The Good Earth and the related
tour have furthered the band's status as critics' darlings. When we pointed out that
never seen a single item of bad press about the band, Bill Million shrugged and
"Yeah, we've been lucky that way". Despite his offhand attitude, luck has very
little to do with the Feelies' success (their show at Chicago's West End closed with six
encores, and the audience was asking for more). The Feelies take their music very
seriously; their albums are full of fascinating detail, and they play live with incredible
It's hard to get the Feelies to talk about their music, but not because
there isn't anything to say, or because they haven't a very clear idea of what
they're creating. As a group, the Feelies give an overwhelming sense of absolute
destiny. They do
what they do with complete conviction - so much so that to explain it seems
redundant. Also, there's so much music to explain! Although there are only two Feelies
band member is involved with concurrent projects.
Guitarists/vocalists/songwriters Million and Glenn Mercer began the
Feelies in 1977, and for several years had a shifting rhythm section (Anton Fier of Golden
Palominos fame was the drummer for about three years). Dave Weckerman was the original
Feelies drummer, and subsequently returned (he was also involved in a duo called Mr.
Baxter); drummer Stan Demeski, who is also a member of the Phosphenes, joined about five
years ago. Bassist Brenda Sauter joined in 1983 but, as Demeski explained, "before
that she was with other bands that involved all of us". One of those other bands was
the Trypes (who recorded a 1983 EP entitled "The Explorers Hold", and who
appeared on the 1986 Coyote Luxury Condos compilation). Weckerman, Million and Mercer also
belong to Yung Wu, and Million and Mercer perform together as the Willies. An EP by the
Feelies is due out soon that will contain "Slipping" and "The High
Road" from The Good Earth, along with covers of Neil Young's "Sedan
Delivery" and the Beatles' "She Said, She Said".
How can these people be so low-profile and also so
it's because the band members aren't all caught up in the whirl of publicity; instead they
seem to prefer to work steadily at their music and let the critics and fans do the
interpreting. We did talk to the band over dinner before their September 26th show at the
West End (Dave Weckerman was not with us at dinner).
Non*Stop Banter: What was the genesis of the
Bill Million: Nothing that
special. We grew up in the same town,
we had similar musical tastes. That's pretty much all it was. We (Glenn and Bill) were
both musicians. Our musical tastes were pretty extreme at the time; there
many people who would be listening to the Modern Lovers, the Stooges, the Velvet
Underground. Except for Stanley! Stanley, as a young lad, eight years old.....
Stan Demeski: I did too! I'm the
youngest, so that's why they
say these things about me. I was listening to the Velvet Underground album when I went
into freshman year of high school, I bought "Transformer" when I was in sixth
grade. So I did listen to that stuff. I was a big Rolling Stones fan when I was ten or
eleven. That's how I got into playing drums.
NSB: What became of the
Stan: Oh, we're still together, we just
haven't played in a while. We don't play out at all. We were playing at first, pretty
steadily, but then the
bass player got married, his wife had a baby, and he's going to school for electrical
engineering, so we really haven't played in a while. And the singer moved to New York.
We'll still play; we have demos and stuff. We were real thrown because of that record
(Phosphenes, an EP recorded in 1983 with Richard Barone and James Mastro of the Bongos).
It didn't come out like we wanted it to.
NSB: The Feelies are working on the soundtrack for a Jonathan
Bill: Well, we're in the movie. We played about five songs in
the movie; we play a high school reunion band. It takes place in 1986, it's called
NSB: So they're all live songs?
NSB: Did you write them especially for the film?
Bill: No. Actually it's a ten-year class
reunion, so he wanted a
lot of songs from that time period, like 1976, which we ended up not doing. The only one
we kept really from that time period was "Fame", the David Bowie
song. So that's
in there. "Crazy Rhythms" is in it, "I'm A Believer" - the Monkees
Stan: "Until The Next Teardrop Falls", by Freddie
Fender. One of the producers does a cameo and he sings it. It's really funny.
NSB: How did you get involved in this project with Jonathan
Bill: He's been a fan of the band for a real long
time. He saw
us play out in Los Angeles around the time that Crazy Rhythms came out in 1980. He had
this idea of doing a concert film with the band back then, but had trouble arranging the
money to do it. He's just always wanted to work with the band and this opportunity came
NSB: Do you find yourself interacting with a lot of the film
community in New York since you did the music for "Smithereens"?
