It’s a rarity to find a band who has stayed together for 16 years, let alone to find one that comes back together after the same period of time. Yet Glenn Mercer and the rest of The Feelies have such an easy vibe between them that coming together really wasn’t problematic at all. If anything, Mercer lone concern was making sure to create new music with the reunion instead of relying on a nostalgic tour to fill the time. So go the creative impulses of one of rock’s must unheralded frontmen.
The Feelies came together in the late ’70s and their debut LP, Crazy Rhythms, was named Rolling Stone’s No. 49 entry of the top albums of the ’80s. Pitchfork believed so, too, placing it at No. 69. The Feelies take their time with their songs, so four albums in 11 years became the mark before the band broke up. Until now.
Here Before is the new album after several side projects and a solo album for Mercer. Here he talks about the unexpected attention for Crazy Rhythms and the hopes moving forward as a band again. If nothing else, it’s good to hear Mercer’s encouragement that a band who only wanted to make the best songs they can are still going strong. Meaningful music never dies.
SSv: I know you had several side projects and the solo record between Feelies albums, but did that take up all of your time away?
Glenn Mercer: Well, I’m always writing. Dave and I had a band called Wake Ooloo about a year or two after The Feelies broke up and we put out three records. Then it was a bit of a break between doing that and the solo record, but during that time I was always writing. It just takes a while. Normally with a Feelies record, we do nine songs and a cover. Some I’d write on my own, and others I’d be collaborating with Bill [Million]. So with a solo record, it took awhile to get 10 songs.
To me, it didn’t seem like any particular motivating force. It was just continuing what I always do. With that record in particular, I’d hoped that it would actually be a Feelies record. I’d been in contact with Bill and asked about recording new stuff, so I put that out there, but Bill wasn’t able to do it at the time. That’s why I got some others to help me out with it.
SSv: Why not hold on to the songs until Bill could be a part of it?
Glenn: Yeah, I did consider that and talked about it with Stan [Demeski] and Brenda [Sauter] and Dave [Weckerman], but part of it was just having the confidence and trusting that there would be more songs. At that point, he didn’t have a particular time frame in mind. I just knew he had some interest, but he had some personal things he had to do. He just didn’t know how long it would take. I saw an opportunity with the label I was with that it seemed like a good idea.
I also had just started to put together a studio at home, so when I started it, I didn’t have a deal or anything like that. I just had my equipment and I had just connected with Anton [Fier] and Vinny [DeNunzio], so it seemed the natural thing to get them involved, too.
SSv: So what made this the right time overall to come back together? Is it just about availability?
Glenn: Yeah, I think it is. It’s just being in a position in our personal lives to be able to do it with 100 percent of our focus and our energy. We don’t want to do it halfway. That included the possibility of doing a new record as well, since we didn’t want it to be a nostalgia thing. That was always a top priority of ours to get that going. But that takes a while because we’re scattered from Florida to Pennsylvania. We found that when we finally do get together, we spend a lot of time preparing for upcoming shows, so we really had to make a conscious decision to stop playing for almost a year to do a new record.
SSv: How is the chemistry now that you’ve had experiences that have taken you away from and back toward each other?
Glenn: I think it’s largely the same in terms of how we get the songs together and how we record and how we make records. I guess one thing that’s different is now that there’s the restrictions on our time, we have to do a lot more work on our own, so when we get together we can take the full advantage of our time. We have to be efficient and work on our own as much as possible. Instead of being able to go right into the studio from beginning to end, we had to spread it out over the course of three or four months. That was different for us.
SSv: It’s so rare for a band to come back together and keep creating after so many years. Do you guys ever discuss that internally?
Glenn: We really don’t pay much attention to our place in the marketplace. We always work from the perspective of expressing ourselves, really. I think when we do put an emphasis on the business side and question how we fit in, then it doesn’t work for us. When we’re put in a position to feel competitive, it’s not our natural nature, so we try not to think about it.
SSv: So what does occupy the band’s thoughts?
Glenn: Well, it’s about the music. It’s about us connecting as friends. We’ve spent a lot of years together, so we feel that way with our fan base a bit, too. We have a good connection there. It’s satisfying to be able to connect with people on a level like that.
SSv: You’ve been able to connect with several musicians or have different outlets, so what makes the Feelies as a collective so special to you?
Glenn: With the Feelies, we don’t talk about it a lot. It’s all intuitive. I think the one thing we share in common is that we’re all listeners. When we’re playing, we’re all intently listening to each other and it’s just a real natural and effortless way that we go about it. We might spend time in the writing stage and arranging stage discussing things, but it usually doesn’t require a lot on our part. There’s just a really natural way that we play together. We all have a way that we approach our own instruments, and when you combine that, you get the sound that the Feelies have. If you change any one thing, it wouldn’t be the same.
SSv: When you said that you wanted to make an album, what was the thought process behind that? Why was that essential?
Glenn: Well, I guess nowadays a lot of bands will get together, have a reunion and go out and play shows. It’s really about the reunion that’s the appeal there. For us, that felt too nostalgic. I think everybody feels the same that we feel the most comfortable in a studio setting, so this has always been about making records in order to feel vital. That’s what we do is create, so to go out and play the songs would have been okay, but not very sustaining.
SSv: I want to look back a bit, because Crazy Rhythms has enjoyed such notoriety since its release. Has that been surprising to you? Did you know that you were onto something in the studio?
Glenn: Yeah, it was surprising in a way because it wasn’t a huge seller or anything. The first big surprise was when Rolling Stone picked it as one of the top albums of the ’80s. Since then, it’s taken on a life of its own. So when we were making it, we weren’t thinking of anything like that. It was just making the best versions of the songs that we could make at the time.
SSv: What is it about that album?
Glenn: I think a lot of it is the time period that it came out. It’s the mixture of different influences, I think, is unusual for a rock band. We were listening to a lot of stuff like Kraftwerk and Eno, yet at the same time, we’re very influencedby The Velvets, The Stooges. It’s having those different combinations. It’s the polyrhythmic stuff. Philip Glass. All kinds of stuff.
*Photos courtesy of Fumie Ishii and Doug Seymour.