This week, Makin Waves features a long-awaited interview with the legendary Glenn Mercer of the seminal Jersey indie band The Feelies; reviews and streams of Overlake, Disposable, and RGD; streams of and briefs on Sunshine & the Rain, Julian Fulton, Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help, and Rahway, and briefs on the Centennial’s record release party and a festival at the Red Mill and American Spirits Roadhouse.
If The Feelies are anything, they are survivors.
Four incarnations since 1976 have reinvigorated the North Haledon-originated group. Initially, an influential indie-rock band that strengthened the 1980s Hoboken music scene, The Feelies evolved into an artistic major label act that continued to inspire and turn the nation’s eyes toward New Jersey. But just as alternative rock blasted up from the underground in 1991, The Feelies splintered into a variety of lower-profile indie acts, such as Wake Ooloo, Speed the Plough, Wild Carnation, and Sunburst.
For 17 years, Feelies fans, including the late Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, had four delicious albums to devour over and over again: 1980’s “Crazy Rhythms,” 1986’s “The Good Earth,” 1988’s “Only Life,” and 1991’s “Time for a Witness.” Then original vocalists-guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million reunited in 2008 with members of the third and longest-lasting incarnation of the band: drummer Stan Demeski, bassist Brenda Sauter, and percussionist Dave Weckerman. Propelled by the success of several reunion shows, they released two more LPs on longtime friend and collaborator Glenn Morrow’s Hoboken-based Bar/None Records: “Here Before” in 2011 and “In Between” earlier this year. Both added to the layers of shimmering guitars, waves of drums and strong sense of independence for which the band have been best known.
In celebration of The Feelies’ 40th anniversary, the lineup expanded last year for a concert that included original drummer Vinny DeNunzio and his bass-playing brother, Keith, who was with the band from 1979 to 1982. The anniversary celebration continued when Bar/None reissued “Crazy Rhythms” and “The Good Earth.”
This weekend, The Feelies are coming full circle, playing two sold-out shows and a third that is nearly sold out at Rough Trade NYC, a 250-capacity venue, as well as a record store, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn that is affiliated with the Rough Trade label that released the band’s 1979 debut single, “Fa Ce La.” Despite selling nearly 750 concert tickets just two weeks after packing venues in Jersey and Philly, The Feelies don’t plan to play out again any time soon in the local metropolitan area, Mercer said in the following interview. We also talked about how the band has survived by remaining fiercely independent, yet serenely well-grounded.
Question: ‘In Between’ seems to be so much about time and departure. Why were those themes weighing on you when you wrote the album and what else had you wanted to express?
Answer: There were some personal things on my mind that led me to reflect on time and presence. We have such limited time together, the future is so uncertain, and our place in the musical landscape comes into question from time to time. Fewer people are buying records these days, and because we typically spend several years working on a record, I had some reservations concerning the significance of making another one. Also, the more songs we have, the more we have to omit when we perform, even though we usually play between two and three hours. What got me motivated was the desire to be creatively expressive and to maintain a connection with the band and with our fans.
I never begin the songwriting process with a desire to explore any particular theme. Often, after a record is finished, my perspective on the songs will begin to change as my relationship with the material shifts from being actively involved in the shaping of the music to a more passive observance. When that happens, I'm better able to perceive what might be considered a ‘theme.’ With this record, I think the idea of being 'in the moment' emerged rather quickly. The way we approached the recording process, off the clock and without a deadline, helped us in that regard. I didn't realize it at first, but the title also refers to that concept since we are, when in the moment, ‘in between’ the past and future.
Q: How has The Feelies’ sound changed with the two recent albums compared to the first few albums from the ’80s and the’90s?
A: I feel as if each record has its own sound, while maintaining a connective thread that links them all together. I think the new record has a unique sound because of the recording process. We wanted to convey a feeling of being relaxed without losing the fundamental tension inherent to genuine rock ‘n’ roll.
Q: Out of The Feelies’ many accomplishments, which do you think is the most important and why?
A: Our biggest accomplishment is our longevity and the fact that we can keep things interesting to ourselves over several decades.
