Sunday, January 12, 2014

1999 Lungfish Interviews-Mitchell Feldstein portion

Mitchell Feldstein
Oct 9, 1999

Apparently we’re set with each other at this point, so that’s the way it’s gonna be. There’s no pressure really.

How can you tell if it’s going real well?

Well we hang out and play music together, it’s not, you know, we’re in a really fortunate position, we have no pressure, we don’t have to tour, we don’t have to sell, we can do whatever we want.  Make records.

That’s a good place to be…

Yeah I mean, what choice do I have? I mean, I’m not gonna run off and try to audition for another band or something. You know what I mean? Now, I’m a drummer, I have a different perspective.

You’re all making a conscious decision to do things this way.

I mean we don’t tour anymore and play shows, I mean, you don’t want to travel for six hours and play in front of 20 people, I don’t care who you are. Plus if you’ve been doing it for a while, it happens, I mean, what are you gonna do? If we were just doing it for that, then we would have stopped.

You mean if it’s just 20 people.

Yeah I mean a lot of people get frustrated, everyone wouldn’t like it, you know…

So why keep going, for 12 years?

I mean, jeez, I don’t know, you know. I mean… we’re immersed in popular culture, being in a rock band. I mean you want to try and play for as many people as possible, or I would just play for myself, but I don’t know how much fun that would be.

Not a whole lot…

No, you know I’m not one to just sit around and… I don’t like to make a lot of noise you know.

Who were your favorite drummers and musicians when you first started?

You mean when I first started to play drums?


Old stuff, you know, I mean, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones or something, the Kinks, you know I used to like English music first a lot, then I started gradually working my way back to like Bob Dylan and all those kind of, you know, as part of popular culture, the English bands were always first…

Did you listen to punk?

Oh yeah. I mean I was 18 years old in ’76. I think was right there when I started, I mean it started with glitter rock before punk rock, the first time I saw David Bowie, and the Spiders From Mars, that was the big… I mean it changed my life.

Were you in a band at the time?

I was always in bands yeah, from like 16 on. I always sort of had the feeling that it was something I wanted to do. Plus I realized I wasn’t big enough to be a boxer. Or something, you know.  When you’re a kid, you think about what you wanna be, it’s like a fireman, and a boxer, or whatever it is, you know. Or whoever you happen to meet when you’re 12. You always want to be a fireman, or a baseball player, or a boxer, you know.

Did you grow up in Baltimore?

I grew up in Philadelphia.

My dad did as well.


Um… Ardmore I think?

Oh yeah sure, I grew up in Penn Wynn. I went to Lower Merion.

That sounds familiar… how old are you?


How does it feel getting older, still playing in a rock band?

I remember one time, when I was living in Philly, because I was never young doing this, I started playing when I was 16, I probably wasn’t in a real group until I was 18… in my 20’s, I sort of had this whole debate, you know, this whole dilemma, when I was in my late 20’s, talking to a friend of mine at the time, and he said, “well no one ever told Muddy Waters they were too old. No one ever told Dock Boggs he was too old.”  I think it’s a cultural thing. It’s a popular cultural thing. If you wanna be in a rock band, you gotta be… you know, you gotta have a goatee now, so it looks good on MTV and that’s the way it is.

Yeah I live in Memphis now, and you know on that label Fat Possum, they’ve got guys in their 90’s to come play…

Right, so we’re not too old, you know, I’m not trying to be 20 either.

Maybe you’re thinking you don’t need to be a certain age…

You know if we keep doing this, people are going to start calling us a “post grunge band”, or whatever it is, we’re just a rock band…

What do you think about peoples’ impressions of Lungfish? A lot of people may not seem like they can get what you’re doing…

Well maybe there’s nothing to “get”, you know. It is possible we’re not that good, I mean, who knows.  I mean, I don’t know.  I mean maybe there’s nothing to get. We’re really lucky, Ian puts out all our albums, and doesn’t put any pressure on us.

Maybe not because there’s a message, but there’s people interested and they maybe want to know what you’re up to with this...

Yeah that’s like I do, I read a magazine, and read about a band, and I say “oh, that sounds interesting”, you know. I spend my whole life going through records that I’ve never heard of, there isn’t that much that I like, or reviews or something, I say “well that sounds interesting.”

What do you think when you read peoples’ cracks at it, if they’re not getting it, and if they’re trying to get it?

