Progress Report

Progress Report: The Feelies

A poet, essayist, critic, and native Oklahoman, T. Cole Rachel lives in Brooklyn in an apartment filled with ceramic cats. He is a frequent contributor to Interview, V, OUT, The New York Times Magazine, Dossier, Numero, and The Fader, is also a DJ, a part-time bartender, and is known to wear a highly-prized and often-photograhed horse sweater. Last week he spoke with the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart for his inaugural Stereogum Progress Report. Today he files this report on the Feelies.

NAME: The Feelies
PROGRESS REPORT: Prepping their first new release in 20 years for release in Spring 2011 on Bar/None Records.

The first time I actually heard the Feelies was in junior high. The band had a track called “Too Far Gone” on the soundtrack for Jonathan Demme’s 1988 film Married To The Mob. I bought a used copy of the soundtrack for $1 at a record store in downtown Oklahoma City. I was excited to hear the song because I knew that the Feelies were an important band. Rolling Stone had named their 1980 album Crazy Rhythms as the 49th most important album of the ’80s and the band was often name-checked by R.E.M. (my favorite band at the time). Still, growing up in a town with no college radio and no MTV (this was rural Oklahoma in the ’80s), they were a band that existed completely off of my radar. It was only after I got to college and became completely steeped in the kind of music nerdery that would eventually become my full-time job, that I came to understand how important — and deeply influential — the Feelies actually are. The Talking Heads and the Modern Lovers might be the two most obvious examples of acts that borrowed heavily from the Feelies’ aesthetic, but the band’s delicate footprints are still heavily visible on so much contemporary indie rock.

After reforming to play a series of reunion shows in 2008, the New Jersey-based band was surprised to find that there was still so much interest. “We were very gratified — and surprised — by the number of young people at the shows,” says founding member Glenn Mercer, “We just figured that people from the old days probably don’t go see bands anymore and that younger kids probably wouldn’t know who we were, so it was great to play something like All Tomorrow’s Parties and see that people knew the music. You know, we’ve only released four albums and they were spread out over the course of many years, so it’s amazing that we’ve somehow managed to remain in the public consciousness.”

It makes sense, given the success of the band’s reunion shows that the Feelies would make new music, but according to Mercer this was always the goal. In fact, recording music was always the most satisfying thing about being in the band.

“The motives for reforming was mostly just to play shows, but pretty high on our list of priorities was to make another record. We work at a different pace than a lot of bands — it usually takes us a couple of years to assemble the material. Everyone lives in different places now, too, so it takes a lot more planning for us to get together. We always have to make sure we’re making the best use of our time. We’ve also always preferred the studio to playing live. Back when we recorded Crazy Rhythms we usually only played live once or twice a year, like, for holidays and special events. Our hearts were always wrapped up in making the records, not necessarily playing them. We enjoy performing, but… a lot of bands make records specifically so they can go out and tour, for us it/s kind of the opposite.”

Recorded in New Jersey earlier this fall and featuring all the band’s original members, the still- untitled new Feelies record — the band’s first new material in twenty years — promises to be a good example of the band doing the things it does best. Fans of the hyperactive jingle-jangle and spastic nervous energy of Crazy Rhythms and the more sanguine strummyness that dominates The Good Earth and Only Life will all find things to love in the new songs. “There is the same thread that runs through all of our albums,” says Mercer, “It’s pretty varied — lots of different textures and tempos. There are elements here from all of our albums, but it sounds like the Feelies. It’s always about the guitars — played fast and slow.”

For a band known for its brevity and penchant for musical understatement, this Feelies record will be relatively expansive. “We have thirteen songs this time,” laughs Mercer, “We usually just have nine original songs and a cover, so this feels like a lot of extra work for us, it’s almost like double album! Still, other than having more songs this time, the way we work and the way we play really hasn’t changed much. The dynamic in the band is essentially the same, the difference is that we’re all older now … and a lot more patient.”

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