The Minus Five
We set the template up right there – recording with people whenever certain people were in town in between tours.
story by Chris Castaneda
photo by David Belisle
Scott McCaughey is a big fan of a good laugh. During a phone conversation, he and I reminisce about the first night back in Chicago in six years for R.E.M. during the band’s 1995 Monster tour, which also happened to be my first concert. I was 14 and the show was the night before I graduated from grammar school. “Since I’ve been with the band, those Rosemont Horizon shows were the loudest audiences R.E.M. has ever had,” recalls McCaughey, who joined R.E.M. on that tour as a backup musician. “Those crowds were just insane.”
I soon confess to him that on the day tickets went on sale for the band’s September date at the World Theatre (now Tweeter Center), that same year I made a mix tape to commemorate the day my parents denied me the chance to go. Inscribed on the tape sleeve, dated 7/29/95, I wrote, “R.E.M. tickets sold today at 9:00 a.m. I didn’t get any. This is a black cloud in my life. The worst 24 hours. Twice would have been nice.”
McCaughey breaks out laughing and finally says, “You should put that in the article.” Done and done.
It has been quite a topsy turvy road for singer/songwriter Scott McCaughey, whose 20 years as a musician’s musician of fabulous wit has made him a notable figure in the Seattle music scene. From The Young Fresh Fellows to The Minus Five, McCaughey has charted a career that bands struggling to get a week — let alone 20 years — would wish to have. Now in its 13th year, The Minus Five just released its seventh album The Minus Five (Yep Roc), also referred to as The Gun Album due to its cover. No, McCaughey hasn’t become a spokesperson for the N.R.A. He’s already happy being part of another group with three initials.
It has been three years since the successful collaboration with Chicago’s Wilco on an album humorously titled Down With Wilco, by far The Minus Five’s best-selling album to date. Since then, McCaughey has had to devote much of his time to touring with R.E.M. “I’ve probably spent more time in the studio on the last couple R.E.M. records than I have all The Young Fresh Fellows and Minus 5 records put together,” says McCaughey jokingly. Along with Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Bill Rieflin (now drummer for R.E.M.) and John Ramberg, McCaughey approaches each Minus Five project one song at a time — a piecemeal approach that goes back to when he and Buck first started work on the debut album Old Liquidator (1995). “We set the template up right there — recording with people whenever certain people were in town in between tours,” says McCaughey with a laugh.
You never quite know who will appear on a Minus Five album, and it’s that sort of surprise that keeps each album interesting. On the band’s latest album, the cast of characters assembled includes some familiar names (Wilco, John Wesley Harding) as well as new ones (Colin Meloy, Kelly Hogan). An absolute standout track on the album is the bittersweet “Cemetery Row”, sung by Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. “I was lucky he was able to sing it,” says McCaughey about acquiring Meloy. “He was happy to come over and do it the day before he was leaving on a tour with The Decemberists. It came out great.”
The Minus Five :: Abbey Pub :: March 22.