Well I think of bands that are as popular as we are, sort of like a minor league cult-type band, obviously we have people that like us, and that’s a small percentage, so that’s fine, you know. We’re not gonna be for the masses, you know, we’re not going to… appeal to, we’re not going to blow up, like the Memphis Coliseum, we’re not going to, you know, it’s not going to happen. It would be nice, you know.

Would you like that?

You know, like I would not have to work, but I’m too old for that, you know.

Do you sometimes feel like you need to have a creative outlet, like something else going on?

I mean, it’s always plan B.  I mean yeah, ideally I would like to be playing music eight months a year, for me, but not in the context of what we’re doing.

Could you do it?

Well, yeah I mean, if we played every night we could. Not to be rich or anything, but for as much as we make. I mean if you did it every night.

How about the new stuff you’ve been recording this month?

Oh yeah, it sounds good!

Asa was telling me about where you recorded it, it sounds really incredible…

Yeah it was really nice. It was here in Baltimore, at ACR Studios, it’s Adam, Craig, and uh… I don’t know, it’s been there for a while.  Craig’s been an engineer for about 10 years, and that’s why we recorded it there. Sounds good, you know. I mean, I grew up listening to music on a little tinny car stereo, and the shit sounded really good.  When you’re listening to music, you’ve gotta listen to what you’re hearing. I don’t mean like if you’re listening to this $5000 stereo there’s anything wrong with you, but also it’s kind of weird, just like it’s weird for people to be going to church every Sunday, it’s not bad, but you know, if I put on a good tape on that, it should sound just as good.

How active are you in the mixing, or recording, making it sound a certain way?

I give my opinion, but Dan and Asa do most of the work.  You know, but I’m there, I have a pretty bad ear, you know, the way I would work would be a lot different, you know, a lot longer and a lot slower, like if I had to do it, I’d do it a totally different way, so it’s fine. I’m definitely involved. You know, like I hear everything, you know, if I put my foot down, I’m sure it would work. But I don’t have to hear everything …

You’re in there with 3 different personalities…

Generally saying it’s the three of us, Nathan’s the fourth, but we’ve been together for 10 years, you know, we all understand our role, whether it’s tacit or implied, or overt, we know what we need to do to stay together, and I think you know it’s a matter of not talking about what we need to do all the time. I don’t believe in all those therapeutic moments and shit, you know. It’s not like you have to know people, it sorta happens.

Danny has a way of being evasive sometimes, often times his lyrics seem deliberately so, how do you deal with that?

Well I never really see the lyrics you know until I see the albums.


Well it’s hard you know, cause you can’t hear everything. You know, if you’re playing live and stuff, I mean it’s just like any good lyric, I think, or a good book, you might read a paragraph, one concept might really stick out, you know, as opposed to like…

Do you care about what he’s singing?

Of course. Yeah, I mean he’s not gonna sing about, you know, something that I might find repugnant, I don’t think. Offensive.  That’s what I mean, you know, it’s kind of implied. I mean if we have offended each other we deal with it, you know, not to the level where it might cause problems you know.

What led you to move to Baltimore?

I had a job offer, I figured ah what the heck, you know.  I lived in Philly my whole life. I was probably the least person everybody knew that would move out of their hometown, you know I was always of one of those people that probably would still live in their hometown and someday died. I had nothing to lose, you know, why not? It’s only 100 miles away. So you know, it wasn’t like I was going to move to Chile or something.

Do you see Baltimore in Lungfish?

Of course, I mean you’re affected by your surroundings, everything’s gonna… yeah.

Daniel really loves Baltimore…

Yeah I do too! I mean I’ve been here for 15 years.

… He put that lyric in there about Baltimore, and I asked him about it yesterday, and he said Baltimoreans, whatever the phrase may be, have kind of a complex or something where they think that their city doesn’t have what it appears they have, I mean do you feel you’re a local band to the degree you have a sort of Baltimore pride or something?

I don’t feel that, I mean, I’m proud to be from here, but I don’t think you know, it’s not like we’re on tour and going to have a fist fight or something in front of, you know…

Do you like to tour?

Yeah. I mean it’s hard now, we haven’t done it in a while, and I don’t know what would happen.

Do you want to?

At what level, I don’t know how I’d drive around in a van without heat…

You’ve done all that.

