New Jersey-based band Speed the Plough is releasing their eighth album, Now. It’s comprised of 12 very wide-ranging songs, with contributions by most of the band members. It’s being released by Steve Fallon’s Coyote Records in December 2015, marking the return to active duty of that legendary indie label after more than two decades absence.
The new album was recorded at their old stomping grounds, Mix-o-lydian Studios in Delaware Water Gap, PA in 2014 and 2015, produced by Speed the Plough and Don Sternecker . The current incarnation of the band features founding members John and Toni Baumgartner, joined by the Baumgartners son Mike on guitar, Cindi Merklee on bass and vocals, Ed Seifert on
guitar and vocals, and John Demeski, (son of Feelies drummer Stan Demeski, an STP alumnus).
Some songs on the new album, like “S.O.S.”, feel like a return to their second album,Wonder Wheel with the gradual build of vocal harmonies, punctuated by a soaring guitar in the middle eight. It’s a microcosm of their 30 year evolution in one song. Stately, plaintive, with swelling percussion, moving on to release. Meanwhile “More and More” takes the group back even further. It’s like a grown-up version of The Trypes. Starting with a simple pulse and moving on to an orchestral chorus, then augmented by horns and finally more harmonies. It feels like revisiting our earliest music but through a much more focused lens. “Miss Amelia,” written by bassist Cindi Merklee (who plays acoustic guitar on the track) strips things down to essentials then the other members added parts just where they needed to be, and pared off everything else. All in service to the song. It’s special in that a relative newcomer to the band clearly understands what Speed the Plough does.
Speed the Plough has been playing since 1984. Founded by John and Toni Baumgartner and Marc Francia, the band has had numerous line-ups over the years, including former members Rich Barnes and Chris O’Donovan (of Wild Carnation), Stanley Demeski and Brenda Sauter (of The Feelies), “Sound Opinions” host Jim DeRogatis, John Neilson (Wharton Tiers), and veteran DJ Frank O’Toole. Speed the Plough rose out of the ashes of The Trypes, a band formed in 1982 by John, Toni,
Marc and Elbrus Kelemet, and later joined by Feelies Glenn Mercer, Bill Million, Dave Weckerman, Stan Demeski and Brenda Sauter.
STP released four full-length albums on the East Side Digital label: Speed The Plough (1989), Wonder Wheel (1991), Mason’s Box (1993) and Marina (1995). In addition, they released a limited edition single on the French label Acetone and had songs featured in two independent films: Strangest Deams (1990) and Paradise Park (1993).
After a long hiatus, the latest incarnation of STP was launched in the Summer of 2009 with John and Toni’s son Mike on guitar and Marc’s sons Ian and Dan on drums and bass, respectively. They recorded Swerve, the band’s first album in 15 years, which was self-released in May 2010. Later that year, they recorded three new songs, dubbed “The Summer Sessions,” which were released in September.
2011 continued to bring exciting developments. First, Ed Seifert joined the band, bringing his distinctive guitar-picking and vocal talents. And in August, STP released their sixth full-length album, Shine, on Dromedary Records.
2012 saw the April release of a retrospective of The Trypes short career, Music For Neighbors, on Acute Records. The reception to the music was more than could have been expected, with raves from nearly all quarters, including Dusted, Other Music, and Prefix.
The highly-regarded indie label Bar-None Records released the Speed the Plough compilation, The Plough and the Stars in September 2013. It features a CD that includes 17 songs from our first four (out-of-print) albums on East Side Digital, tucked in a 12″ package featuring a bonus split LP, with six brand new songs in a collection we call “Tag Sale” on one side and five live tracks from our 1993 appearance on WFMU’s Live Music Faucet on the flip.
Another development early in 2013 saw the departure of Dan and Ian to pursue their own musical projects. So the band recruited Cindi Merklee on bass and vocals, and John Demeski, filling the drum seat once occupied by his father Stanley two decades before.