Bill: No. We don't interact with any community.
Glenn Mercer: I agree.
NSB: Everyone's speculating that this new record is a different
Feelies. How do you feel it's different or parallel to Feelies of years past?
Bill: Well, the sound of the record is
different, but it's the
same Feelies. It's the same approach to music we've pretty much always had. The tempos are
Glenn: A lot of people assume that the sound o Crazy Rhythms was
the sound of the band for quite a while. We actually sort of changed; it just happened to
be that particular sound we had at the time. It was
quite different before that and quite different after that.
Bill: Some songs that are on The Good Earth (are
"Slipping", which actually preceded Crazy Rhythms - it's about eight years
"When Company Comes" was written around the time that Crazy Rhythms came out.
They range anywhere from being eight years old to being recorded right in the studio at
NSB: You say that the Feelies have been
changing, and yet you've
all been involved in other bands, too - is it that you're trying different sounds that you
don't want to try with the Feelies?
Bill: Different people have different
roles. We have a band
called Yung Wu where Dave writes the material, we help him arrange it, he sings and fronts
the band. It's his material, so it sounds a lot different than what the Feelies would
NSB: So they're different showcases for different people?
Bill: It's just... different. None of the bands really sound the
NSB: The Feelies seem to be the best-known of the
that because you've been together longer or are trying more to be in the public
Glenn: It was the first band to have a record out. I guess we
are concentrating more on the Feelies now.
Bill: Although there'll probably be a Yung Wu record in the
works soon. We've recorded a few songs.
NSB: Do you think your other projects are taken
what I gather, people tend to write about them as just a side project. Was that your
Bill: No, it's just difficult... at this particular time the
Feelies are real busy, doing a lot of work on this band. When we go back we'll probably do
a Willies and a Yung Wu show. And then we have to play in two weeks with the Feelies with
R.E.M., and then we're going to Europe for a month. So there's really not that much time
at this particular time to spend more with the other bands.
NSB: Could you run down what you feel is the idea or what's
behind these groups?
Stan: We just like to play the
stuff, have fun.
Bill: The Willies has varied considerably since they started
playing. It initially started out as real experimental, mostly music on a four-track at
different speeds. We would accompany the four-track and there would be speakers throughout
parts of the room. We went after a three-dimensional sort of sound with a lot of movements
and stuff. It's changed from that. Now that band's a lot different; we actually broke in
some Feelies songs with the Willies, some instrumentals.
NSB: Is there going to be another Trypes record?
Bill: I think not.
Stan: They sort of have another band
now, because they got tired
of waiting for the people in the Feelies to rehearse with them. They like to rehearse two
times a week, and after a while we just couldn't do it all.
NSB: So the other people in the Trypes are doing it on their
Stan: Yeah. I doubt if they'll play out or
anything. They sort
of do it for their own amusement.
NSB: Do you feel there's a sound, the same ideas running through
your head when you play in all the bands? Something that ties all the bands
Bill: Well, we have the same aesthetic with those
NSB: Do you think you would feel as complete an aesthetic if you
didn't have the other bands? What if something happened, say the Feelies became Top 40?
Would you feel weird about abandoning the other bands?
Glenn: It's always nice to play with different
NSB: You wouldn't necessarily stop doing
NSB: Earlier we were talking about the stuff you did in the
beginning of the songs on "Crazy Rhythms", the quirky effects that are obviously
studio. Do you just play around when you go into production, or plan...?
Bill: Sometimes; sometimes we have an idea what we want to do.
It really varies. If it sounds interesting, it might purely be by accident. we have a lot
of respect for what we refer to as the 'random element' in music. So something might
happen by mistake, by error. We just have a lot of respect for that.
NSB: Do you think that touring has affected your music at
changed the kind of stuff you write, travelling around the country?
Bill: Well, we haven't really toured - we did one tour two years
ago, and that was around the whole country. Then, there's this tour.
NSB: Do you just not like it, or
haven't you had the opportunity, or what?
Bill: Well, we kind of take things real slow. We work within our
own time frame, you know, seeing how we do like it. *