Songwriter, guitarist, singer
Scott McCaughey has been at the center of Seattle’s influential indie music scene for almost 20 years. McCaughey, with his dark curly hair, ever-present sunglasses, and eclectic musical taste, is a living and breathing expression of cool. Against the watery backdrop of Seattle with grunge rock about to explode onto the scene, McCaughey was standing on top of that city’s alternative scene. McCaughey was almost ten years ahead of Seattle’s grunge explosion that produced groups such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. McCaughey has played with members of Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, NRBQ, Guided by Voices, the Posies, the Screaming Trees, Walkabouts, Presidents Of The United States Of America, the Smithereens, Robyn Hitchcock, and he has played with R.E.M. as their unofficial fifth member. Somehow, playing in the midst of grunge groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, McCaughey managed to emerge relatively unscathed from the angst-ridden whine that grunge spread across the world. McCaughey has always written music that he believed his friends would enjoy. He never made the mistake of taking himself too seriously like other hip and influential bands of the time.
McCaughey first played in a band called Dynette Set. Christy McWilson, whom McCaughey would later marry, was a member of the band. McCaughey left Dynette Set to form a band with his friend Chuck Carrol. Carrol and McCaughey formed the Young Fresh Fellows (YFF) in 1982. The original line-up was McCaughey on vocals and bass, Carrol on guitar, and Carrol’s cousin, Tad Hutchison, on drums. YFF’s debut album, Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest, was released in 1984. The music was fresh, fun, and energetic. The band’s fractured but recognizably pop sound mixed with McCaughey’s lyrics—which revealed a dry sense of humor—made YFF the band of choice with the college set. Their live shows were a rowdy and clownish affair for the audience and the band members. McCaughey penned most of the songs on YFF’s albums.
Jonny Sangster briefly joined YFF in 1985 on bass to allow McCaughey to switch from bass to guitar. Sangster left shortly after joining the band and was replaced by Sangster’s brother Jim before the band’s second album release. In 1986, the band released their second album Topsy Turvy. Rolling Stone reviewed the album very favorably and YFF was soon one of the more popular Seattle band’s playing a unique blend of upbeat music that was solidly rooted in rock & roll.
In 1987, YFF released their first EP, Refreshments, which was later reissued with The Men Who Loved Music on Frontier Records in 1993. The album is another work of frolicking fun cast in the traditional rock & roll songs of love, summer, and money. McWilson provides additional vocals on some of the album’s tracks. McCoughey’s raw and funny “Get Outta My Cave” is an homage to the Rolling Stone’s garage
Resides in Seattle, WA; married to Christy McWilson; one daughter.
ormed The Young Fresh Fellows, 1982; released Fabulous Sounds Of The Pacific Northwest, 1984; released first solo album, My Chartreuse Opinion, 1989; formed side project Minus 5, 1993; Minus 5 released Old Liquidator, 1995; McCaughey joined R.E.M. as a back-up musician, 1995. McCaughey is a frequent member of many local Seattle bands like The Squirrels, Tautara, Magnificant Seven, and his Nick Lowe cover band, The Lowebeats.
Addresses: Record company —Hollywood Records, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521, (818) 560-5670, fax: (818) 841-5140, website: http://www.hollywoodrecords.com.
band classic “Get Off of My Cloud.” Other songs like “My Friend Ringo” and “I got My Mojo Working (And I thought You’d like To Know)” highlight the more clownish tradition of the band’s live shows.
Shortly after YFF’s 1988 release Totally Lost, Carrol left the band and was replaced by Fastbacks guitarist and producer Kurt Bloch. The band’s fourth album was a slight departure from the earlier and more comical aspects of McCoughey’s compositions for YFF. The album still contained the fun and energetic songs but there was a more mature and melancholy accent on songs like “No Help At All.” The band’s fifth album, This One’s For the Ladies, was released in 1989. Bloch’s guitar provided a wonderful melodic pop to McCoughey’s more fractured sound. The album revealed more of McCaughey’s lyrical depth with moving songs like “Still There’s Hope.” YFF played a cover of The Kinks’s “Picture Book” that provided all the energy of the original.
The year 1989 also marked McCaughey’s first solo release, My Chartreuse Opinion, which was produced by long-time friend and producer Conrad Uno. McCaughey was joined by Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken and his fellow YFF mates, minus Hutchison. The album was hailed by members of the press that heard it but mostly it was the musicians in McCaughey’s growing circle that gave the album its highest praise.
Butch Vig helped YFF produce the 1991 release Electric Bird Digest. Digest was recorded shortly before Vig went into the studios with Nirvana to produce Nevermind. Again there was a more melancholy mood expressed than in previous YFF records. The album was a mix of McCaughey’s sadness and Bloch’s energetic pop melodies.
