When The Feelies cut their first big album in 1980, they had just been dubbed by the Village Voice as “the best underground band in New York City.” It was a time when punk was emerging as the sound of a generation, and with their strong drum and bass section, The Feelies were a part of that.
“I guess the influence of punk on us was in a broad sense,” says founding member and lead guitarist Glenn Mercer. “The novel, quirky, party aspect of it had an impact.”
But Mercer wouldn’t box The Feelies in as a punk band. As they’ve developed, their sound has certainly changed as well.
“We went kind of against [punk] in a way too,” he says. “We went with distorted guitars, vocals in a higher range. In that sense we wanted to distance ourselves from punk.”
They listened to all sorts of music for inspiration, from African percussion albums to the experimental music of Philip Glass.
“So much goes into the mix,” Mercer says.
After their first album Crazy Rhythms, the drummer and bassist left and new members Brenda Sauter and Stanley Demeski joined. By the time their next album came out, The Good Earth, in 1985, there was a softer feel.
“A change like [two new members] has an impact,” Mercer says. “Brenda isn’t as aggressive on the bass, and Stan has a different feel on the drums. The songwriting changed as well.”
But the changes in the group tended to come naturally.
“It’s been a gradual evolving,” Mercer says.
With about 20 years between the third and fourth albums, there was plenty of time for the members to grow. And at first, Mercer wasn’t thinking about getting back together. It just felt like it was time to pursue their music separately, that The Feelies were one step on a much longer personal journey for each of them.
“For a few years before we reformed,” Mercer recalls, “there was a lot of indication that there was interest in the band. Requests for licensing, requests to reissue the albums, a lot of internet activity.”
Other bands, notably REM, also cited The Feelies as influences in their own work. That got them thinking about getting back together. Then, when Sonic Youth asked them to play a reunion show with them in Battery Park for the Fourth of July in 2008, they decided it was time.
“It felt great to be back,” Mercer says. “It was familiar.”
Immediately, they decided if they were going to play together again, they’d produce a new album.
“It was a top priority for us to cut a new record,” Mercer says. “We only got together infrequently, so we did a lot of work on our own to make optimum use of our time.”
The fact that much of their work was done independently in the comforts of their own homes has an influence on the sound of their most recent album, Here Again (2011).
“It’s the same people playing,” Mercer says, “and our approach is pretty much the same. What’s different is we don’t get to play together as much as we want to, so we do more work with demos than previously, so we’d have something to work off of.”
At their shows, The Feelies try to let the set list run the gamut from early work to brand new stuff. They sometimes do covers, as well as material from all of their albums.
“We’ve been doing two sets, playing for close to three hours,” Mercer says. “We’ll cover a lot of ground.”
The Feelies will play at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach on Saturday, April 26 at 8 p.m. For tickets call the box office at 631-288-1500 or go to whbpac.org.