The Feelies (from left to right) Bill Million, Glenn Mercer, Stan Demeski, Dave Weckerman, and Brenda Sauter
Interview by Harry Kaplan
I had the honor of speaking with, and interviewing, Glenn Mercer. He is the lead guitarist, vocalist, and founding member of the legendary band, The Feelies. I have been a fan of the Feelies for almost 30 years of their 40 years (with a 17 year hiatus between 1991 and 2008 ). This band is responsible for influencing countless bands, most notably, The Pixies, REM, and Yo La Tengo. Speaking with Glenn was amazing. It was bigger for me than if I would have spoken to Paul McCartney. He speaks about playing now and the music scene in the late 80s/early 90s.
TwangriLa: First of all, I just want to say that it’s an honor to speak to you. I have been a huge fan for close to 30 years.
Glenn Mercer: Well thank you, I appreciate it.
TwangriLa: So I understand you are working on a new album. Can you tell me little bit about it? Will it be 10 tracks?
Glenn Mercer: We have 10 songs, 11 tracks. One song has 2 versions. Actually it will be 11 tracks.
TwangriLa: Is it a similar style or has your style changed a little bit? Is it pretty much The Feelies sound?
Glenn Mercer: Yeah, to me they all sound like the Feelies, but each record is different. So it kind of continues in that way. We took a little bit of a departure, our approach to recording. We made some pretty good demos. We liked the vibe of the demos, and we just decided to recapture that. So, we recorded at my house, most of it. We tried to keep it pretty low key. There is a certain sort of mood you can get into when you’re not paying a ton of money and watching the clock. So it is a lot more relaxed although we did have a schedule we had to stick to because Bill (Million), the other guitar player, he lives in Florida. And Brenda (Brenda Sauter the bass player) lives in Pennsylvania. So we did still have some constraints. It wasn’t totally as relaxed as maybe it could have been. But compared to being in a studio and paying 50 or 100 dollars an hour it was pretty low-key.
TwangriLa: That’s great. You produced the album yourselves?
Glenn Mercer: Yeah.
TwangriLa: Well that’s good. You don’t have to worry about someone else messing with your work.
Glenn Mercer: Well, that’s never really been too much of a problem. We have always kind of been on the same page with the co-producers. Generally, we like somebody there, to keep an eye, if we are in the main studio. Just to have somebody, an extra set of ears, that’s just sitting in the control room. To keep tabs of everything that is going down. But this time, the engineer was in the room with us. So we were all kinda together. We didn’t really need to have it that way.
TwangriLa: How did it feel to be back recording again?
Glenn Mercer: Well, I am recording the time.
TwangriLa: I mean with the rest of the band.
Glenn Mercer: It’s always fun. We had done the last record, it seemed pretty recent to us. We take a lot of time typically between records so it didn’t really seem like a lot of time had passed since our last one.
TwangriLa: It’s been four years. Four years to me seems like a long time because I am always waiting for new material.
Glenn Mercer: It’s not. We tend not to adhere to the standard schedule.
TwangriLa: Well that’s good because it isn’t rushed and the material is really great. Between the first record and the second record was five or six years.
Glenn Mercer: Yeah but a lot went on. We had a change with the rhythm section. We kind of almost broke up and reformed. It was a pretty substantial period of inactivity between those two records.
TwangriLa: Actually, the time between Only Life and Time for a Witness was probably the shortest period. That was like a two-year window.
Glenn Mercer: Yeah, I guess it was sort of a concession to being on a major label. Not really a major label, but sort of a major label. I guess at that point they had been bought out by Universal so I guess it was the same method of operation a major label would have. So it was kind of conveyed to us that we should stick to a more structured type of a schedule.
TwangriLa: I had read that one of the reasons for your breakup in ‘92 had a lot to do with pressure from the record label trying to make creative changes and trying to dictate certain things. Is that is an accurate statement?
Glenn Mercer: Well, a lot of different elements went into it. It wasn’t so much pressure, it was sort of, more of a feeling of being very low on the priority list for the record company. All the people we had established a relationship with, they left the label when Universal took over. So it was as all new people coming in, and they didn’t know the band. They weren’t familiar with the way we worked. And they were kinda scratching their head. Like, “That’s not the way we do things!” We kind of felt like we needed to be what we weren’t. Or to kinda change. It just didn’t feel comfortable with the place we were at.