For their next release, YFF incorporated three different producers. Vig helped record a few songs; YFF also went to Memphis to work with Willie Mitchell, a respected R&B producer. While in Memphis the band managed to put in a few additional tracks with Dough Easley, whose credits include working with the southern alternative rockers, the Grifters. The result of the three recording sessions with three different producers was It’s Low Beat Time, released in 1993. The album was a more straightforward power rock & roll record that the band’s previous release had promised. The album also showed McCaughey’s collaborative style with guests like the A-Bones and no less than 20 other musicians providing sound on the album’s 16 tracks.
YFF’s record production slowed after It’s Low Beat Time was released. The band released two more albums in the ’90s, Temptation On Saturday, released in 1995, and their well-deserved greatest hits album, Best Of Young Fresh Fellows, released in 1996. At this time, the band’s members were busy with their other bands: Block was busy playing gigs with his band The Fastbacks and Jim Sangster was busy playing with The Picketts.
Around this time, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck moved to town from Athens, Georgia. McCaughey and Buck shared a similar taste in music. The two started catch a lot of shows and jam together. McCaughey started his side project Minus 5 at about the same time. McCaughey had originally planned Minus 5 to be a solo effort but found that he worked well collaborating with Buck and other musicians. McCaughey had been seeking a new outlet for several songs he had written that did not quite suit YFF’s upbeat rock & roll style. He had slipped a few acoustic and airy songs into the albums but he had many more sitting around. With YFF as his permanent band he did not feel like embarking on another major commitment. Minus 5 sort of evolved as a collaborative project with McCaughey at the center and a continually revolving door of musicians. McCaughey invited numerous musicians to sit in on local gigs and studio sessions to play many of his own compositions and some collaborative works he composed with Buck. The core group of musicians playing in Minus 5 with McCaughey and Buck were Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies. However the band has included McWilson, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, and many others. The music was informal, unrehearsed, spontanious, and raw. Minus 5’s debut, Old Liquidator, was released on Digital Records in 1995. McCaughey told Magnet that the general idea of the album was “me playing acoustic guitar and singing and then everybody putting tons of noise on it.”
In the same year of Minus 5’s debut album, Buck asked McCaughey if he would join R.E.M. for their 1995 Monster world tour as a backup musician. Since things had slowed for the moment with YFF, McCaughey accepted and flew to Los Angeles to audition for the other three members of R.E.M. as their “fifth member” on guitar, keyboards, and bass. Buck’s fellow R.E.M. members liked the fit and McCaughey went on R.E.M.’s world tour.
After completing the Monster tour in early 1996, McCaughey was ready to hit the studio and play gigs with his Minus 5 project. For Minus 5’s follow up to Liquidator, McCaughey invited Auer, Stringfellow, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, The Presidents of the United States of America’s Jason Finn, and the Screaming Trees’s Barrett Martin. The resulting LP, The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy, was released in 1996 on his own label Malt Records, which is linked to Hollywood Records. The songs on the album are more joint collaborations between McCaughey and Buck. McCaughey prefered to call the work an epic or rock opera. Buck prefered to call any similarities between songs pure coincidence.
In June of 2000, Minus 5 released a mini-CD titled Emperor Of The Bathroom. McCaughey’s next project is the soon-to-be-released YFF album due out in early 2001. McCaughey lives with McWilson and their young daughter in Seattle. As for any aspirations of fame or fortune in his future he advised Richard Martin of Willamette Week, “I’m certainly not willing to do the standard rock thing of putting out a record and going on tour for six months and that kind of crap. I like to be here with my family, and I don’t make any money when I tour with the Fellows and the Minus 5. To me, the most important thing is just to get the music out there … I’m mostly putting out stuff for the people who I know will really dig it and enjoy it.” In the local Seattle scene on any given night he might be playing with YFF, Minus 5, or his Nick Lowe cover band, The Lowebeats.
My Chartreuse Opinion, Pop Llama, 1989.
Young Fresh Fellows
Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific, Pop Llama, 1984.
Refreshments, Frontier, 1987.
Totally Lost, Frontier, 1988.
Electric Bird Digest, Frontier, 1991.
It’s Low Beat Time!, Frontier, 1992.
Best of Young Fresh Fellows, Bird Cage, 1996.
Old Liquidator, Digital Records, 1995.
The Lonesome Death Of Buck McCoy, Malt/Hollywood Records, 1996.
Emperor Of The Bathroom, Malt Records, 2000.
Magnet, August 1997.
Willamette Week, December 1997.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 1, 2001).
Angelfire, http://www.angelfire.com/sk/seattlebands/yff.html (December 22, 2000).
Artist Direct, http://www.imusic.artistdirect.com/showcase/modern/minus5.html (December 22, 2000).
MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/gallery/rn/minus5970405.html (December 23, 2000).
Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com/sections/artists/text/bio (December 22, 2000).
WestNet, http://www.westnet.com (December 22, 2000).
Yahoo Music, http://www.musicfinder.yahoo.com (December 22, 2000).