McCaughey on the Mound

McCaughey with The Minus 5 at Solid Sound 2019

Contributor Nick Calvino returns to Noise Floor to chat with Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5 ahead of the former’s appearance at June’s Solid Sound Festival. 


Editor’s Note: Longtime readers may recall that circa 2020, when this live music blog was not able to cover any live music, some friends joined up to contribute interviews, playlists and features to pass the time. Some even enjoyed doing so enough to come back! This week, Nick presents the first of a pair of interviews on the road to this year’s Solid Sound. 

Take a glance at their credits and you’ll have no doubt that Scott McCaughey is one of the true rock and roll lifers. He’s a founding member of The Minus 5 and The Baseball Project. He was brought on as an auxiliary member of R.E.M. And his skills have graced the records of M. Ward, Robyn Hitchcock, and Alejandro Escovedo among many others.

Seriously. Look him up if you aren’t familiar. 

But at this year’s iteration of Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, McCaughey will be playing Young Fresh Fellows – the band that put him front and center for many fans 40 years ago with their soon to be reissued debut album The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest

We asked some questions of Mr. McCaughey ahead of their performance at the festival. And don’t worry – we asked him about baseball. 

NC: It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on the 40th anniversary of Young Fresh Fellows’ debut album (The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest). As the reissue is prepped and its release soon to come, how does it feel looking back on that record and the group’s impact?

SM: I’m not too great at judging historical impact. Sometimes it seems like there is none! But at the same time I’m thankful that this little record that we made so modestly, with absolutely no plan for it (but to impress our friends), is a monument to what still guides our lives, which is good times rock and roll! Which will hopefully be very obvious when we play it live.

NC: Having toured for many years with your own projects and with other groups such as R.E.M., you must have encountered countless examples of music festivals. Having played Solid Sound in the past with The Minus 5 and The Baseball Project, how does it compare to other events?

SM: Solid Sound is just plain amazing. What I love most about it, is the size, the quality of the performers, and the willing openness of the fans to be as beguiled by newly-discovered acts as by their trusted favorites. It’s no surprise that a band as willful and adventurous as Wilco would be the caretakers of such a welcoming cultural mini-phenomenon. Hey, it’s no Glastonbury — and I’ve had fantastic times there — but we can all appreciate the very civilized nature of MASS MoCA and the under-the-radar (or long-overlooked) acts that I find so compelling.

NC: The running joke – earning its own bumper sticker – is that it always rains at Solid Sound. But I cannot recall such a memorable rainy day moment as the 2019 rainbow that came out as you and Jeff Tweedy played “Let’s Go Rain” (in which you’re namechecked). Not even sure if I have a very coherent question other than a Chris Farley Show-style “Do you remember that? That was awesome.”

SM: That was incredible. As you can imagine, that song means a lot to me. Yes, I planned it, and it came off rather well! There [were] some other magic moments that year.

Jonathan Richman danced the rain away during the afternoon. And the Minus 5 set was perfectly-slated for the sunniest window and an insanely appreciative crowd.

NC: Could you give a bit of background on your connection with Wilco? How did you all come into each other’s orbits? 

SM: I met Jeff and Uncle Tupelo when they opened a [Young Fresh Fellows] show at Off Broadway in St. Louis, in 1988, before they had a record. I remembered being super impressed with their repertoire – I considered it almost scholarly, for such young, uh, fellows.  

Years later when Jeff moved to Chicago and got together with Sue Miller (best buddy and supporter of [Young Fresh Fellows], back to even pre-Lounge Ax days), we struck up a deeper kinship (Susie to Jeff: “Stop stealing my friends!”  Ha!). So it has remained.  

Peter Buck had produced Uncle Tupelo, and when I joined up with R.E.M., we had Wilco on multiple tours, which was a dream come true. We bounce a lot off each other, musically and otherwise. I feel a small member of the Tweedy and Wilco family and I’m damn thankful for it.  

NC: What can the audience at this year’s Solid Sound expect from Young Fresh Fellows?

SM: Oh you know, shenanigans?

Nah, I’m sure we will present a good portion of that legendary first record, as well as playing hits from our incredible pandemic album Toxic Youth, and a few other tunes from our vast and underplayed catalog. There will be aged pogoing, youthful drum antics by NRBQ’s John Perrin, and quite possibly cut-off jeans worn by Jim [Sangster] and Kurt [Bloch] depending on the weather. I might even be able to play the set without a music stand!

NC: Bonus question: Unrelated – but how are you feeling about this year’s MLB season as it begins?

SM: The Giants and Mariners can’t score runs. This is not a surprise as it seems to happen most every year. The A’s (my other team, based on my history) are getting the royal shaft by MLB and ownership. They will lose 100 games this year, but I’m declaring them my favorite right now!  Nothing to expect, nothing to lose. I’m so bored with the Dodgers and Yankees.  

On the other hand, I’m stretching out my arm in case I’m needed on the mound. I have never had a UCL strain to my knowledge.