Yeah, I’m not saying I don’t want to tour, but we’re not kids anymore, at least I’m not, for sure, there would be a lot of considerations, versus, I mean it’s hard. Even for someone who’s 20, you don’t get that much rest.

You don’t have a family or anything you’d have to support.

No it’s just me, but still…

… It doesn’t mean you want to sleep on floors nonetheless.

Right.  Not that I mind that, but that gets a little weird for a 43 year old guy to be curled up in a sleeping bag on the floor. On a certain level.  I mean I look at my own apartment and I’m so freakin’ far behind some others, you know they’re all buying houses and having a good time, you know what I mean.  Sometimes I wonder if I should just give it all up and shoot for the other thing before I get too old. You know, just go for the gold.

Do you ever think about that?

Yeah sure, but I mean, at this point there’s no pressure, so it’s not like it’s affecting… we work around our schedules. You’re not giving anything up. I mean it’s not like, “oh my God, I can’t believe we’re not rich and famous.” Yeah I don’t think that’s why you do art in the first place, that might sound romantic, or write or draw ort anything, you know.

Do you do any of those types of things? Painting?

I write a little bit.  But not… you know.


Couple things. But not, you know… I just don’t pursue it. I’d have to be a little more aggressive.  I mean I read out occasionally and stuff so, it’s cool.

Where at?

Whoever asks me.

Open mikes and things?

Yeah kind of go do that, or if someone asks me if there’s a performance or something, I’ll read 2 or 3 times a year. So I write a little bit, so it’s cool.

Does it relate in any way to Lungfish? Like, you wouldn’t write for Lungfish at all?

No, I don’t think we need, I think Danny has that pretty well, you know, figured out.

There is such a thing as a “Lungfish song” or a “Lungfish sound”.

Well you turn on the radio and it’s like this band, or that band…

I mean you can listen to a song and say, “that’s Lungfish”.

I mean it’s like being bored or something, you don’t think about breathing, you just do it. There’s no marketing strategy or something, it’s just playing. It’s not like we have this thing to become secretive.  I mean, you can find me any time you want in Baltimore, you know. People know where I go! I don’t answer my door all the time, but you know. It’s not like we have any grand scheme to be something, you know, to be famous 30 years after we’re all dead, or anything like that.

Tell me about the Hour House and how that started.

I mean I was there, I didn’t live there… I like heat and stuff. [laughs] I mean it was a big warehouse, it was a pretty big party, you know, Baltimore can get pretty buck wild sometimes, you know.  Just pretty crazy, you know, I mean, it’s not like the good old days crazy, it’s crazy now. I try and fight that old man syndrome you know, “back in the good old days”, it’s not like that. I don’t think kids are having any less fun today then I did when I was a kid.

It’s just different.

Yeah I mean when you’re 18, you’re going to have different fun than when you’re 30 or 40 or 50.

What were they doing in there?

Just people and music, and yeah… there was music and there was partying, and it was pretty much underground, I mean it wasn’t sanctioned by anything, you know, it was bring your own… bring yourself and whatever you had with you, and just come to see bands play.

I didn’t know that you had started from that. I used to go there, a long time ago, I saw Shudder to Think there in 1990 or something…

At the Hour House?  I wonder if I was at that show…

Yeah it was on the top floor in the back…

They’re a really good band.

Yeah they’re really good.

I just got the soundtrack to “Velvet Goldmine” and they have their songs on there. I think what happened was they had to write a couple songs that sounded glitter rock.

Who else do you like these days, who do you listen to?

I don’t know. I mean, whatever. I listen to the Fall a lot.

Even newer stuff?

Yeah, I can’t wait for the new album, it’s gonna be out October the 12th, I’m gonna rush down to the store and get that.  Different stuff. It’s not like any one thing, I mean, whatever. I’ve always been a collector of music ever since I was… I mean I still remember when I bought my first single. I still remember that.

Which was?

It was the Monkees, “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone”, I just remember the act, like my mother giving me and my sister two dollars, you know, and we bought like 4 singles, so I’ve always liked buying records.

Even non-rock?

Oh yeah, I mean, I listen to a lot of non-rock…

…like jazz?

Sure, jazz, a little bit, classical music a little bit, it depends. Jazz I still think is kind of over my, I mean it’s hard for me to grasp.

Could you play jazz?

