“People will be like, ‘God, I don’t ever wanna see that Scott McCaughey guy again!’”
Scott McCaughey is discussing his band’s — or rather (and more to the point), his two bands’ — upcoming West Coast tour, wondering if perhaps a Minus 5/Young Fresh Fellows double bill constitutes oversaturation of the chronically capacity-challenged McCaughey marketplace. In this business model gone awry, supply is forever lapping the field of demand. As with his no-relation namesakes the McCaughey septuplets, the cup overfloweth, and then some.
This disease multiplies in compound manifestations, too. Of his two bands — and, for the moment, we’ll bypass his primary breadwinning role as a sideman with R.E.M. — the Young Fresh Fellows have long been conspicuous for their ubiquity, having appeared on so many compilation albums and released so many seven-inch singles in addition to their dozen or so proper albums that even McCaughey would have a tough time accounting for them all. The Minus 5, meanwhile, are notable for their seemingly endless entourage of personnel; a revolving lineup both on record and onstage has been a hallmark of the entity since its inception circa 1993.
In keeping with the battle-of-the-bands theme of the groups’ new double-disc set — credited to “Young Fresh Fellows vs. the Minus 5″ and carrying the dual title Because We Hate You/Let The War Against Music Begin — I ask McCaughey which figure might be higher: The total number of Fellows appearances on any record of any kind, or the total number of musicians who have played live or in the studio with the Minus 5. “Um…it might be pretty close,” McCaughey muses, pondering the equation in his head but clearly not crazy enough to actually try to count them all.
Which is what I find myself trying to do a few days later. An exact appraisal is futile, but a Fellows discography found on a fan’s website helps considerably, and musicians’ credits on the Minus 5 records provide a good base from which to add live-show participants. Ultimately, an unofficial tally is reached.
The envelope, please: With the February 27 release of Because We Hate You on Malt/Hollywood, the Young Fresh Fellows clock in at 65 — squeaking past the Minus 5′s grand total of 64.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Minus 5 will play a gig any minute now with two new recruits onstage, snidely retaking the lead. That’s just the kind of band they are.
All this obsession with quantity would be a rather moot point if McCaughey’s music did not also consistently achieve an admirable level of quality.
There is, after all, a reason the Fellows have been on so many compilation records: Labels and producers specifically seek their participation because they’re a top-notch rock band. And a very versatile one; though pop-leaning garage music has always been at the core, the Fellows’ music is informed by its members’ knowledge of folk, metal, punk, jazz…heck, even country.
There’s also a reason musicians ranging from R.E.M.’s Peter Buck to Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard to NRBQ’s Terry Adams to singer-songwriters Robyn Hitchcock and Mary Lou Lord have all done time with the Minus 5: Good musicians are glad to have the opportunity to collaborate with McCaughey.
“I love playing with Scott,” says Buck, who has been McCaughey’s most constant companion in the Minus 5, having played on all of the band’s releases. “I get to do stuff that’s a little more straight-ahead rockin’ in this band that R.E.M. maybe doesn’t do. And also Scott is pretty left-field, so I’m always kind of learning new stuff.”