Not So Young, Still Fresh

A seminal punk-pop trio tours behind their first album in nearly a decade.

The Pacific Northwest can boast a good deal about its influence on popular music. Many of us are quick to point out our venerable jazz heritage and our spot on the map as the birthplace of grunge. Now a handful of notable area groups are popping back on the scene after years of silence. The legendary Sonics, for example, decades after their '60s heyday, recently staged a well-received comeback, with South by Southwest showcases and sold-out shows in Seattle and beyond. And next month, irreverent garage quartet the Young Fresh Fellows—a group which names the Sonics as a major influence—will issue a new record after eight years of downtime.Considered by many a pioneering force behind the Seattle Sound, the Young Fresh Fellows formed in the early '80s and bridged punk and pop with a flippant, accessible style years before grunge ever became synonymous with Seattle. They toured with the Replacements and were produced by Butch Vig, who had a hand in making some of that era's most defining releases (among them Nirvana's Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins' Gish). Recording through the '80s and '90s, Fellows mainstays Jim Sangster, Kurt Bloch, Tad Hutchinson, and frontman Scott McCaughey established a loyal following, cranking out a canon of releases. Their raucous live appearances grew sporadic over the years as McCaughey became caught up in other projects, namely touring with R.E.M. and performing with guitarist Peter Buck as Minus 5. But on July 7, YFF are set to release I Think This Is, their first studio release in nearly a decade."We always wanted to do another record, we just seemed to never have the time; we'd be in other bands, a couple of our guys are really busy with families and kids, and it's that much harder to schedule things," McCaughey explains. "But it wasn't like we broke up or anything—we'd usually play a couple shows a year. Last year was the first year in 25 years we haven't played a show, although it just happened that way because I was just gone all the time."Despite the eight-year layoff, they put I Think This Is together surprisingly fast. Of course it helped that their longtime friend and supporter, British rock legend Robyn Hitchcock, produced the entire album. "We got together for five days to do the Fellows record," recalls McCaughey, speaking from his home in Portland. "Most of the music, particularly the stuff we did with Robyn, we really knocked that out quickly. It was really fast."Far from feeling rushed or incomplete, the new album is a solid effort with the potential to reignite fan interest in the classic YFF sound, with familiar guitar-driven anthems and offhand refrains. McCaughey says the assistance of Hitchcock (whose recent cameo in Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married sparked a new wave of interest in the eclectic songwriter) "was instrumental" for the record's overall tone."We'd play a song, and he would say, 'What if you did it this way, like more disco?' Well, we can't play disco, we're too retarded. But he would make us try to do something different, and then would find new arrangements for some of the songs. They would eventually change from the way we thought they would be. I liked the way it came out. We never would have come upon it on our own...for some reason, Robyn really likes the Fellows."Somewhat ironically, I Think This Is will be released simultaneously with the Minus 5's new record, Killingsworth—and both feature Peter Buck on tracks. The timing was interesting but not intentional, McCaughey says. The Fellows' previous album, 2001's Because We Hate You, was also timed around a Minus 5 record, and was released as a split issue. "That was an idea I came up with for a battle of the bands. I thought that was really cool, so I didn't want to do that again," says McCaughey. "It wasn't like [the new records] were planned to come out at the same time. I wasn't thinking about it that far ahead. As it turns out, they ended up getting finished around the same time."For all their recent activity, the Fellows will play only two live shows in support of their new album—all the more reason to get out and see the fabled band do their thing. There's no telling when you'll get the chance again.feedback@seattleweekly.com

 
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