by Patricia Grandjean
Jul 21, 2011
02:50 PMBox Office
Q & A: Bill Million/The Feelies
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In the 1980s and early ’90s they created a series of guitar-driven, avant-garde pop albums—Crazy Rhythms, The Good Earth, Only Life—that are still cherished touchstones of American indie music. Their songs have been featured in acclaimed movies from Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob and Something Wild (in which, billed as The Willies, they also covered The Monkees’ “I‘m a Believer” and the country standard “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”) to Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale. They’ve shared stages with admirers like Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Patti Smith, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. Yet, you still may never have heard of the influential New Jersey band, the FEELIES (named for a notorious diversion in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World). Well, here’s your chance to catch up. The band swings by Milford’s Daniel Street Club July 22 at the end of what has been not exactly a tour—more a limited series of Friday and Saturday dates undertaken since May in support of a new album, Here Before. Listening to it seems like old times, which is particularly remarkable given that this is the first Feelies album in 20 years. For more info on the show, call (203) 877-4446 or visit danielstreetclub.com.
I wanted to say I love the new album and "welcome back." It feels as though no time has passed. When I listened to the album I was like, "This could be 1987." Did it feel that way for the band?
No; it was exactly the opposite. We don't really over-think things like that, but initially, when we got together, there were some rough spots. But ultimately, everyone was pretty comfortable with each other, even after not playing for so long. It was just a matter of tuning up, so to speak.
What lead to your leaving the group 20 years ago, and then coming back together after so much time away?
To answer the first part of the question; there were a number of things. One big reason for leaving was really, a lack of inspiration. There seemed a sameness about what we were doing—we were playing a lot more than was suitable to all of us, and it literally became a grind. I found myself looking down at a set list during a show and counting how many songs we had left. It was at that time I realized, it was time to take a break. We had always kind of agreed that when we came to the point where we didn't enjoy what we were doing, it was time to stop. Of course, I stopped and that stop lasted 20 years!
But there were also some personal things going on . . . my sister, who I was very close with, was dying of cancer, so I was dealing with that. And my parents were down in Florida, and we were dealing with them long distance. That had a big impact. So there were a number of things going on. And I just put my guitar away and figured, if the time came to pick it up again, I'd know it. I literally stopped playing.
One of my sons decided he wanted to play guitar; he asked for an acoustic guitar for Christmas, and I bought it for him. So there was this successibility to having this guitar around the house and watching him play that kind of led me back into it.
How'd that lead back to the Feelies?
Glenn and I had been in touch for quite some time. We had a licensing request on some songs, so had spoken because of that. The band had never stopped playing on bad terms—I figured everyone kind of understood that—so that was not a big issue to get over. So when Glenn and I started talking about this licensing deal, we talked about the possibility of getting back together and playing. It just took awhile; there were a few things I had to get past. Once that happened a reunion fell into place pretty easily.
What had you been doing all the years you had not been playing music?
Just working . . . I had kind of gotten involved in microelectronic access, computers.
So, you started working on this album last year?
Kinda sort of. When we first got back together Glenn had two songs that we immediately started playing. I think what really brought us back together was a request from Sonic Youth to play a show in [Brooklyn's] Battery Park with them. It's sort of this summer series that the city of New York puts on. Anyway, they were insisting we play, to the point that they weren't taking no for an answer. Our idea had been to get back together and see how it felt and kinda go from there. But right from that very first show we were already playing two songs that were on Here Before. That was in 2008.
Last year, around the Fourth of July we had played a date, and we decided that we just wanted to dedicate our time to making an album. we thought if we just kept playing, we'd get too easily sidetracked from that task. So we got a little more intensely devoted to recording the middle of last year.
By the way, you played one show recently in which you played just songs from Crazy Rhythms, right?
Yes—there's this festival called All Tomorrows Parties. One of the nights is dedicated to taking an artist or group and having them play what they might consider their signature album from beginning to end, in sequence. A strange sort of idea and a peculiar request, I think. They asked us for either Crazy Rhythms or The Good Earth; I thought there were too many guitar changes in The Good Earth. My take on it, when we were done, was, "Wow—what was that all about?"
Personally, I was kind of glad it was over. It was an interesting challenge that we had all agreed to do, but there's something that I hink we all look for when we perform, and you can get into certain situations when you're performing live that preclude your achieving that.Playing something from beginning to end would be one of those. Particularly for a band like ours—we develop our sets a certain way; they start slower and they tend to build. When you're doing something in sequence like that, you tend to lose that whole element.