I don’t know, I mean I’ve never played really with any jazz players, but I would like to think I could. I don’t think I could play any Philly Joe Jones, but I think I could probably, a little bit, you know.

How hard is that stuff for you to play?

I don’t know, I don’t really know… especially the drummer, you’re more kind of…

…you have a style people emulate and hear about, and hear and connect with. I mean if you were just playing alone people would know who you are.

I understand that, I mean a stylist versus… see I couldn’t sit down with anybody and just play.

You don’t consciously think, when you play…

No, like “am I going to have to do this now?”  No, I don’t think so.

That’s changed, some of the new stuff is different in a way.

I’ll have to say it’s me and Asa and Nathan making up music together. So it’s not what I want to do, what Asa wants to do, what Nathan wants to do, it’s what we want to do together.

What happened with that first song on the new album?

What do you mean?

Well it’s structured much differently than anything you’ve ever done…

It’s just, we started playing one day and you know, we just practice a lot.  It’s not… like I was in a band one time for like two weeks and the guy came in and told me exactly what to do, and I can’t do that, I’ve always had that streak.  If you tell me what to do, I’m going to shut you off, you know, I don’t think I can come in and have someone perpetually write out the drum parts for me. I don’t think I can play that way.

Does it come from jams?

Well Asa will just come in and sort of start playin and you know… it’s sort of hard to talk about, it just… it’s hard to explain.

Do you ever… try and talk about it…

No, I think I’d rather do it than talk about it. That’s one of the things that probably… if you do it and don’t talk about it, you know.

I understand. You kind of reach the point, and I mean, this is hard for me too, as a writer, like the magazine had a solicitation, and I kind of responded that I would like to talk to you guys, and the reason why is that there’s something going on, and it’s not going on with other groups, and maybe… I mean I don’t think you may realize how different you really are.  I mean when I first saw you down on Dupont Circle, it was really a shock to me and many others, we left there talking about you guys. Even that early on, it was obvious.

Well as a fan of a band, I would do the same thing, I don’t know.

Have you ever felt that way about other bands? Where you said, “this is really different”?

No… I mean, I just assume it’s music, it’s whatever that person, or art or painting or writing, no I never thought… now, not that literally, not that I can think of.  I like things, but I’ve never…

Do you feel detached from whatever people think about Lungfish then…

Well you know, it is weird to think… it used to make me feel really good to know that, “wow any given time, someone’s listening to one of the records that I play on”, that’s a really good feeling to know, but aside from that I don’t really think about it a whole lot. Once I got over that reaction, it made me feel good, it’s probably a good thing, it’s not that people are listening to it and feeling bad, it’s always a good thing.

What kind of set do you use?

I have a Tama kit, four piece, it’s good… I might get new ones someday.

It’s all you need.

I think so. Yeah.  I remember that’s one thing once, in the 90’s, that four-piece drum kit look came back in style, and it just looks good, it looks cool.

Do you get into that, I mean…

Well look at me, no, of course I don’t! 

[laughs] Well you have to have something that you get into…

I mean we have our aesthetic of what we like and what we don’t like, it just looks so compact.

I noticed that when you were setting up, the arrangement was real sparse. Does that relate in any way to things, presenting it in a real simplistic manner?

It would probably be kind of cool if we got out there with all our props and played our music, but it just sort of, you know, if we wanted to I guess we could try and look a little different.

Would you consider yourself a rock band then, alongside your peers?

Yeah, I think so.

I heard you did a Beatles cover.

It was good! It was fun.  We did it live a couple times. Did Asa play it for you?

Nah, I didn’t get to hear it.

Yeah it was fun, it was cool.

When you were living in Philly, what sort of shows did you see, what sort of things did you do?

Well like I said, once I heard David Bowie in 1972, it sort of changed, like you could be yourself, you don’t have to… there is something else you can do. You can look however you want to be. That was a very important scene, the Spiders From Mars.

So you saw them.  Where at?

The Tower Theater.

Holy cow. In Upper Darby, right?

Yeah, I worked there for like 5 years, like the behind the scenes rock and roll experience.

Who else did you see?

Whoever played there, like tons of people from ‘76 through ’80. You know… everybody.  Tons of bands.  And the best thing about it was I saw a lot of bands I didn’t like, whoever it was, but I learned as much about music from seeing things I didn’t like, you learn a lot more if you put yourself in a situation you’re going to be challenged. I can say, you know, “this band sucked”, whoever it was.

