The Feelies just released Here Before, their first album in nearly two decades. Despite the passing time, Glenn Mercer and the boys continue the tradition where they left off it with 1991's Time for a Witness. I called Glenn up to talk to about the new album, their cover songs, their songwriting process and the tsunamis warnings off the Pacific.
Glenn: How’s the weather out there?
Not bad, we were supposed to have a tsunami out here earlier this morning but it looks like we only got a few three-foot waves out at Ocean Beach. What do you and the band have going on over there?
We’re doing a show in Brooklyn coming up with Vivian Girls.
Nice, they’re big fans of you guys from what I understand.
Good to hear.
Here Before is remarkable, 15 years and…
Yeah, 15 years before our last record.
It sounded like a prime follow up for Time for a Witness. How did you maintain to keep the Feelies legacy and sound intact?
Well first we worked on it really hard, we didn’t want to rush it through, we didn’t have a timeline, took about two years for the writing process, took about half a year rehearsing and arranging the songs, and a few months to record them.
It seems like you guys take time and care with every album, there seems to be a 3-5 year gap between each of the albums.
We take our time, luckily with this one we were all really inspired.
There’s a bit reflection on the first song there is that opening line “Is it too late to do it again or should we wait another ten?”
Yeah, that’s the first line on the record on “Nobody Knows.”
It’s something else. I was happy when I heard that the reissues were coming out with Good Earth, Crazy Rhythms; it wasn’t until a month ago when I was pleasantly surprised to hear news of a new Feelies album on the horizon. How does it feel making a record now in the contemporary climate of artists that name check you as influences?
Well it’s flattering I don’t usually hear the similarities when they are pointed out. To us its more than influences, we feel it’s more like inspirations.
Crazy Rhythms always to me sounded a little more experimental than the following albums.
Well it was the time, you had new wave thing happening and we were listening to a lot of electronic music like Kraftwerk. That kind of thing was real popular back then and I think that Crazy Rhythms reflects that. But we were also listening to Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers.
You released Crazy Rhythms on Stiff Records and I heard that you felt they were stifling your creativity.
It wasn’t so much that Stiff was stifling our creativity; they didn’t like the demos we made them for a follow up record so we got dropped from the label.
Now The Good Earth was for A &M?
It was for Coyote which we got on through some friends. But (Coyote) had some connections through A & M so that was how we landed there.
You guys still play Maxwell’s these days?
Yeah, that was where we had our kind of warm up shows after some time.
So now you guys reformed a couple years ago right?
Yeah, that would have been in 2008.
What brought it about?
Everybody was interested, Bill had some personal stuff to work out but there was still of interest. It was sort of getting to the point kind where we all could do what we wanted, play some of the old songs and writing the new material.
Everyone’s always talking about your affinity for the Velvets and Modern Lovers. You played with Sonic Youth recently, they also love those similar influences. How do you respond to Sonic Youth’s music?
I mean they’re pretty different from us but I like their sound, they got a wide variety.
I heard a lot of great responses from that initial reunion show, how did it go for you and the band?
It was fun; we prefer a more intimate kind of setting. It was a great crowd but a lot of pressure on us; it kind of blew by real quick. It went well though, it was our first show and we have gotten a lot better since then.
You guys planning on making it out to the West Coast?
We don’t have any plans at this point. It’s kind of hard to do a lot traveling when you have a family. With the economics and everything it’s a little difficult.
Yeah, touring schedules are brutal. Anyone who can endure it has my respect.
I’m not sure if it’s important any more. There are a lot of other outlets…
True, with streaming technologies and the rate that mediums change, everyday some new format.
…and the music trends change all the time.
Curious about the song writing dynamic between you and Bill Million.
Well I do some on my own and the ones I write with Bill generally Bill provides the ideas and parts and some are more realized than others because most of it is written with his parts arranged for guitar and then I add some melodies and then we both work them out to be complete songs.
You’ve done scoring for TV shows as well?
We have songs that are licensed but we did do some scoring for a film back in 80s. I scored a film called Smithereens, with Susan Seidelman who went on to directed Desperately Seeking Susan, She-Devil…
What challenges do you find recording songs these days?
It’s no more challenging than it ever was. I guess now with families, everyone has their own obligations outside of the band. We all take our time with the process of songwriting and then when we think we have something that we consider for recording.
I read a story about you seeing Jonathan Richman for the first time, I think you said the Dolls were headlining and you were talking about that being a defining moment of the torch being passed on to you guys.
Maybe the torch being handed from the New York Dolls to Jonathan Richman. It would be some years later before the torch would be anywhere near us!
I love your covers from “Paint it Black,” “Me and My Monkey,” “What Goes On,” “Real Good Time,” etc. There is something that shines with them that eclipses the originals.
Well, there’s no point in doing a cover if you’re just doing a copy of the original.
What’s in store for the future of the Feelies?
Right now we’re just focusing on putting the record out and playing the songs; we’ll work it out from there.