Artist Spotlight: Thinking Fellers Union Local 282

These fellers have brought me so much joy throughout the years. Formed in Iowa of all places, but they were smart enough to get the heck out of there and over to San Francisco in the late 80s. To give you an idea of their musical prowess, let me just list the personnel and instruments used as credited on their record, “Lovelyville”

• Paul Bergmann – drums

• Mark Davies – bass guitar, guitar, Casio synthesizer, drums, euphonium, vocals, trombone on “Nothing Solid”

• Anne Eickelberg – bass guitar, vocals

• Brian Hageman – guitar, viola, tape, vocals, mandolin

• Jay Paget – drums

• Hugh Swarts – guitar, vocals

In ’91, I caught a glimpse of their, at the time, latest release in the new release bin at the wonderful but now sadly long gone Murmur records in Orlando. Total blind buy. Their name was unusual enough to catch my eye and it was on Matador records, which in ’91, meant chances were good I’d like it at the very least.

The record blew me away. I was hooked somewhere in the middle of the first song, “Four O’Clocker Two” This song. Whoosh. The vocals shouldn’t fit the song. Or any song, and yet they do. The sharp turn at the 1:30 point. Where the hell did that come from? Then when the whole band kicks in… the 4/4 guitar, tied to the second guitar playing in 5/4, with the bass part recycling every third bar. I mean, c’mon! I was 20 years old. I hadn’t heard anything quite like this. And I loved it. Have a listen…

Lovelyville silly, catchy, proggy, and FUN. Full of unexpected twists and turns. A kitchen sink built and installed by a demented plumber.

So now we go back in time a bit. As soon as I could, I went back and got their previous two releases, 1988’s Wormed by Leonard, available on cassette only at the time and 1989’s Tangle.

Wormed is half great tunes and half sketches and jam space silliness. They had a propensity to record their practices and would (mostly) judiciously edit the best of ‘em for between song interstitials. These jam improvs would stay throughout their career, affectionately to be known among fans as “Feller Filler”

This here is probably the prettiest song from Leonard. It’s called “Hell Rules”.

Tangle is a much more focused affair. Only a couple filler snippets. A fine collection of songs. My pick for this one is “Change Your Mind” It’s nutzo. It’s wonderful.

Next up, we’ve got the sprawling double LP “Mother of All Saints” There are so many choice cuts that exemplify their genius on this one which, IMO, is their masterpiece. Here’s my sophie’s choice for best track on an album full of best tracks, “Tell Me”

Their next LP, Strangers from the Universe wouldn’t come out until 1994, but in ’93, they graced us with a tight 4 song EP, Admonishing the Bishops. The title is a nod to their recent tour mates and compadres, the Sun City Girls. The lead off track, “Hurricane” is a welcome invitation to the record, but my pick for examplification is the last track, “Father” It starts with controlled chaos and ends with kick-ass jam.

Now comes the time for 1994’s Strangers From the Universe. I was living in Gainesville at the time and somehow, the ban I was plying with scored the opening slot. Of all the shows I’ve played, this one is still the feather in my cap. The night they played was fall back Daylight Savings Time day. When the clock hit last call at 2, they had already played for about an hour and a half. When it tardiest back to 1 again and they just went ahead and kept playing for another :45. Troopers! And as I found out later, a couple fellers were suffering from colds at the time. And to give you an idea of how obsessed I was at the time, I had requested the next day off to go see their next show in Orlando. My boss said no, so I quit. Me and the rest of the band ended up following them around like a dead heads (Feller-heads?) for every Florida show on this tour. Five straight days of Fellers. Not the smartest decision, but I was 24 and full of whatever mind altering substance I could get my hands on on any particular day. NO REGRETS!

The lead track, “My Pal the Tortoise” is probably the most accessible track, but I’m picking “February” due to it’s prominent banjo and insane lead playing from Brian Hageman.

That was their last record for Matador. They were no Pavement. Just a little too weird for low scale “mainstream” crossover like Malk and the boys. But that didn’t stop ‘em. No way!

Ajax records, a fine label and distributor outta Chicago, put out a nearly full length EP, also in 1994, called The Funeral Pudding. Half “Feller Filler” and half some of their best songs. Let’s now fill our earballs with my favorite, “23 Kings Crossing”

Their penultimate record, I Hope It Lands, came out in 1996 on Communion, another fine 90s indie label. In hindsight, the two year gap was a sign that things were obviously winding down for the fellers. But the extra time gave them the opportunity to fine tune every track and it’s probably their best sounding studio recording. Here’s my favorite track, “Lizard’s Dream”. A bouncy, fun track about a lizard in love. I don’t know who found the video footage that goes with this youtube, but they nailed it.

Apart from a couple singles, their last LP, the wonderfully titled, Bob Dinners and Larry Noodles Present Tubby Turdner’s Celebrity Avalanche, arrived in 2001. They knew it was their swan song, and what a song it was. They went full honey badger. They didn’t give a fuck. But they knew a legacy was left behind, as summed up by the song “’91 Dodge Van” here…

They made music for the sheer joy of making music, and they did it very well. I love ‘em. Always will.

Thanks for reading. I hope y’all enjoyed what you heard. for further info and entertainment I will direct you to their official website, for all the info you would need for your union apprenticeship.