Q: To me, The Feelies are survivors who keep on keepin’ on through various incarnations. What has made you want to keep the band going in between other projects?
A: I think it's in our nature, as people, to make connections with others. And, being creative has its own rewards.
Q: Who are the most current members of The Feelies, how do they all get along, and why do they make the band still fun?
A: The other members are: Bill Million, Dave Weckerman, Brenda Sauter and Stan Demeski. Everyone gets along OK. We have a certain chemistry, and we can often communicate without much talking. At this point, we have established particular patterns in our playing that enable us, most of the time, to reach a musical destination without too much effort.
Q: Comment on your longtime relationship with Glenn Morrow and how you appreciate each other.
A: Working with Glenn Morrow is great because he knows us well enough to understand our particular way of working and he seems to be able to appreciate the fact that we're not a typical band.
Q: How does it make you feel that The Feelies resonate with a young indie-rock, DIY crowd?
A: It makes me feel good to know that we have some significance beyond being merely a nostalgia band. Having an alternative to the mainstream is as vital now as it's ever been, especially since the music business seems to be in a transitional phase.
Q: What does that say about your music, particularly the independent, DIY way in which you pursue it, such as recording and rehearsing in your North Haledon home?
A: I'm not sure what it says about our music. Our approach has always been the same -- to write songs and to be actively involved in the entire process along the way, until the finished product is released. For us, writing, arranging, producing, sequencing, mastering, packaging is all part of the same creative endeavor.
Q: After all this time, you still live in North Haledon. What do you like most about your hometown and why?
A: I still live here in North Haledon because it's comfortable being in these familiar surroundings. For me, it's just the right size and population. I particularly like its proximity to nature, being in the midst of a mountain range, near a pond and a reservoir and the wide variety of the wildlife I encounter on a daily basis.
Q: How did it make you feel when Crazy Rhythms named their record store after your album?
A: I wasn't aware of that. We saw it written on some old sheet music.
Q: What was your favorite New Jersey venue during the first two incarnations of the band throughout the ’80s and why, and what is your favorite New Jersey venue now and why?
A: Maxwell's in Hoboken was my favorite venue for many years, until recently. We had many ties with the club. Our manager during the ’80s, Steve Fallon, was a co-owner, and we used to rehearse there. We filmed our video for ‘Away’ there. My wife and I met there, and we had our wedding reception there as well.
I don't have a current favorite club since my club going days are behind me now.
Q: Do you have a sense how the New Jersey music scene has changed since 1980? If so, what do you think the most significant change is and why?
A: A lot of things have changed in the music business and that's reflected at the local level as well. I think the Internet and file sharing has had a huge impact. In general, the world has changed so much that I tend to focus on the things that don't change, like the feeling I get playing the guitar or finishing a song.
The Feelies at mid-‘80s soundcheck at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.
Q: The Feelies sold out two shows at Rough Trade in Brooklyn and had to add a third, just a couple of weeks after playing in Jersey and Philly. Yet, the tour schedule on the web site seems a little skinny with just two Midwest shows planned for the summer. Since there is an obvious demand for live Feelies in the local metropolitan area, do you think you’ll add some area shows?
A: I don't think we'll be playing again in this area for a while, although we might play in Connecticut in the fall.
Q: What is else coming up for The Feelies as far as recordings, videos and anything else you have going on?
A: Aside from the upcoming shows, we don't have anything planned right now, although we may decide to do something with video.
Q: What other music and artistic projects are you working on or going to be working on soon?
A: I don't have any specific projects right now, although I often record things at home on my own, and some of that could lead me somewhere at some point. I'm also returning to my background in visual arts by painting again.
Overlake | “Fall” | Bar/None
You have to hand it to Hoboken-based Bar/None Records for their loyalty to the New Jersey music scene. In addition to lots of love for The Feelies (see interview here/above), they also recently put out the Bruce Steinhardt (Bouncing Souls)-produced punk trio The Moms and have been in talks with the great New Brunswick band Sink Tapes.
