John Baumgartner (Speed The Plough) on Now

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).
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.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with John Baumgartner to discuss Now and this is what he told us.
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?  
As with most Speed the Plough albums, the material on Now spans quite a few years, and in one or two cases, decades. But unlike any other STP album, Now includes contributions from several band members.
While I wrote seven of the tracks, the album features some fine songs by Michael Baumgartner, Cindi Merklee and Ed Seifert. As I mentioned, my songs range from a few written in the last 2 years (“S.O.S.,” “Buttermilk Falls” and “On A New Day”) to two written about 20 years ago (“Midnight in The World” and “Because”). Being the youngest member of the band, Michael’s songs were written in the last few years. And Ed thinks he wrote “Be With You” about 15 years ago.
According to Cindi: “Miss Amelia” is a few years old. It came about when I was thinking of writing an album’s worth of material from the perspective of characters from my favorite novels/short stories. This one sprung from Carson McCullers’ Ballad of a Sad Café.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing?  Why was it so troublesome?
I really wouldn’t say we had difficulty realizing our vision on any of the songs. As usual, we did a good amount of pre-production. And recording the album in two batches of six songs over the course of two years gave us the chance to fine tune arrangements and incorporate some into our live set.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
Again, most of the songs were developed according to each songwriter’s concept and we tried to stay true to that. Maybe “More and More” is the most different from my original concept in that it became a bit “poppier.”
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Funny you should ask that. If memory serves me well this is the first project we’ve ever done that doesn’t include any guest musicians. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just what the circumstances dictated.
Who produced the record?  What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
It was produced by the band and studio maestro and old pal Don Sternecker of Mix-o-lydian Studios. Basically, each song writer produced their track(s) and Don made just the right suggestions to bring out the best in all of them.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
If there is a concept, it’s probably that we took songs of very wide ranging styles and made them Speed the Plough songs. From Michael’s straight ahead rock of “Garden” to Cindi’s softly heartfelt “Miss Amelia,” it all feels totally appropriate to the band.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
We’ve been playing all of the songs on the album live for the last two years or so. It’s impossible to say which has elicited the best response. That kind of thing varies from show to show, venue to venue, audience to audience. We like to think they’ve all be pretty well received.
(Visit the band here: