The Meadowlands isn't just the Jersey swamp anymore
Last year was a big one for the Wrens. The Meadowlands, the band's third full-length, put this quartet of 40-ish New Jersey guys back on the indie-rock map after a more than six-year absence. That absence was caused, in no small part, by some well-documented record label misadventures after the release of the Wrens' sophomore effort, 1996's Secaucus. Here's a recap: Despite Secaucus' critical success, the head of their former label wanted the band to be more radio-friendly. The Wrens said no, the label went on to sign Creed, and the rest is history.
The hiatus would have frightened off fainter souls, but The Wrens managed to stay together, working day jobs and recording in the Secaucus house where three of them live. Guitarist/vocalist/accountant at Lowe Advertising Charles Bissell and guitarist/Pfizer employee Greg Whelan met for a few after-work drinks with Prefix Magazine's Matthew Creamer to talk about aging, the Garden State, the effect of workaday life on the creative mind, belated success and the Outfield's 1985 hit "Your Love."
Prefix Magazine: So, Charles, I last saw you at your 40th birthday party a few weeks ago ...
The Wrens: Part 1: Charles Bissell: I don't know what you're taking about. PM: ... and that's sort of a landmark. Any wisdom you can impart?
The Wrens: Part 1: CB: At 40, unless you live to be 150, you're absolutely in middle age. You can't hide behind the "Hey, I'm in my 30s" and round down. Greg Whelan: You're closer to 50 than you are to 20. CB: Yeah, you start playing all kind of numbers games in your head. PM: Did you at least get any good novelty gifts?
The Wrens: Part 1: CB: Well, I did the whole no-gift thing. But my friend Lisa gave me -- because the band lives together in somewhat bachelor squalor -- these fuzzy broom-slippers. You can put them on and actually mop the floor when you walk. GW: Get your ass in the kitchen! Start walking around! CB: There were no Viagra prescriptions ... GW: I actually could have gotten you that. CB: Yeah, working at Pfizer you could have. PM: I first met you at the Maxwell's show a few weeks back. It's the only time I've seen you guys and it was an amazing, high-energy show. Is that the band's typical energy level?
The Wrens: Part 1: CB: We played in Canada this past weekend and I think we agreed we had maybe our worst show since we came back and started playing again. We were tired and people weren't into the record as much, Montreal being ... GW: French. CB: Then the second night, it sort of all came together. The energy level felt great. But I felt like a tired old 40-year-old on that first night. PM: On the second night, did you see that reflected in the audience?
The Wrens: Part 1: GW: We definitely play off the audience. In Montreal, when you just see people standing there, then you kind of almost become like them and take on their persona. CB: Things have gone so well lately and we get so many more people showing up than we used to get. We used to never get people showing up who weren't friends or family. There was a time when we'd have no problem playing in front of people who hated us, and we kind of fed off that. GW: It was actually kind of good, even though it was a bad show. We'd been a little cocky lately. There was a reality check and we said, "Oh, okay." And the next night we were totally on. PM: Where typically do you play your best shows? In Jersey?
The Wrens: Part 1: GW: No, definitely not. PM: Why?
The Wrens: Part 1: GW: There's really no place to play in Jersey. Maxwell's is the only place. Jersey's really beachy, and, in South Jersey, where we come from, it's all about cover bands. PM: Where in Jersey are you guys from?
The Wrens: Part 1: GW: We're originally from Cape May County, Ocean City, south of Atlantic City. PM: I'm from South Jersey, but near Philadelphia. I used to go to Ocean City every summer.
The Wrens: Part 1: GW: That's where we all grew up. CB: [Singing] Tiny world, tiny world. PM: You guys did a little bit of a cover of that Outfield song "Your Love" at the Maxwell's show. Where does that come from?
The Wrens: Part 1: GW: [Pointing to Charles] He can actually hit the notes. CB: It was a request. We had friends there and they had a whole group together. They requested that song. PM: I wanted to hear the whole song, which probably indicates all kind of problems for me, as in, Why do I want to hear the whole song?
The Wrens: Part 1: GW: There are no problems at this table. CB: There's at least three or four songs on that record that I love. GW: It's a good record. CB: We've done a lot of covers in our day. I wouldn't say we do them well. PM: Who do you like to cover?
The Wrens: Part 1: CB: A lot of '80s and a lot of '60s bands. But a lot of it becomes just for our pleasure. GW: Some of the cooler bands are the Smiths, the Cure ... stuff like that. CB: We know one Neutral Milk Hotel song. PM: Which one?
The Wrens: Part 1: CB: The two-headed boy one. PM: Charles, I remember reading a list of your favorite poetry books. Are you a big poetry reader?
The Wrens: Part 1: CB: [Motioning as if to tell me to stop recording] I'm that guy in the band, yeah. That's where was I was before I came here. Greg's brother gave me a $40 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble, which is the happiest thing I can imagine. I've gotten really into it, even reading books about poetry, which is when you know you have a problem. GW: Intervention is needed. PM: Are you talking about criticism or biography?
The Wrens: Part 1: CB: Some biography, some criticism. But the critical stuff is an abomination.