Brenda: It's sort of that rave-up that we're noted for. It starts a little bit lighter, and then, by the album's second half, each song flows into the next one. And as it does, it gets a little bit wilder. A little bit faster.

Only Life's last three tracks represent its peak, offering up one of the first vinyl hints of this band's five capabilities. "Too Far Gone", composed on an off-day on the "Something Wild" set, is a rocker. It came out about a month before the LP on the soundtrack to Demme's newest flick, "Married to the Mob". And it's probably the best Mercer-Million composition on the album. It is followed by "Away", the album's single and video subject. And to cap things off, there's a great interpretation of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On". The Feelies have always applied a healthy dose of adrenaline to their covers, but this one turns out to be the best Velvets cover I've ever heard, and it's scary how many that might be. The version is respectful of the original, but unmistakably stamped with the Feelies touch.

Bill

Bill Million's got a kid in grade school, and he sounds a bit precocious. Turns out the tykes at school are allowed to bring tapes in to be played by teacher, and young Million offered up some Husker Du. He's not quite as fond of Dad's band.

Bill: My son thinks the Feelies are plain. And I've kind of asked him to define that, and he says that it isn't enough like rock 'n' roll. He really prefers Yung Wu. He really doesn't listen to the Feelies, but he likes "Strange Little Man", "Big Day" and "Powderfinger", and listens to those songs endlessly .

Dad's got a second kid on the way, which is why the band's tour to support the album will wrap up in November. He seems like the kind of guy who'd make a cool father: low-key, understanding, good guitar player. Though he and Mercer both exhibit the kind of social uncertainty that occasionally does make them seem shy or awkward, there's also something very cunning about them. Both have changed their names, and it seems likely it was done together, toward the creation of a songwriting team that really sounds like a songwriting team. Lerner and Lowe. McCartney and Lennon. Mercer and Million.

Bill: I think a lot of that started out tongue in cheek. It started out without having any aspirations or goals whatsoever. It was basically just for the fun of doing it. We didn't ever plan on the ban getting even this far, so it wasn't any big deal.

Past Tense, Future Perfect

Bill: Dave's said in the past that he can't imagine doing anything else besides playing in the Feelies. Like, in any other band there are struggles that do occur, but everyone's pretty strong in this group, and these problems are put aside.

Brenda: Once in a while I wonder what will happen five years from now. I know nothing can go on forever. I mean, look at Frank Sinatra. I'm just trying to soak up what I can now, so that ten years from now I won't say "What was it like?"

Glenn: Nothing scares me anymore. We've had record companies totally dislike the music. Had a record company where we couldn't serve as our own producers. We've been through every possible thing you can imagine. It seems like each tour we get more people coming to see us, and it gets easier.

It'll be interesting to see if the dance floor at Sugar Mountain gets too crowded; if the Feelies willingness to work harder at making the band a success doesn't also turn it into a job. For now that doesn't seem to be the case. And as long as they're still having fun, I'll be lined up outside the door wanting in.

Top