The Feelies - Biography
In 1978, The Feelies were called the "best underground band in New York" by the Village Voice. Think about that. The year that punk broke and the best band in the Big Apple is made up of four preppy guys in glasses playing Beatles and Stones covers on guitars that don't go anywhere near 11. Of course, the operative word here was "underground," as the Feelies were so mysterious that they were rarely seen in public, often only performing on holidays. And their music would -- from their first album to their last -- be made up of an odd kind of skittering guitar rock that could never be pigeonholed. The Feelies remained a cult favorite, one of those hidden secrets that are so pleasurable to uncover.
The Feelies started out in 1976 as a suburban New Jersey trio called the Outkids, featuring Glenn Mercer on guitar and lead vocals, Bill Million on bass, and Dave Weckerman on drums. Soon after, brothers Vinnie and Keith DeNunzio (the latter going as Keith Clayton) joined as the rhythm section, with Million moving over to second guitar and Weckerman taking up percussion. They renamed the band the Feelies, after the sense-surround theaters in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The group practiced more than they played, developing a unique style of guitar interplay that took inspiration from The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, and the Velvet Underground.
In 1978, Vinnie DeNunzio quit just before the Village Voice article came out, making room for recent Ohio transplant Anton Fier to replace him. On their debut disc, Crazy Rhythms (1978 Stiff), the resultant quartet (Weckerman only played live at this point) sounded something like a companion to early Talking Heads, offering up a sinuous, nerdy alternative to punk. Aptly titled, the disc captured a brawny kind of braininess, featuring guitars that interlocked and then spun outward, like trains running off their tracks. The percussion -- handled by all members and utilizing everything from shakers to shoes -- was playful and exotic, like a caffeinated Latin drum corps. Underneath all the jittery rhythms was an air of menace, brought on by Mercer's Lou Reed-esque yelping. Rolling Stone would later pick it for its Top 100 albums of the '80s, while Spin tapped it as #49 on the best alternative LPs of all time.
Unfortunately, the disc sold very little. The Feelies weren't happy with their label, and the label wasn't happy with them, so the band disbanded. Anton Fier went on to join The Lounge Lizards and then form The Golden Palominos. Mercer and Million began playing alongside Weckerman, bassist Brenda Sauter, and drummer Stanley Demeski in a variety of different outfits like The Trypes, The Willies, and Yung Wu. As the folk-rocking Trypes, they released The Explorers Hold EP (1984 Coyote), while as Yung Wu they put out Shore Leave (1986 Coyote), a collection of covers and Weckerman-penned and -sung originals. The Willies, meanwhile, appeared as the high school band in the Jonathan Demme film Something Wild, covering David Bowie and the Monkees. (Demme initially wanted the group to play Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," but Million steadfastly refused.)
When Mercer and Million officially reconvened The Feelies, they were joined by Weckerman, Sauter, and Demeski for the recording of The Good Earth (1986 Twin Tone). Produced by REM's Peter Buck (who'd said the band was a strong influence), the album had a far more pastoral feel to it. Acoustic guitars were featured prominently on "The High Road" and "When Company Comes," and the rhythms were more straightforward and less, well, crazy. But the disc was just as fascinating, full of push-me, pull-you tensions and snaky guitar solos. Following its release, the band toured with Lou Reed and REM.
For their third disc, The Feelies signed to a major label and amped up the guitars. The cover of Only Life (1988 A&M) might have featured the group kicking it in front of an old farm house, but the music within was highly urban. A cover of the Velvet's "What Goes On" serves as the main touchstone, as songs like "Away" and "For Awhile" accelerated with verve and volume, snaking like a rattler after a muskrat -- Tense, taught, and electric.
The Feelies' fourth and final disc, Time For a Witness (1991 A&M), was their most underrated -- mainly because it sounded a lot like their past efforts. Which wasn't bad; just not so revolutionary. Nitpicking aside, songs like "Doin' It Again" and "Waiting" featured the same old Feelies euphoria, blasting off via galumphing drums and twin-guitar spazzing. The guitar tones were rougher and Mercer's vocals more sneering, as once again the sole cover (The Stooges' "Real Cool Time") provided insight.
The Feelies ended for good in 1991 when Million grabbed his family and moved to Florida to take a job at Disney World -- without bothering to tell his bandmates. "He had two kids at that point, and one of the things on his mind was health insurance," Mercer explained in a 2007 Village Voice interview.
The Feelies went just like they came: With a whisper and little screaming. Demeski had the most post-Feelies success, forming Luna with Dean Wareham, while Mercer and Weckerman started Wake Ooloo, and Sauter begat Wild Carnation. To this day, the group's influence continues to spring up, their unique sound inspiring legions of acts like The Bats, Bedhead, The Sea & Cake, Clap Your Hand Say Yeah, and Weezer. Crazy rhythms, indeed.
The band reunited in the fall of 2008, and played several shows in the New York area. They released a an LP, Here Before, in 2011.