Released in 1987, Shore Leave is the sole album from Yung Wu, featuring members of venerable New Jersey indie giants The Feelies. Led by that outfit’s percussionist Dave Weckerman (vocals) and featuring Glenn Mercer and Bill Million (guitars), Brenda Sauter (bass) and Stan Demeski (drums), Yung Wu featured the exact lineup as the sophomore release from The Feelies, The Good Earth and the lineup the group employs today. Additionally John Baumgartner from Speed The Plow and the Trypes joined in the sessions on keyboards. The result is a record that differs enough from The Feelies to stand on its own and yet manages to capture enough of that outfit’s spirit to appeal to its stalwart fans.
Comprised of Weckerman originals and three covers (one from Phil Manzanera, one from Neil Young and one from the Rolling Stones), Shore Leave is back in print thanks to Bar/None records.
Weckerman spoke with KMUW from his home in New Jersey.
How was it that you came to be not a drummer but specifically a percussionist in The Feelies?
The original Feelies were just me, Bill and Glenn. We were like a power trio: Bill played bass, Glenn played guitar and I played drums. Bill switched to guitar so we got another bass player, a guy we can never track down. We just knew him as Junior. We played a few shows with that lineup. I went to England for a while and Bill and Glenn started playing with the DeNunzio brothers, Vinny and Keith. They played around and got some notice in Village Voice and other noted tabloids of the day. They recorded something for Ork Records but didn’t do much else in the way of recording.
Then Vinny DeNunzio quit to play drums with Richard Lloyd of Television, so they hired Anton Fier. By this time The Feelies had added multiple drum parts for live performances, all kinds of castanets, maracas, tambourines, all that stuff. I was asked to come back to the band, just before Crazy Rhythms was recorded. But we didn’t play a lot.
Toward the end of ‘81Anton joined The Lounge Lizards and worked a lot with them. It was his only way of making money and he lived in New York, which is quite expensive. During that Glenn and I started playing with a local band in Haledon called the Trypes. Glenn had even played drums in that band for a while but I became the drummer once he switched back to guitar.
Then, during a Trypes rehearsal, we switched instruments. I started playing guitar and singing a Donovan song or something. That’s how Yung Wu started. It was a band within a band. Sort of.
Some bands would never take that kind of risk. What do you attribute that switching up to? Is it just a matter of friendship?
We’re all friends who play music. I’m back in this band Speed The Plough which is essentially the Trypes. My whole life is just like it was in 1982. I playing in The Feelies, Yung Wu and the Trypes. I’m not complaining about it. It’s good that everyone’s still around and still playing.
We always did it for the basic fun and our love for rock ‘n’ roll music. We never expected to be Bon Jovi. We feel very fortunate that we’re still able to do it and that people still come to see us. The Feelies just recently sold out three nights in Brooklyn. It’s great.
Did you have the Yung Wu songs on hand for some time or did you write them when the project started?
The songs were years in the making. We put three covers on the record to flesh it out because we didn’t have enough originals. We’d play some of these songs at Trypes rehearsals. Eventually I had enough of them and Steve Fallon, who was the proprietor of Maxwell’s, had started Coyote Records. He put out a Trypes record, the second Feelies record. He put out the first Yo La Tengo. He knew it was going to be a long time before there was another Feelies record so he said, “Why not put out a Yung Wu” album?
I find the covers especially interesting. “Child of the Moon” doesn’t seem like something that’d be on your radar and yet it totally makes sense.
I was in high school when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” came out. The Rolling Stones was one of those bands where you always played the second side of the record because it might be really good. “Child of the Moon” haunted me. It was so different from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and yet it was so full of mystery. It always stuck in the back of my mind. It never appeared on an album.
When we played it live, people used to think it was an original. I guess those people didn’t have the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” single or they didn’t bother to flip the record over.
As far as “Powerdefinger” goes we’re all big Neil Young fans. Remember, in the mid-1980s Neil Young wasn’t too cool. He had put out records like Trans. We always liked his ‘70s work and we really loved Rust Never Sleeps. We loved Roxy Music and Brian Eno, so we took a song from Phil Manzanera’s solo album which Eno sings on. We threw those on and that was the record.
Did this album differ from a Feelies album in any way other than you taking the lead and writing the material?
Oh yeah because we didn’t have that much time. We had a week to record the Yung Wu record where the Feelies would take a long time to make a record. So there wasn’t that attention to detail you’d get on a Feelies record. I wasn’t there for Crazy Rhythms but I heard it was painstaking. Stiff Records was not pleased with the recording budget the band ended up with. The Good Earth took a long time too. Sometimes I think that’s why Peter Buck was enlisted, so that he’d move things along.
But since we didn’t have much time for Yung Wu, we didn’t take it too serious. We just had fun. We had a good time doing it. It wasn’t like we spent long hours making sure the maracas faded from the right channel to the left. None of that stuff. I thought it came out sounding pretty good. It almost sounded like a Feelies record.
Were you able to do much promotion for the album when it came out?
We were able to play some shows in conjunction with the release of the record, along with some other bands on Coyote but we didn’t go on a tour. Plus, Yung Wu had been playing live for about three years before the record anyway. So, we had a bit of a hardcore Feelies-related audience. So, when the record came out it was like a bonus.
I almost never ask this question but in this case I can’t resist: How did you arrive at the name Yung Wu?
We had some horrible names. I think Squid Boy was my first suggestion. Somebody else came up with Frank and The Beans. We always used to get Chinese food at band practice. It was quick. I think the singer of the Trypes, Elbrus, came up with it. He was from Turkey and not familiar with a lot of Chinese terms. He was searching the table and we said, “What are you looking for?” He said, “Is there any more of that Yung Wu left?”
We looked at the menu and said, “There’s no Yung Wu there!” It may not seem funny now but at the time it seemed hilarious. That was the name for the band and it stuck.
At what point did you know that the album was going to be reissued?
Glenn Morrow, the head of Bar/None comes to a lot of Feelies shows. I guess a lot of people had asked him about putting out Shore Leave. It had never come out on CD. Twin/Tone would burn copies for people through mail order but it was never an official release. I guess it was through popular demand. It wouldn’t cost anything for the label to record, it’s just a matter of packaging. Hopefully, it’s all worthwhile.
It’s nice to be able to hold it in my hands. All these years and I’ve only had a vinyl copy and a cassette copy that I actually bought in a store. I didn’t even know it was out on cassette. I saw it, said, “You know what? I’ll probably never see another cassette copy of this again.” And you know what? I haven’t.
It seems like there’s been more Feelies activity in recent years than there was for a long time. Along with that, it seems like there’s a new audience for the band. Do you think helped spark some interest in Yung Wu’s return?
It certainly doesn’t hurt!