TwangriLa: I understand. I also think a lot of that had to do with labels. Not the record labels, but the labels people put on the band. I read an interview where you stated critics are always throwing around the “alternative” label. I used to read things like “jangle pop” or “college rock”. I just prefer rock ‘n roll myself. But, I think those labels pigeonholed the band and closed off a lot of opportunities for exposure that would’ve been if they just said rock ‘n roll. Do you agree with that?
Glenn Mercer: Boy, I don’t know. I haven’t really given it much thought in terms of the band being pigeonholed. I look at it like the “alternative”/”college rock” whatever you want to call it, had a lot of potential to become like mainstream charts. There were the mainstream charts and there were the college charts. And when those two charts seemed to reflect each other, the main mainstream chart and the college chart, there was a lot of hope that the potential of the alternative scene could become mainstream. So you had bands like us, Husker Du, The Replacements, and the Minutemen, Actually, they were not around at that time, but you had Firehose…..
TwangriLa: The Meat Puppets
Glenn Mercer: And the Meat Puppets. We all signed to major labels. And we all had high hopes, and the labels had high hopes. But it really was unrealistic. Too many expectations. If you notice, almost all those bands broke up shortly after that. So there was sort of the question of maybe this should remain alternative, it’s not meant to be for everybody. It’s not the mainstream. It just seemed like it was trying to make something that it wasn’t, maybe.
TwangriLa: Which is a shame because I think it is great on its own.
Glenn Mercer: It was a thriving scene. We had plenty of clubs to play in. We would travel across the country and play in small towns.
TwangriLa: It was a great time in music. I would see bands crossing the country all the time.
Glenn Mercer: Yes it was. But like anything……………….It was time to move on. And time for something new.
TwangriLa: It had run its course. But it was a great time.
Glenn Mercer: It was!
TwangriLa: So speaking of touring, I understand you planning a US tour in the fall?
Glenn Mercer: No. We will generally play close enough to home that we could only do weekend trips. I guess Boston and DC are about as far as we go.
TwangriLa: Actually the last time you were in Baltimore, about a year and a half ago, I was there. You guys played seven encores. I was just wondering, do you think next time you could play eight? I felt a little slighted. (Laughter).
Glenn Mercer: (chuckles) I don’t know, it’s possible. We play, generally, about three hours.
TwangriLa: Yes, you played a long time. It was unbelievable. Such a great night.
Glenn Mercer: Thanks.
TwangriLa: So if I were to start a petition to get Slipping (Into Something) to replace Born to Run as the state song of New Jersey, would you sign it (laughter)?
Glenn Mercer: No, it sort of goes back to knowing your place and knowing where you fit. Not trying to make something what it’s not.
TwangriLa: Understood. I was just always baffled. First of all, Slipping (Into Something) is a fantastic song. But Born to Run is the state song and it’s about leaving the state of New Jersey. Just a little irony there.
Glenn Mercer: Well the state has a lot of ironies (chuckle).
TwangriLa: I was wondering if you could finish this sentence. The Feelies are still playing because_______.
Glenn Mercer: We enjoy it.
TwangriLa: That’s a great reason.
Glenn Mercer: Really, it’s our only reason. That’s why we broke up, it wasn’t fun.
TwangriLa: I guess it’s been fun since 2008?
Glenn Mercer: Oh yeah, definitely! Even previous to that, it was pretty much fun the whole time, we had some frustration early on getting a record deal. There’s always little bumps in the road, like the relationship with Stiff (Records) didn’t go too well. And the end of the band in the 90’s. Generally, it’s been great and it’s always been fun.
TwangriLa: It seems like everybody in the band gets along really well which is the only way this would work.
Glenn Mercer: Yeah, and that could be because we have lives other than the band. We don’t play all the time. We don’t do long tours.
TwangriLa: Like you said, it’s just about fun and the love of playing.
Glenn Mercer: Yeah, we don’t really set our goals too high. We just express ourselves and be creative.
TwangriLa: So don’t put too many expectations on it. Just go out and play and whatever happens, happens.
Glenn Mercer: Exactly!
TwangriLa: So what do you do when you’re not playing music and recording? What else do you like to do?
Glenn Mercer: Well, I record. I record a lot of stuff that I don’t use with the Feelies. A lot of the stuff I record is for myself, no one ever gets to hear it. I am big into nature. I walk a lot, do a lot of hiking. I don’t really have a lot of hobbies outside of music.
TwangriLa: Well that’s great. Keep on doing whatever you’re doing because you are still putting out great stuff.
Glenn Mercer: I appreciate it.
TwangriLa: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
Glenn Mercer: Thank you for taking the time to do it.
You can buy all their releases here.
You can get a good sampling of their music on their official Soundcloud page.