Stan Demeski is a legend, whether you know it or not. He’s also a very kind and funny man with a great/subtle sense of humor and he’s one hell of a record collector. Most importantly, he’s one of the finest drummers of our generation. Most known for having been the driving force behind The Feelies for the last 30-plus years, he’s played in other terrific and diverse bands, such as Luna, Speed The Plough, The Trypes and The Phosphenes (who were before his stint with The Feelies and whose one E.P. I have and still love).
I had the good fortune of getting into a Q & A-styled conversation with Mr. Demeski recently and here are the fruits of our chat. Thanks go to Howard Wuelfing and to Stan Demeski for being gracious and patient with his time and thoughts.
You’ve been with The Feelies since 1986. Over thirty years.
Actually I started playing with Glenn, Bill, Dave and Keith in 1981.
How does it feel, when you have all these other musical projects that you participate in, to come back to The Feelies after a certain amount of time apart?
It’s been great. When the band stopped playing in 1991, it was not under good circumstances. Nothing real bad, but I felt a lot of effort had been wasted. So this go round has made up for some of that.
Understandably, people change, grow and evolve so how do you maintain the joy to still play and perform together?
This band is one of my favorite groups of people to play with and it’s real drum/percussion orientated music. When I first went down to play with them, I was a percussion/music ed major in college. Many of the things we were doing in percussion ensemble at school were being done by the band in a rock music context. It was really exciting. I felt I had found ”my people”. In many ways, it’s still like that.
Talk about some of the other bands you’ve played with over the years – The Phosphenes (who I loved)…
I grew up mostly in Lyndhurst, NJ. 3 of The Phosphenes were from Lyndhurst (including the original drummer that I replaced) and the singer was from Kearney. They sounded like Red-era King Crimson who couldn’t play their instruments quite as well and with more of a punk edge. The original drummer quit and I was called in to record the E.P. It was the 2nd release on Coyote. The guitar player played on the 1st Swans EP around the same time and was getting some well deserved attention, but after a while he realized it was not what he wanted to do. We threw away what I thought was a pretty big opportunity and stopped playing live. But we did continue to play in the basement, jamming and recording for a few more years. It was great and we’re all still friends. The bass played is married to Steve Fallon’s youngest sister and I recently met up with Tim, the singer after many years.
After The Feelies went on hiatus, Dean contacted me to do some playing. I was ready to leave music and was reluctant to to play with another band, but he offered to pay me. I needed a job and I agreed to play on part of the 1st L.P. Somehow, the gentleman who was the live drummer and was supposed to play on (at least) part of the L.P. lost his position. The Feelies were officially dropped by A&M around that time and I continued with the band, mostly in a project by project situation. We did become “a band” after awhile, of course. But it was really Dean and Justin’s band and when I started refusing to do certain shows/tours, I was let go. Looking back, getting let go was one of the best things to happen to me. It was time to stop touring and I didn’t have a lot in common with the other members except music. Luna was great in that it was very much unlike The Feelies, so it was a nice change for awhile. I wish we would have had more success.
The Trypes, Speed The Plough…
These 2 bands are pretty much the same band and we even were called Sunburst or awhile. It’s mostly John and Toni’s (my in laws) band. Or bands. Dave was the drummer for The Trypes, but he became a bit unreliable for a short time and I was kind of pressured into taking his place. I really didn’t want to, but I did.
What was it like playing in different bands – did it allow you the freedom to build on being an even more powerful and diverse drummer?
I did it mostly to get experience and to try to make something happen as far as a career in music goes. Most of the bands were in a similar vein. I think the music I practice and play by myself helps with the diversity part.
You are, after all, a very musical drummer, which often gets overlooked – you know where and when to fill the holes and when to hang back. Do you look at that element of your playing as being the most joyful part of holding it all together?
Thanks, I don’t think I overplay, if that’s what you mean. I try to support the song and since I’m not a real outgoing person or an attention hog, that’s easy to do. Many times, I’m playing what my favorite drummers played in similar situations. Usually the exact fills or beats and feels.
With The Feelies, what is the process in arranging and putting the songs together? Are they done in a manner of “you’re the drummer, you figure out what goes here” or “you’re the bass player, you play what you think works” or are the songs presented in a pre-arranged format?
Glenn sometimes has demos with drum machines, but these days more likely, a basic drum set or percussion parts, he plays himself. They’re pretty simple, but what I end up playing is, too. I usually change the drum parts he comes up with a little to fit the rhythm guitar more. With Bill’s songs, it’s usually just a guitar demo. If they don’t have drum parts, I try to come up with basic working parts they can change or modify when we play together. Neither of them write out drum charts or anything like that, although I can read pretty well and I’d be okay with that. Sometimes, we just jam or run through new songs to learn them, but that happens less these days, due to logistics. While I don’t exactly feel they ”write” the exact drum parts, they do have final say over them. It’s never a case of them wanting me to play something I don’t want to or wouldn’t play. I think I play the parts the way they want to hear the drums played and they fine tune it from there.
What brought about this reunion?
It was time to do it. I think it would have happened sooner, if various circumstances had been different. But it’s like a bonus round. What’s going on to be an 9 year bonus round so far.
How did you feel about and during the closing days of Maxwell’s?
Sad, but not overwhelming so. Places come and go. I figured it was dead when Steve sold it. I have to give Todd and his partners a lot of credit for bringing it back in what were pretty different times.
Let’s talk about the “Sunday Night Cocktail Hour Dance Party”. When are you going to actually present it at a club? Every week you pull out such fantastic gems (and I can’t resist label geeking when you do)!
I’ve been offered a few D.J. spots, but I’m pretty shy and I’m not sure I could handle a live D.J. situation. I’d be more inclined to go on the radio. The one big problem I have is – besides time – I have a modest record collection. There are many other D.J.’s who are much more knowledgeable and have much bigger collections than I do. I got involved with a group called Hi Res Audio Central, with the idea of archiving and posting my collection, but I kind of spazzed out, not being a very good tech guy. Something will more than likely still happen, but between having a full time job, the band, my house and family, I don’t have much spare time.
How does it feel seeing your son, John, now occupying your old seat as drummer with Speed The Plough?
Both John and my daughter Kate play drums, although Kate pretty much set them aside for guitar and bass after high school. It’s great seeing him play but keep that day job, young man.
UPCOMING FEELIES DATES:
Saturday March 4 – Vintage Vinyl, Fords, NJ
Friday April 28 – Rent Party* at The Woodland, Maplewood, NJ
Saturday April 29 – World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA
Friday May 12 – Rough Trade, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday May 13 – Rough Trade, Brooklyn NY
In Between is available now.