Tag Archives: FASTBACKS


Not as financially and commercially established as Seattle’s top grunge artists, but more experienced in terms of playing, the Fastbacks never amassed an arena-sized audience but really should have. Strangely, in the early ‘90s, the Fastbacks snappy straight-ahead approach went against what the mass media (radio, MTV, ads) gave access to. So as grunge’s popularity went through the roof internationally, efficient power pop bands saw a slight decline.

As a point of fact, it turns out the Fastbacks are one of the most generous and respectful band you’d ever meet. At Roseland Ballroom in ‘96, my friend Al and I spent the entire pre-show backstage hanging out, drinking beers, and eating food with ‘em. Ironically, they were opening for the Presidents Of The United States Of America (whose drummer, Jason Finn, spent time in the Fastbacks). What was surprising about the Presidents was they were a novelty pop band that was also from Seattle and somehow got lucky and bucked the grunge trend and actually still found commercial success with singles like “Kittie” and “Lump.”

The Fastbacks disbanded in 2001, but Bloch continues to put out infrequent Minus 5 records and, by ’08, began playing in Robyn Hitchcock’s touring unit. As you’ll read below, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam kick started the sessions for ‘96s New Mansions In Sound (one of their final recordings). This article originally appeared in HITS magazine.

Seattle’s insouciant Fastbacks were formed way back in ’79, releasing their debut EP, Fastbacks Play 5 Of Their Favorites, in ’82 on then-fledging local label, Sub Pop. Guitarist-composer Kurt Bloch splits time in way-pop combo, Young Fresh Fellows, and recently produced grunge architects, Mudhoney, and hard-driving rockers, Gas Huffer. Along with bassist Kim Warnick, guitarist Lulu Gargiulo, and new drummer, Mike Musberger, the Fastbacks practically invented the indie-pop genre.

The band’s non-stop repertoire at NYC’s spacious Roseland Ballroom included a cutesy cover of the Raspberries frisky ’72 smash, “Go All The Way.’ For three-quarters of an hour, Bloch hopped and bopped across the stage while displaying exuberant guitar riffs that jettisoned from the speakers like lush ear candy.

Opening for close friends and current pop sensations, The Presidents Of The United States Of America, their lubricated lolli-pop recalls the Golden Age of ‘60s AM radio. The bands’ charming new LP, New Mansions In Sound, picks up where the critically acclaimed ’94 set, Answer The Phone, Dummy, left off. The Farfis-dominated “No Information,” and the contagious “Just Say” beg pop lovers to try another flavor as Bloch and Warnick kick up some dust.

What was Seattle’s music scene like before Nirvana broke things wide open?

KIM WARNICK: There was a time in the early ‘80s when nobody cared and venues were limited. Nobody ever imagined major labels would one day start signing up these local bands. But what has happened in Seattle has only helped us, even if we didn’t get mass exposure.

What music did you listen to growing up?

KIM: The Beatles, Sex Pistols, cheesy metal bands. One of my favorite singles was the Archies “Sugar Sugar.” It’s amazingly pure, simple bubblegum similar to 190 Fruitgum Co. I even remember talking to Kenny Laguna about his days with Tommy James & the Shondells. We did a cover of “Ball Of Fire” which remains unreleased. Kenny helped write that song. But my favorite band of all time is the Muffs. Kim Shattuck is a hit machine.

I hear you’re friendly with Hole’s Courtney Love?

KIM: Oh yeah. She showed up unexpectedly at one of our recent shows. I’m always amazed at the Phyllis Diller-like one-liners she uses. Her best line was when she told security, ‘My face is my backstage pass.’

How did the recording sessions for New Mansions In Sound work out?

KIM: Kurt thought the record was too weird. He went over the edge producing other projects and it breaks his heart when he can’t fully invest his heart and soul in something. He stayed up all night trying to get tracks down. But Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder showed up and changed Kurt’s attitude immediately. Almost instantly, we were finishing tracks in one take. Eddie even sang on “Girl’s Eyes.” He’s a big fan of The Who. So we ended up fucking around with some Keith Moon song while we were in a drunken state.