But you knew why…

Yeah and I listened to it, like it was awful.  Like I saw Little Feat for example, and I thought they were amazing, I still like them to this day, like the original Little Feat, with Lowell George, like it was mind blowing, you know.  It wasn’t punk rock or anything, but I liked it. I always had an open mind, that you didn’t have to look a certain way, you know, or dress a certain way. But most of my friends were like, after I bonded you know, people I met at the punk rock shows.

You were a part of something different…

Yeah like Dead Boys, that’s who you became friends with, you know.

What was the first punk rock show you remember seeing?

Well, the first time I remember seeing people kind of jumping up and down was this band called Dr. Feelgood, it was the first time I remember there was a different kind of energy, and people were jumping, and it was a little faster, you know, that was probably the first time I realized there was something new gonna happen, the band Dr. Feelgood, they weren’t really punk rock, they were English… that was probably the first time I realized, there was this new kind of… you know, like I saw the New York Dolls and all those kind of bands.

What was that like?

They were great! I mean they were a great band. Johnny Thunders, I always liked alot.  I don’t know, that’s hard to say, you know, I still like, I don’t listen to it so much anymore, you know. I still like to hear “LAMF” or something. Like every once in a while you want to crank it up. But that was the first time I remember people started to jump up and down instead of whatever else they were doing. 


Do you ever tell people that you meet that might not know that you play in a band?

I don’t think I’d go out and say, I mean, no one knows who we are anyways, but no… it depends, I mean if I meet somebody at work and they say they like music, I might mention to them, you know if we talk and they say “I like this band”, I might say well I’m in a band, but it’s not the first thing on my resume, you know.  I don’t have a business card that says “drummer”, you know, with little drumsticks around my neck or anything. I don’t really think… I don’t know.  It’s not something that I… you sort of do what you do. It’s like one day you wake up and you’re married, you don’t really think about it.

Do you ever have people from work come out and watch you?

You know what’s funny about people from work, it’s like, not really, because people do their own thing, because… nah, not too much.  Not too much, I don’t think so.  I mean in different circumstances.  I mean people always say, “you guys playing at Fells Point?”, and it’s like, we’ve never played at Fells Point!  I mean we’re not like a cover band, we’re not classic rock, they always say “oh you’re like classic rock?”, because they look at me and probably think we’re jazz, you know. 

You could do that for a while though…

Yeah that would probably be a drag, just to… but I don’t think I could play every night for like $130 dollars just to pay my rent. I don’t know if I’d want to go there, you know.

Do you find playing in Lungfish all these years that it’s just as exciting as it was in the beginning?

Yeah.  It always is, you know. It’s always fun.  Maybe not minute to minute, obviously we’re gonna have arguments and little this, that and the others, not explosions, but it’s still good to play. And I still kind of remember for me, it’s like, there’s that time when it went from being scared to wanting to be better, you know, like that moment where you just have that stage fright where you’re like, “do I know this song?”, and you’re over that, but there’s different expectations on you, cause there’s people coming out to see you, not just coming out to have a beer, or go to a club that Friday night, so… it’s like anything else, you have to rise, yeah, you know, wanna be good. Because people come to see you, whether it’s 10 people, or 1000 people. 

What about 10 people sitting there, and you’re beginning the show, you have to find whatever it is that turns you on about playing.

Yeah, the guarantee turns you on, you know.


No I’m kidding. Sort of a joke. But I mean, it is a certain point like, you know, that’s the club’s problem, like the next night they’re gonna get a band in there, they’re gonna have Stabbing Westward or whoever.

When do you think you’re going to be out on the road again? It seems so far away from what you guys are doing now.

I don’t know.  We could do some shows around, you know, on the east coast, but we all have lives.

You’d get a great response with that.

Yeah, yeah… I mean we could get good crowds in big cities and stuff. I mean we don’t play that much, when you only play once a year, people are gonna come to see you. I mean we only play out in Baltimore or Washington twice a year, so… it’s not like we’re playing every weekend.

What sort of things do you think draw people to see you at all?

Well I think, particularly, I mean we have… Danny’s a talented lyricist, a good writer, he’s an interesting writer, I think the music should be made to go, it all blends together, it’s not just, you know… catchy, you know…

What is it, then?

It’s just… I don’t know. 

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