Now they’re about to release “Fall,” the label debut for the noisy Jersey City dream-pop trio Overlake. Fans of Dinosaur Jr., The Cure, early Pink Floyd and Bar/None’s own Yo La Tengo will enjoy vocalist Tom Barrett’s pop overtones and alternatingly sentimental, morose lyrics beaten and broken by his swirling, bending, dissonant guitar mash, then put back together by the driving, propulsive rhythms of bassist Lysa Opfer and drummer Nick D’Amore.
The yin-yang of this project also is found in Barrett’s whispery vocal and Opfer’s angelic backing vox cooing in one ear, as delay-drenched guitar punches the other. The Dick Dale-like guitar bends of “Gardener’s Bell,” the scrawling, booming battle that is “And Again,” and the squawking, ringing, Beatles-tinged closer “Goodbye,” especially the buzz-saw ending, are my favorite parts of the eight-song album. But “Fall” is solid throughout, thanks in part to engineer/co-producer Tom Beaujour (Nada Surf, Jennifer O’Connor) helping to keep the band’s endearing pop elements from drowning in waves of delicious noise. Kudos also go to Claudia Chopek (Bruce Springsteen, Moby, Norah Jones) for tastefully adding a mournful violin in spots, especially on the pining “Pines on the Beach.”
Having toured nationwide since mid-April, Overlake are returning home to rock May 10 at Ortlieb's in Philadelphia, with We Have Ghosts and Janelle; May 11, Brighton Bar, Long Branch, with Magic Mountain and Secretary Legs, and at their record release party on May 12 at Mercury Lounge, New York City, with HEAVEN and Dead Stars.
Disposable | “Can’t Stop Smiling”
Oh, how I love me some Disposable. They are one of those bands that, like two of my favorite artists, Louis Armstrong and Allen Toussaint, will brighten your day no matter how you are feeling emotionally or physically. Of course, their boisterous blend of soul, punk, surf and ska is much louder, intense and cacophonic than Satchmo and Touissaint, but the resulting joy is the same and totally lives up to the title of the powerfully eclectic trio’s third EP, “Can’t Stop Smiling.”
From the opening tsunami of “4th Wave” to the closing soulfulness of “Where Do We Stand,” this six-song follow-up to 2013’s “This EP Is Disposable” and last year’s “The Kamikaze Funk Up” is a tasty treat.
I love how vocalist Chen soulfully steps up on “Looking Back” and “Where Do We Stand,” proving his singing talent matches his deep guitar and ukulele chops. Sometimes his vocals are overshadowed live, simply because this band has so much energy, which also is distilled from bassist Moe’s and drummer Jay’s wild antics.
Fans of punk-soul brothers The Battery Electric will love “Looking Back,” which channels Cheap Trick, The Ramones, James Brown and Jackson 5. What a mix!
I’m glad Disposable re-recorded and improved upon “Busy, Busy, Busy” from the first EP because it’s a great song that deserves the better treatment featured on the trio’s best record yet. Props to engineer Surfin’ Chris and producer-engineer Dan Lavanche for capturing the joyful essence and live energy of Disposable so well. Check it out live and help celebrate this great release on May 13 at the Clash Bar. Also the band’s five-year anniversary celebration, the show will include The Penniless Loafers, Bunchajerks, and Coach N' Commando, plus reggae spins by Steady Sound System.
RGD | “Northern Late Nights”
There’s something about the hopefulness of making music at the organic local level that leads many artists to never say die, to keep on keepin’ on. Longtime New Brunswick scenester Gary Kaplan, who touched the brass ring with Dandelion Fire and Rotator Cuff but never got to wear it, is among them. His new band, RGD, featuring Roadside Graves bassist Dave Jones and veteran drummer Ryan Stalcup, shares his passion for rockin’ on.
I am not sure why Kaplan opted to do this project alongside the successful and popular Fletchers, because they sound a lot alike. I guess when you get to work with experienced players like Jones and Stalcup, as well as Lowlight guitarist-producer Derrill Sellers and their keyboardist and his wife, Dana, you don’t turn it down.