What song do you enjoy most from the new disc?

KIM: I love “Just Say” because it reminds me of Joan Jett. I’ve been a fan of hers since she was in the Runaways. We toured with her during the Bad Reputation days.

You mentioned a documentary film concerning the Seattle scene.

KIM: Doug Pray, this graduate of L.A. film school came up to Seattle in ’91 in order to document the newly discovered scene. In the film, bands like Nirvana, Green River, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, and the Presidents talk offhandedly about their mutual friendships. It’s full of funny stuff. You’ll be rolling on the aisles laughing. But the footage of the Gits’ Mia Zapata, who was brutally murdered a few years ago, will absolutely break your heart.

I heard you met Sean Lennon while you were in New York on your previous tour.

Sean was at one of our concerts talking about his mom and dad. He asked me if I’d like to meet his mom. And I was like, ‘Ohhh, I don’t think I can do that.’ Fuck! It’s hard enough talking to you. But he’s such a well-balanced kid and I think he’s got a great singing voice.

(At this point in our conversation, Kurt walks in with Dave Dederer of The Presidents Of The United States Of America, who have returned from performing on the David Letterman Show.)

KURT BLOCH: People wanted me to sign autographs because they thought I was in the Presidents.

DAVE DEDERER: I had a great rock and roll moment on Letterman. I tried to throw my guitar at the drum set, but as I let go, it got caught in my shoulder and neck and went ‘boing!. There it was just hanging off my back.

KURT: Did you hurt yourself? The other night, I tried to do that and I hit myself on the back of the head.

(As things get back to normal, I talk to Kurt for a few moments)

Tell me some interesting background stuff.

KURT: I went to an alternative private school, where I worked on some electronic projects. I bought 45’s every week until 1973. Then I got excited about ‘70s rock. We had a radio station in high school which allowed us to rock out after 6 o’clock.

What concerts did you attend while you were still in high school?

KURT: The first actual rock concert I saw was Procol Harum’s Grand Hotel tour in ’73. I always liked their pomposity factor. The second concert I went to was Robin Trower – then Blue Oyster Cult. They played in Seattle all the time.

What type of response do you expect to get from your audience?

KURT: We don’t mind if they throw shit at us; as long as we’re getting feedback we’ll be o.k. There are always some ten-year-olds in the front row sitting there saying, ‘Play that one good song.’


FOREWORD: More of a biography of longstanding Seattle DIY artist, Scott Mc Caughey, than anything else, the following piece goes through the busybody’s rambling career fronting indie rockers Young Fresh Fellows and Minus 5 and his stint in REM. He became the bassist in Robyn Hitchcock’s band, Venus 3, and on occasion, puts out Minus 5 albums for his cult audience.

About a decade before grunge sprouted wings in Seattle, there were two terrific bands hopping around the West Coast displaying their homebred DIY skills: the Fastbacks, led by confectionery pop genius Kurt Bloch, and the Young Fresh Fellows, fronted by frolicking marvel Scott Mc Caughey. Reliant on good time rock and roll and insouciant revelry rather than the clinically depressed lyrics and sonic noise pandemonium of serious-minded grunge pupils the Melvins, Mother Love Bone, and Nirvana, the Fastbacks and Fellows were party troopers sharing beers with migrating Tucson-bred hillbilly-bent country-rock jesters the Supersuckers.

Despite differing social outlooks and life experiences, a common regional bond and two renowned producers – Conrad Uno and Butch Vig – united these thriving disparate artists. Ironically, Scott and Kurt’s feel good bands outlasted downtrodden financially successful proteges Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Hole (though Vedder’s Pearl Jam and Buzzo’s Melvins still stand). Meanwhile, Mc Caughey’s side project with REM’s Peter Buck, the Minus 5, are making rounds with some pretty cool sounds themselves.

“Seattle has a self-deprecating beer drinking attitude,” Mc Caughey insists. “It’s not that they don’t take music seriously, but it’s not a big city. It’s a modest atmosphere. No one takes success for granted.”

