The Feelies’ Glenn Mercer on Showing ‘Some Kind of Love’ Covering the Music of the Velvet Underground, Songwriting, and Returning to The Willies

When the Feelies returned in 2008 after a 17-year hiatus, the band started playing a series of shows before releasing two new albums—Here Before in 2011 and 2017 release In Between. A year later, the band was asked to perform for the Velvet Underground Experience, an exhibit chronicling the band’s history. Initially, the curators of the show, which was moving from Paris to New York City, wanted several bands who were influenced by the Velvet Underground to perform at the exhibit, but when it was eventually delayed and the venue changed to one without a performance space, the Feelies went ahead with their tribute show on their own.

“We had already started rehearsing and were geared up for it,” Feelies co-founder Glenn Mercer tells American Songwriter. “So when we found out we couldn’t play at the exhibit, we thought, ‘Well, we’ll just do the show anyway.”

Out of the show, the band—founding members Mercer, Bill Million, and keyboardist Dave Weckerman, along with longtime bassist Brenda Sauter and drummer Stan Demeski—ended up with a new recording, Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground, the Feelies’ first live album.

Recorded at the White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, New Jersey on October 13, 2018, by Scott Anthony, who worked on In Between, and other Feelies projects, the curated setlist hit four corners of the Velvet Underground’s six-year span. Set around the band’s first four albums through Loaded in 1970, which is often considered the last Velvet Underground album since it featured founding members Lou Reed, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and early drummer Moe Tucker.

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The 18-song set started at the beginning with The Velvet Underground & Nico opening “Sunday Morning,” and ended on the closing Loaded track “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” On the latter song, the Feelies were joined by their early cohorts The Bongos’ James Mastro and Richard Barone, who also joins on “I Can’t Stand It.”

Days after the Feelies’ Velvet show, Mercer and Weckerman joined Barone, who wrote the 2022 book Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s for a more stripped-down set of covers. “It enabled us to do two shows so we covered a lot more material,” says Mercer. “I didn’t want to do what we had just done with the Feelies, so we did some [Brian] Eno and [solo] Lou Reed.”

Along with some signature Velvet songs including “I’m Waiting for the Man,” ‘White Light/White Heat,” “Sweet Jane,” and “Rock & Roll,” the Feelies capture the Velvet Underground’s experimental ethos on Some Kinda Love, produced by Mercer and Bill Million, through some instrumental reworkings and Mercer following Lou Reed’s lead and deadpan demeanor. Sauter also takes on Moe Tucker’s honeyed vocals on “After Hours” and a monophonic Nico on “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”

[RELATED: The Perplexing Meaning Behind “Sweet Jane” by Velvet Underground]

Though the Velvet Underground’s “Some Kind of Love,” the album namesake, and other songs like “Venus in Furs” and “Heroin” were left out of the set, they were replaced by some unexpected cuts including “Run Run Run” from Velvet’s 1967 debut, the penultimate White Light/White Heat track “I Heard Her Call My Name” and “New Age” and “Head Held High” from Loaded.

The Velvet catalog wasn’t unnatural for the New Jersey indie rock pioneers, who covered them throughout the decades and recorded Lou Reed’s “What Goes On” for the Feelies’ third album Only Life in 1989. And it’s not far from the Feelies’ offshoot band, The Willies, which first started playing covers and instrumentals by the early ‘80s. The Feelies were also credited as the Willies in Jonathan Demme’s 1986 comedy Something Wild,

Around a decade apart in origin, The Feelies and the Velvet Underground also shared a common musical bond. Both bands impacted the trajectory of what would come after. Formed in 1964, the Velvet Underground provided an artsier framework for punk, alternative, and more that emerged years later, while the Feelies would do the same after forming in the mid-’70s within indie and modern rock.

Velvet Underground also had an undeniable influence on the exploratory nature of the Feelies. “They [The Velvet Underground] were ahead of their time,” says Mercer. “I think that they just had an approach that was very appealing to people who are just starting and playing. It’s simple songs. The structures are very low-key and stripped down. It’s the kind of thing you listen to and you think ‘That’s something within my grasp.’”

He added, “It’s just a reminder of the important stuff. You can leave out the stuff you don’t need.”

When it comes to songwriting, the “important stuff” is non-conceptual before it becomes conceptual once the “craft” kicks in for Mercer, who has been weaving together the band’s lyrics, along with Million since their 1980 debut Crazy Rhythms.

“Every song has a different beginning,” explains Mercer. “There’s no set way that I write. Typically, I’ll be playing guitar, fooling around with cover songs before some original stuff pops out. It’s not a thought process, it’s more of a feeling and it’s a rhythm until you’re thinking ‘How do I get from this point to that point?’”

He continues, “It’s mostly very inspired, where I’ll be playing guitar and something will pop into my head—either a chord progression, a little riff, or something that will lead me in a direction. It’s instinctual, those little things that come into your head, and part of it is the craft and being open to being led somewhere. A melody will pop in my head. Then the melody will suggest certain vowel sounds or phrases that lead to ideas and lyrics. It’s almost like the song is there, and you have to chip away at all the stuff in the way for it to be revealed.”

All along the Feelies’ catalog, spanning more than four decades, Mercer still has a connection to the earlier songs. “I always have a connection to them,” he says. “I don’t go back and listen to them, but when we’re performing them, there’s definitely a connection to the spark that initiated the songwriting process.”

For now, the Feelies wrapped up a tour around Some Kinda Love and are set to play a set of shows in fall 2024, including the Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 20 and the Warehouse in Fairfield, Connecticut on September 21. In 2022, Mercer and Million also revisited The Willies and are considering working on an album around the side project.

“We’re thinking about doing a Willies record or combining the two like David Bowie‘s ‘Low’ where you had instrumentals and songs together,” says Mercer. “Or we might do two separate records. Sometimes it’s good to have a deadline and a project in mind because it can give you some momentum,” adds Mercer, “but it’s often just for the fun of doing it.”

Photos: John Baumgartner

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