Derrill Sellers does a great job keeping things fresh amongst a seven-song selection of derivative styles and sounds. Fans of The Wallflowers will enjoy RGD’s rootsy, jangly, organ-tinged take on alternative rock and’60s power pop with the opening “Gone Today,” especially Dana Sellers’ fine turn with a Hammond sound.
The Who-like “Abandoning Ship,” the Lennonesque “A Million Reasons,” the Kinksish “Hey Louise,” and the Mott the Hoople-sounding “Everything Is Alright” also are enjoyable. Enjoy it live when RGD celebrate the release on May 13 at Pino’s in Highland Park with Creeping Charlie and Angular Brothers.
On the heels of helping to open the long-awaited White Eagle Hall in their hometown of Jersey City, the husband-and-wife two-piece Sunshine & the Rain will cross the river to celebrate the release of their debut LP, “In the Darkness of My Night,” on May 12 at Pianos on Ludlow Street. Sharing the bill will be Tris McCall, Fascinations Grand Chorus and The Porchistas …
The Centennials will release their sophomore EP, “Fin,” on May 12 at The Saint with a super-stacked show featuring Lowlight, Fun While You Wait, Casino Sundae, and Jeff Linden and the Black Spot Society. The record is a follow up to “Morse Code,” their four-song 2015 debut …
Julian Fulton will release “Battered Receptions,” his fourth EP since 2012, on May 12 at a free show at Asbury Park Yacht Club on the boardwalk with his backing band, the Zombie Gospel. Sharing the bill will be the beloved Asbury two-piece Yawn Mower and Illiterate Light, a unique folk-rock duo from Virginia. If you pre-order the forthcoming EP, you will receive a free download of the single, “Howl” (listen to stream above), which has gotten Fulton skads of recent press, including “Jersey Rock” Artist of the Week on 95.9 the Rat. Other upcoming shows include May 20 at John & Peter’s, New Hope, Pa.; May 21, Gold Sounds, Brooklyn, and Sofar Sounds, New York City; June 10, Triumph Brewing Co., Princeton; July 10, Wonder Bar, Asbury Park; July 25, Canalside Park, Boonton; Veterans Park, July 29, Bayville, and Bethlehem Musikfest, Aug. 11 …
The Red Mill in Clinton will host a May 13 outdoor music festival on its grounds featuring nine bands from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. American Spirits Roadhouse organized the Little Red Mill Rooster Fest to benefit The Red Mill, a 19th century living history museum on the site of a historic gristmill that is one of the most scenic and easily recognizable spots in New Jersey. Performing will be Mike DeVita & The Slick Back Boys, Cosmic Jerry Band, Keith Kenny, CC & The Boys, IDB, The Outcrops, Above Ground Blues Band, HollowPoint, and Big Bone Daddy. Highlights also will include craft vendors, food and non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Tickets are $15 online, $20 at the door and free for children 15 and younger. Ticket holders are invited to attend the complimentary after party featuring Glue Factory Band, Every Other Sunday and a midnight jam featuring members of Rooster Fest acts …
Bar/None Records chief Glenn Morrow (Rage to Live, The Individuals, “a,”) will bypass his own label and release the self-titled debut LP of his new band, Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help, on the Jersey City-based indie Rhyme and Reason Records on June 23. A taste can be enjoyed above with a stream of the single, “Comfort Zone,” the Hoboken indie-rock veteran’s reaction to the damage and departure caused by Hurricane Sandy. Morrow is a good chunk of the reason why Rhyme and Reason exists, having mentored owner Emmy Black as an employee for many years before launching on her own with Bar/None’s support, including shared office space. Look for my review of the LP on June 22 …
The Jersey hard rock band Rahway will release their latest LP, “Undefeated,” on June 3, then celebrate its release on June 10 at Crossroads in Garwood with Commonwealth, Everything Falls, Headmotor, and host Don Jamieson of “That Metal Show.” Tickets are $12. Check out the video for the title track below.
Bob Makin is the reporter at www.mycentraljersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com.