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Members include Peter Buck, guitar, vocals; Scott McCaughey (married musician Christy McWilson; children: two), guitar, vocals. Addresses: Record company---Yep Roc Records, P.O. Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, website: http://www.yeproc.com.
The Minus 5 was founded in 1993 in Seattle, Washington, developed as a side project for Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Scott McCaughey, best known as the singer-songwriter for the Young Fresh Fellows, an underground pop band based in Seattle. The group has brought in numerous guest artists, both for recording and performing, most notably collaborating with Wilco.
According to a tongue-in-cheek history of the group found on the Yep Roc Website, The Minus 5 was founded "when McCaughey realized he had a dumptruckload of songs that the Young Fresh Fellows would either never get around to, or wisely chose not to. His friends and fellow Seattleites Peter Buck, Ken Stringfellow, and Jon Auer were quick to volunteer to help Scott capture his 'Let The Bad Times Roll' vision, and these early sessions produced The Hello EP and Old Liquidator. Many other luminants have since joined the ranks of the Minus 5. ... It's a bit like a cancer, really."
A restless and prolific popster, McCaughey also began playing with R.E.M. in 1994, and playing and songwriting for the free jazz group Tuatara in 1996. The other constant in the group, Buck, is best known for his work with R.E.M., but founded Tuatara after R.E.M. had finished work on Monster. McCaughey told Magnet Magazine that the intent behind the band was to get the "sick, slow, sad songs ... out of me, so they would leave me alone. But they haven't. They're still torturing me."
The first recordings released by The Minus 5 collective were Hello, which was released by They Might Be Giants' Hello Recording Club in 1994, and 1995's Emperor Of The Bathroom on East Side Digital. That same year the label also released Old Liquidator, the first full length project by The Minus 5.
The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy was a 1997 collaboration between McCaughey and Buck. McCaughey told Guitar Player, "We were initially thinking in terms of a kind of a twisted folk-rock record, so we were leaning more towards the [Beatles'] Rubber Soul-ish era for guitar sounds. ... The idea was that we'd take some of the influences that we liked when we were younger---as a child in my case---and then underlay it with demented, out-of-tune feedback and really, lo-fi recording things."
The two also had worked on projects including Tuatara's Breaking the Ethers and West, a Buck collaboration with Mark Eitzel (ex-American Music Club). This prompted Tim Kenneally of Guitar Player to joke that "if Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey spend much more time together, they might consider getting engaged." Matthew Despres, describing The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy for the University of Houston student newspaper, commented that "McCaughey's words draped over Buck's classically jangled guitar produced the band's most decisive and well-received effort to date." Entertainment Weekly called it "an album of casually perfect crystalline pop ... acerbic Merseybeat-inflected songs with layers of guitars and keyboards ... A passionate, exhilarating, rough-hewn disc."
That same year, McCaughey's solo album My Chartreuse Opinion was reissued as a Minus 5 recording. A double-disc split---Let The War Against Music Begin/ Because We Hate You---featuring The Minus 5 and Young Fresh Fellows was released that same year. While performing in 2000, The Minus 5 developed a more solid cast of characters. In addition to McCaughey, Buck, and Stringfellow, John Ramberg played guitar and Bill Rieflin covered drums. Hollywood Records dropped the group after it went through restructuring, but McCaughey continued to record seemingly undeterred, signing with Yep Roc for the next release.
The Minus 5 and alt-country darlings Wilco might seem an unikely pairing, but McCaughey had known Jeff Tweedy for more than a decade. They played live and eventually recorded together in 2001. "[Jeff and I] wrote some songs together backstage and that sort of thing," McCaughey told Despres. "It really gathered impetus for us to do a record; we were talking about it as long ago as '99." John Stiratt and Glenn Kotche from Wilco played with the group. "Usually on Minus 5 records, I build the songs from scratch, then get whoever [sic] I can to add stuff at the end," McCaughey said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. "This time, the sketches were really primitive. Everything developed in the studio. Jeff seemed to have a vision for what the record should sound like."
In 2003, when the recording Down with Wilco was finally cleared for release, the group performed a limited number of live shows. Tom Moon, a critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, called the project "fantastical pop that's Beach Boys-buoyant, yet has a dark, almost sinister side."
"The guy with the lampshade on his head and the guy with the furrow in his brow don't normally make beautiful music together," noted Daily Variety, referring to the pairing of McCaughey and Tweedy. This "makes the mad-scientist miscegenation of the Minus 5 and Wilco a fascinating anomaly." Perhaps the pairing is not really that odd. McCaughey recalled that the groups, especially in their early years, shared many of the same influences.
The Minus 5 In Rock was released after the Wilco project. Reviewer Jim Abbott of the Orlando Sentinel commented that the recording clearly demonstrated that McCaughey "doesn't need anyone else's buzz. A few more transcendent songs wouldn't hurt, but 'In Rock' is still more vibrant and raucously energetic than the country-tinged 'Wilco.'" What may happen with The Minus 5 is never clear, since much depends on what's happening with R.E.M., McCaughey's and Buck's "day job." McCaughey told the Seattle Weekly, "My whole thing with the Minus 5 is to go with whatever opportunities, coincidences, and disasters come along. That's just the way it happens with this band ... it's the way it always should be."
by Linda Dailey Paulson
The Minus 5's Career
Group formed in Seattle, WA, by Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, 1993; Hello released, 1994; Emperor Of The Bathroom released, 1995; first full-length project, Old Liquidator released in 1995; The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy released, 1997; McCaughey signed band to Yep Roc, c. 2000; paired with members of Wilco for album recorded in 2001; Down with Wilco released, 2003; The Minus 5 In Rock released, 2003.
- Selected discography
- Hello (EP), Hello Recording Club, 1994.
- Emperor Of The Bathroom (EP), East Side Digital, 1995.
- Old Liquidator Glitterhouse/East Side Digital,1995.
- Live At The Crocodile (compilation), PopLlama, 1996.
- The Lonesome Death Of Buck McCoy Malt/Hollywood 1997.
- Songs of Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry (compilation), PolyGram, 1997.
- The Minus 5 In Rock Book Records, 2000; reissued, Yep Roc, 2003.
- Let The War Against Music Begin Mammoth/Malt, 2001.
- Down With Wilco Yep Roc, 2003.
- I Don't Know Who I Am (Let The War Against Music Begin, Vol. 2) Return to Sender, 2003.
- America's Intelligence Wire, March 6, 2003; April 2, 2003; May 7, 2003.
- Daily Variety, May 1, 2003.
- Entertainment Weekly, May 9, 1997.
- Guitar Player, September 1997.
- Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 24, 2003; February 19, 2004.
- "The Minus 5," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 25, 2004).
- "Scott McCaughey," Magnet Magazine, http://www.magnetmagazine.com/interviews/mccaughey2.html (August 25, 2004).
- "Wilco's Tweedy is on an ultra-creative spree," Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/entertainment/5137581.htm?1c (August 25, 2004).
- Yep Roc Records Website, http://www.yeproc.com (July 30, 2004).
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