Growing up a San Franciscan Beach Boys-Beatles fan and now proudly part of REM when not busy with the latest Fellows lineup and the increasingly popular Minus 5, Scott Mc Caughey began 4-tracking reel-to-reels at home by the early ‘80s.

“Back then, you’d get by if you were in a cover band playing taverns. Original bands were in the punk scene and they’d have to hand out flyers to play the Odd Fellows Hall,” Mc Caughey remembers. “You’d play for an hour, then the police would shut you down. At Roscoe Louie Art Gallery, there’d be punk shows in Pioneer Square downtown.”

Worthy early recordings such as ‘85s ludicrously amusing Topsy Turvy, ‘87s more melodically assured The Men Who Loved Music (featuring the kitschy motorific slingshot “I Got My Mojo Working”) and its collateral Refreshments EP (with the ridiculously juvenile “Beer Money” and unjust leftovers) gave Young Fresh Fellows a core audience. Mc Caughey, balking stylish image and teen idolatry, managed to survive those lean years by recording spontaneously and touring moderately.

“It was DIY by necessity then,” he explains. “People got good at making their own records. We made a record with Conrad Uno and stations played it. We rented a van, drove cross-country, and played before there was an (underground) circuit.”

‘89s fabulously nerve-wracked This One’s For the Ladies achieved an embryonic apex, gathering the horn-rasped ska rip-up “TV Dream” and a spunky cheery-eyed spoof on white gospel singer “Amy Grant.”

“This One’s For the Ladies was the first Fellows record with Kurt Bloch. We were all revitalized (after ‘88s lesser Totally Lost). We were inspired and prolific, recording 35 songs, keeping 16. Kurt’s one of my best friends, one of the best guitarists, and a great songwriter with the Fastbacks. It was great how he added three to four songs to forthcoming Fellows records for extra flavor,” Mc Caughey offers.

Following ‘91s flimsy Electric Bird Digest, the Fellows got to work on several tracks with famed Memphis-based Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell and legendary local lo-fi Sonics engineer Kearney Barton for ‘92s livelier It’s Low Beat Time.

Mc Caughey recollects, “We were really into‘60s instrumentals Willie did, like “30-60-90,” and his work with Al Green. He warned, ‘You don’t wanna do instrumentals. No one listens to them anymore.’ But once he saw we were sincere, he agreed to work with us. We told him we weren’t looking for a hit record. He thought we were nuts.”

But Barton understood the Fellows no-hit predicament and glass-ceiling dilemma first-hand. Though the Sonics had a great provincial following and now qualify as garage-rock progenitors, their notoriety grew subsequent to minor national ‘60s missives.

“We’re huge fans of Barton’s records. He operated a studio a few blocks from Conrad Uno. We recorded straight to 2-track. He mixed everything on the fly. I took Teengenerate and the Smugglers there for sessions,” Mc Caughey interjects.

Concurrently, Mc Caughey and REM’s Peter Buck assembled revolving unit Minus 5 with indie pop wunderkinds the Posies (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow), setting the stage for an initial self-titled ’93 EP and ‘95s capricious Old Liquidator.

“Peter had just moved to Seattle and I had all these downer quiet songs that were different – forming a psychedelic folk core,” Mc Caughey recalls. “Bizarrely, a friend of mine working Hollywood Records A & R signed us for (‘97s) Lonesome Death of Buck Mc Coy. When he switched to Mammoth, he eventually brought the Fellows along. But I started working with REM and couldn’t promote the records well. Schedules conflicted, but we had modest expectations and a small budget.”

Along the way, Mc Caughey became a pivotal figure in deserving underground outfits such as singer Ernest Anyway’s loopy Squirrels and Barrett Martin’s Jazz-tweaked troupe Tuatara. During ’97, he spent one weekend hooking up with Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken for ‘99s solid solo set, My Chartreuse Opinion.

