When Seattle band Harvey Danger first started out, none of its members actually knew how to play their instruments very well, if at all. A mere two years later, the band was recording songs for what would become their debut album, Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? With the album's infectious geek-chic alternative single "Flagpole Sitta," before they knew it, come the summer of 1998, Harvey Danger were MTV darlings and road warriors. The album eventually sold more than half a million copies, a heroic effort considering it cost $3,000 to make it. An album later the band failed to reach half the success of their debut and ended up disbanding for a few years before reuniting for their 2005 album Little by Little….
Students at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1992, friends Jeff Lin and Aaron Huffman decided they wanted to start a band; it didn't matter that neither one knew how to play an instrument. Lack of experience didn't stop Lin from picking up the electric guitar and Huffman, the bass. The new rock duo saw a piece of graffiti labeled "Harvey Danger" on a wall near the student newspaper office and thought that would be a good name for a band. A year or two in, Lin and Huffman asked their friends Evan Sult and Sean Nelson—who also had no previous musical experience—to join Harvey Danger. Sult began to bang away at the drums and Nelson discovered a brawny singing voice. Harvey Danger played their first show as a quartet on April 21, 1994, in a Seattle bar. Nelson and Sult weren't yet legal drinking age and were forced to wait outside the venue before and after the band's set.
In the wake of grunge, Harvey Danger developed a style of '90s wiry alternative rock that was intelligent, sardonic, and overflowing with showmanship. A year after their first show, Harvey Danger recorded a set of rough songs and sold them as a six-song cassette tape at their shows. In 1996, the quartet befriended sought after local producer John Goodmanson and worked with him to record a collection of impressive demos. London Records intern Greg Glover heard the demos and signed the band to his own independent label, Arena Rock Recording Co. He sent the band back into the studio to record another handful of songs to add to the previous ones to put together for a full-length album.
Recorded for $3,000 Arena Rock released Harvey Danger's debut album, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?, in the summer of 1997. A few months later, Seattle radio station KNDD put the album's lead single, "Flagpole Sitta," in regular rotation. By January of 1998, "Flagpole Sitta" was KNDD's number one most-requested song. Influential LA station KROQ picked up on the buzz and added Harvey Danger to their play list. Major labels began to wine and dine the band, who eventually signed with London/Slash Records (where Glover had worked). Slash re-released their debut in 1998. Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? ended up selling over half a million copies, but the album's second single, "Private Helicopter," failed to make a dent in radio. The band's newfound notoriety and whirlwind lifestyles created a bit of uncertainty in the band as they weren't quite ready for that kind of success. In an interview with Chart Magazine, Nelson admitted that they didn't really know what they were doing when they initially signed to London; they just needed more albums pressed. "And they said 'we'll meet the need,' and there was need," Nelson said. "And we were selling tons of records and all the doors were opening for us and we just went through them. But it was pretty clear right away that they weren't doors that were going to stay open, and in a lot of cases, they weren't doors that I was even interested in being in the rooms they led to."
Toward the end of 1998, Harvey Danger was more than ready to begin work on a new album. In March of 1999, the band went to Bearsville Studios near Woodstock, New York, to record the bulk of their sophomore album. Although London Records gave the band $200,000 to record, Harvey Danger heard little to nothing from their record label during the recording process. After finishing things up back in Seattle, the band was set to release the new album. After the major label shake-ups that affected hundreds of bands that year, by the summer of 1999, the band still had no release date from London. Finally in September, London, now London-Sire, released the band's second and impressive album, King James Version. With the cool single "Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo," and album guests like The Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Grant Lee Phillips, King James Version was set to take off. David Wild of Rolling Stone regarded the album as "… a step forward in both ambition and accomplishment—it's barbed but exceptionally tuneful postmodern pop…." Unfortunately, no one really paid attention to the album's release. "By the time [the label] got sorted out no one even remembered us at that point," Nelson confessed to MTV.com's Rodrigo Perez. After a show in April of 2001, due to low record sales and frustrated members, the band decided to put Harvey Danger on hold.
For the Record …
Members include Aaron Huffman, bass; Rob Knop, keyboards; Jeff Lin, guitar; Sean Nelson, lead vocals; Michael Welke (replaced Evan Sult, 2004), drums.
Group formed in Seattle, WA, c. 1994; released Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?, Arena Rock Recording Company, 1997; signed to London/Slash Records, reissued debut, 1998; released King James Version, London/Sire, 2000; disbanded, 2001–04; reunited for Little By Little …, released on the band's label Phonographic Records, 2005; signed to Kill Rock Stars, reissued Little By Little …, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—Kill Rock Stars, 120 NE State Ave., PMB 418, Olympia, WA 98501. Website—Harvey Danger Official Website: http://www.harveydanger.com.
After the band's breakup (that turned out to be a hiatus), its member stayed busy. Nelson had been writing for Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger for years, and now that he was in one place, his freelance features picked up. While Lin went back to school, Huffman returned to the stage with the band Love Hotel. In 2002, Sult moved to Chicago where he joined the rock band Bound Stems. From 2002 to 2003, Nelson added keyboards and vocals to the John Roderick project The Long Winters. Nelson also became a partner in the independent label Barsuk and helped launch the career of Seattle friends Death Cab for Cutie, whom Harvey Danger had taken on tour. In addition to a gig as a part-time DJ on Seattle radio station KEXP, Nelson also added vocals to a number of successful indie albums over the years, including ones for Death Cab for Cutie and The Decemberists.
In early 2004, Nelson was itching to record again. After recruiting Lin, Huffman, and Nada Surf drummer Ira Elliott to lay down new tracks, the former Harvey Danger bandmates thought it was about time to put Harvey Danger back together. With Sult in Chicago, drummer Michael Welke joined the band, along with keyboardist Rob Knop, for a succession of inspiring shows that year. In the following February, Harvey Danger entered Robert Lang Studios in Seattle with longtime producer Goodmanson and Steve Fisk (known for his work with Nirvana and Screaming Trees) to record a collection of songs that were just as smart as the band's early work, but with age came maturity and mellowness. With loads of piano, the new record, Little By Little …, took cues from some of Nelson's favorite singer-songwriters like Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson. In September of 2005, Harvey Danger released Little By Little … on their own label, Phonographic Records. At the same time, the band also put the album, in its entirety, available for free download on their website. The following year, famed Seattle label Kill Rock Stars reissued the album.
Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? Arena Rock Recording Co., 1997; reissued, London/Slash, 1998.
King James Version, London/Sire, 2000.
Little By Little …, Phonographic Records, 2005; reissued, Kill Rock Stars, 2006.
Rolling Stone, October 2000.
"Harvey Danger," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 4, 2006).
"Harvey Danger Return on their Terms, Little by Little," Chart Magazine, http://www.chartattack.com/damn/2006/09/2909.cfm (November 4, 2006).
"Remember 'Flagpole Sitta'? Harvey Danger Return," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1509358/09122005/harvey_danger.jhtml (November 4, 2006).