The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Making Music That's Fun Fun Fun

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Imagine if there were a band that had a cohesive sound; depending on the song, though, they could remind you of the Beach Boys, the Shadows of Knight, Nick Lowe, early ELO or even the Ogden's Nut Gone Flake-period Small Faces. Imagine if you could go down to a club and see this band play live, and they were as good live as their recordings. I'm not hallucinating — I'm talking about Scott McCaughey's rather amazing garage-pop combo, the Minus 5. Until a few weeks ago, I had managed to ignore the Minus 5 — how I did this, I do not know. It took Peter Buck (who often plays bass in the band when they perform live, and also contributes to their albums) to get me focused. The Minus 5 were opening for Guided by Voices recently; Buck suggested I come up to Portland, both to interview him and to see the band. I had first made Scott's acquaintance some years ago backstage at a Bridge School benefit concert where R.E.M. performed. In Portland, we rode together over to the Crystal Ballroom, and I got to watch the guys run through their sound check. With his long curly hair, a beard and a moustache, Scott looks a bit like Jeff Lynne. He comes across as an easygoing guy with a great sense of humor, exceptionally talented at writing, singing, recording and playing rock 'n' roll. Take "The Girl I Never Met," a ballad which appears on In Rock, an album you can only buy at Minus 5 shows (or, I believe, off the site); it sounds like a mid-'60s American rock band's take on the British Invasion, telling the story of a guy who's mooning over a woman he fell in love with from afar. The punch line is buried in the middle of the song: "And now she's gone/ The girl I've never met/ And so are you/ And so are you." And then there's the melancholy "Desperate for Someone," written by Scott and Buck, about a lonely woman looking for companionship. That one's on the Minus 5's other fairly recent album, which, interestingly enough, is packaged with an album by another band that Scott's in, the Young Fresh Fellows. Released by Disney-owned Mammoth Records, the album is called Young Fresh Fellows "Because We Hate You" vs. The Minus 5 "Let the War Against Music Begin." (Back in the '60s there was an album that was basically The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons.) The packaging for this twofer is quite awesome, featuring some wonderful drawings by someone identified only as "Satomi." On the inside back cover is a chart: "You Be the Judge/ Keep Score by Rounds!" The point of all this is that Scott McCaughey loves rock 'n' roll, and he and his musician friends are having a ball releasing music that exists because they love making music — not to make a buck. "We like to record music when we feel like recording it, and then we like to release it," Scott said about the In Rock album. "We don't really care about money that much. It's more important just to put music out and keep fired up about it. And nothing makes you more fired up than having a brand-new CD to even give away to people." I asked Scott, who plays in R.E.M.'s touring band and also helps out on their albums, about bands that try to jump on trends. "I've never seen any point in trying to do something 'hip and new,' " he said. "'Cause that just sounds like you're not being yourself, you're just copying something that's not you in an effort to sell records, and that's gonna backfire every time. 'Cause you'll make a shitty record and it'll be embarrassing and it won't sell. Maybe some people can do it, David Bowie or something. But those aren't his best records. His best records are the ones where he was just doing something that he created, not trying to be funky or industrial or whatever." What's so cool about the Minus 5, is that they don't seem to care if their music is innovative or breaks new ground. They just want make recordings that turn them on, and have a good time when they play to an audience. It may be that the Minus 5's songs are too clever, with too many in-jokes for a large audience to grok. That's unfortunate if it's true, for the music on both of their recent albums is everything that one could want from rock 'n' roll. Scott isn't thinking about "making it" any more — just having a good time. "I haven't even considered that for the last ten years," McCaughey said. "I just figure I'm never going to sell records, I'm never going to make a lot of money touring with my band. So just do what you like. Do what's fun. It really takes off all the pressure." He laughed. "I really feel that way."

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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