From there, ‘01s uniquely fascinating twin split discs, Let The War Against Music Begin (Minus 5 with a boatload of collaborators) sidled by Because We Hate You (Young Fresh Fellows with Presidents Of USA’s Chris Ballew in tow), reached an effective dual peak. The former favors moodier retreats such as sensitively optimistic “John Barleycorn Must Live” and karmic Beach Boys-spiked “Great News Around You.” The latter recreates exuberant ‘60s AM radio pop with spiffy Boyce-Hart remake “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight,” terse punk expulsion “She’s A Book,” and sly psych-garage reinvention “My Drum Set.”

“I try to have a thread running through records. Because We Hate You was gonna be a return to Men Who Loved Music with references to bands and the music scene. “The Ballad Of You & The Can’t Prevent Forest Fires” concerned a fictional ‘60s band I made a song about. “Fuselage” was about my basement studio and (the self-congratulatory Pet Sounds knockoff) “Good Time Rock And Roll” is about touring with the Presidents. “Your Truth Our Lies” we tried to make sound like early punks Sham 69,” he shares.

As for Let the War, Mc Caughey avows, “I wanted it to be pretty, poppy, and upbeat, though the lyrics are sad and horrible. I wanted that dichotomy. Originally, it was gonna be a weird downer record where things fell apart. But I saved those songs for (‘03s German mail order-only) I Don’t Know How I Am.”

Arguably Minus 5’s finest album, ‘03s illuminating Down With Wilco flips the script as a rootsy therapeutic low-key retreat. Given free reign to mold faultless acoustic adaptations, the subtly complex laid-back digressions and serendipitous neuroticism of nimble alt-country Wilco luminaries Jeff Tweedy (guitar-keys) and John Stirratt (bass) fit the extended combo’s oeuvre without alienating pop-minded supporters.

Released in limited quantity during 2000, Minus 5’s vigorous In Rock (Yep Roc) received proper distribution in ’04 (with the addition of four new tunes). Starting with the fuzz-toned neo-psych 87-second blazer, “Bambi Molester” (honoring same-named Croatian surf instrumentalists), a skewered titular horror theme ensues. There’s the grave “In A Lonely Coffin,” cynically perplexed organ-deepened “The Night Chicago Died Again,” accusatory “Lies Of The Living Dead,” and demented Doors-draped diatribe “Dr. Evil.”

For festive relief, the bouncy glam-rock ascension “Cosmic Jive” befits nouveau Seattle garage denizens Visqueen while “The Forgotten Fridays” glides through Byrdsian choral harmonies and Tommy–era Pete Townshend guitar chords before drifting into the ether.

‘60s prodding aside, Mc Caughey deduces, “It’s like the Rutles. They made fun of the Beatles but captured their early innocence. You may say “The Girl I Never Met” summons softer Beatles fare like “Norwegian Wood” or “Michele.” In Rock’s vinyl version includes “Little Black Egg” by the Nightcrawlers.”

Making cameos alongside Minus 5 mainstays Mc Caughey, Buck, and Bloch on In Rock are Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, and old pal Ballew. Veterans Bill Rieflin and John Ramberg furnish a sturdy rhythmic foundation.

But touring is out of the question since Mc Caughey’s recording a new REM album in the Bahamas.

“I’m proud to be part of REM,” he humbly admits. “I met Peter after he got our ’84 record (the Young Fresh Fellows developmental debut, The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest). While in Seattle, he mentioned us in a college interview. I saw REM play, then gradually over the years I’d give him records and we’d become friends. In ’91, I stayed at his house after an Athens show. In ’92, REM did Automatic For the People in Seattle. We hung out and he moved here. So it made sense when they toured to ask me to join since we got along well.”

Though Mc Caughey’s retro-minded eclecticism and carefree bohemian idealism may preclude a distinct persona, his alert compositional skills and uncanny ability to emulate re-fried tasty riffs make him an unsung working class hero perched below today’s tacky trendsetters and tomorrow’s flossy pop pabulum. So pump up the volume, relax, and let the real Mc Caughey take you on an unending journey to some distant past existing outside yesterday’s marketing scheme.

One Sub Pop employee maintains, “You can’t heckle a band in Seattle without pissing him off.” -John Fortunato