Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jul 13th 2009 4:00PM by Jason Cohen
College/indie heroes in the late '80s and early '90s, the Young Fresh Fellows are, as Hitchcock's tells Spinner, "a great, really great, American band. Up there with Sonic Youth and The E Street Band. They play pop, rock and punk in ways that never really happened back in the pop, rock and punk eras: they have telescoped Jan and Dean with the Ramones and other classic "American" acts like Mott the Hoople and the Who."
But these days, bobble-armed drummer Tad Hutchison and bassist/quipster Jim Sangster have kids and jobs -- if you're lucky enough to catch one of the band's rare live appearances, they're the ones who've seen the inside of a barbershop -- while frontman Scott McCaughey's primary outlet is the Minus 5, formerly his "side-project" with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and members of the Posies. The Minus 5's eighth album, 'Killingsworth,' is chock full of Decemberists members and came out on the same day as 'I Think This Is.'
McCaughey (pronounced "McCoy") has also been the extra man in R.E.M. since 1994, and he, Buck and R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin moonlight further as Hitchcock's backing band, the Venus Three. "When are the Fellows going to make another record?" Hitchcock would ask on tour. "When you produce it," McCaughey would retort. Then it really happened.
"About a year and a half ago Robyn was coming to Seattle to finish his latest album, 'Goodnight Oslo,' and he said, 'I was thinking I'll just come like, five days early, and we'll get the studio and do the Fellows record,'" McCaughey says. "That gave us some time to rehearse a bit and pick songs. We rocked through it in five days, pretty much."
'I Think This Is' shimmers with the sort of power-pop and garage hooks that makes it possible to sing along with songs like 'Lamp Industries' and 'If You Believe in Cleveland' on second listen, but for McCaughey, the joy of being in the Young Fresh Fellows is, simply, well, being in the Young Fresh Fellows.
"The music's really great, but it's secondary to just hanging out with these guys," he says. "No matter how much time goes on we immediately fall back into being the Fellows -- we kind of have our own language and our own sense of humor, which probably isn't even funny."
On the contrary, the band's penchant for laffs (they've even made it onto the 'Dr. Demento' radiio show) has sometimes caused their songwriting and music to be overlooked. "They have, to some extent, been overlooked by themselves," Hitchcock says . "Humor allows life to get away with a lot, and the Fellows' ability to laugh at themselves along with everything else has kept them philosophical to the point of scorning ambition. Comedy and rock don't really mix, because rock is so pretentious in a way: there is a tacit agreement made by an audience not to snicker at the poses a rock act strikes, just as women are generally kind enough not to become hysterically amused by their male partners' sex organs. The Fellows make no such deal.
"Comedy and pop is a different matter," he continues. "George Martin allegedly signed the Beatles because he thought they were funny, not because he though that much of their songs. Watching the Fellows gives me a similar flush of warm feelings about humanity that I get from watching and listening to the early Beatles. I am so glad we got to make this record!"