By Rich Webb
There was a Seattle Scene before Grunge came along and changed the face of music in America. The bands that came from Seattle before then were better known, if at all, for being light and airy, rather poppy in their material. The Young Fresh Fellows were part of that lineage.
Creatures are taking over my house
The Fellows formed in 1982 after Scott McCaughey moved to the area to found a rock 'n' roll news magazine, only to find that the Rocket had started up since his last visit. They released their first album, The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest in 1984. Combining tongue in cheek lyrics with straight ahead power pop, the album's soundtrack merged seamlessly into an old Pacific Northwest Bell telephone company promotional record, and served to introduce a new voice in Seattle rock. The introduction from the Pac Bell record can be heard as the record begins, seamlessly segueing into Rock 'n' Roll Pest Control, a musical slap in the face to anyone not really paying attention. Other tracks from that first album include “Teenage Dogs in Trouble”, “This Little Mystery” and the “Young Fresh Fellows Theme”, which all served to introduce the band to the world.
Their second album Topsy Turvy contained themes of old science-fiction movies (The New John Agar, and Agar's Revenge) and overuse of non-prescription substances (How Much About Last Night Do You Remember?). Also included was a terrific cover of a tune by the Sonics, titled “You've Got Your Head On Backwards”, proving that they could power rock as well as anybody.
The Fellows biggest success came from their third album The Men Who Loved Music with the single “Amy Grant”, a song that poked fun at a conservative and religious singer of the day who espoused a wholesome and Godly approach to life. By implying that Ms. Grant was actually a hypocrite with a secret fetish for soul singer Barry White, the Fellows created controversy that lead to play at alternative and college radio stations around the country. Another song, titled “Hank, Karen, and Elvis” sought to burst the bubble of Hank Williams, Karen Carpenter, and Elvis Presley that recent hagiographic biographies had created surrounding these members of popular culture.
Personnel changes dogged the band for years. The one constant throughout was one Scott McCaughey (pronounced “mick-koy) who originally played bass and performed the lead vocal duties, and formed the band with his buddy Chuck Carrol who played guitar, and Carrol's cousin Tad Hutchinson, who played drums. Tad's drum kit was famous for the Wok on a pole that jutted into the air from the kick drum, forming a musical instrument and a dodge-ball type game that was fascinating to watch in performance. It was these three that formed the band that recorded The Squirrels first album with vocalist Rob Morgan, with the band name The New Age Urban Squirrels. Jonny Sangster joined the band in 1985 to play bass, allowing McCaughy to switch to guitar, but left soon after, and was replaced by his brother Jim Sangster. This quartet was the group that had the greatest success as The Young Fresh Fellows.
Carrol left the band in 1988 and was replaced by the furiously slashing guitar of Kurt Block, also a player with the Fastbacks and several other Seattle area bands, and eventually a record producer of some note. Block has gone on to produce albums for The Presidents of the United States of America, Tokyo Dragons, Robyn Hitchcock, Nashville Pussy, Les Thugs, Flop, Sicko, The Minus 5, The Venus 3, and more recently the Tall Birds.
While never quite achieving anything close to national success, they did get a lot of exposure while opening for more famous acts, such as when they toured with They Might Be Giants in 1992. In fact, the TMBG tune “Twisting” contains a direct shout-out to the Fellows with the line “she doesn't have to have her Young Fresh Fellows tape back now", a tune which Giant John Flansburgh claims was heavily influenced by the Fellows.
The sound of subsequent albums from the Fellows strayed a bit from the original power pop tunes recorded with wry lyrics motif that they had been known for, including work with producer Butch Vig in 1991 for the album Electric Bird Digest, just before Vig went into the studio to produce Nirvana's monster album Nevermind. Vig also produced a few tracks for their next album It's Low Beat Time, with Memphis R & B legend Willie Mitchel also producing some tracks. The album turned out to be the Fellows' swan-song, as after that the Fellows seemed to call it a day. McCaughey went on to form a new band, the Minus 5, to give his musical impulses outlet. He also toured as the unofficial fifth member of R.E.M. from 1994 until that band's demise in 2011. The Fellows did release a few more albums in the years to follow, with eight years passing between the release of Because We Hate You (a double disk release with the Minus 5 in 2001), and I Think This Is, produced by Robyn Hitchcock in 2009. They released only one more album, “Tiempo de Lujo” in 2012.
Members of the Fellows are still active in music, with Scott McCaughey working with Peter Buck, formerly of R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock, formerly with the Soft Boys, the Minus 5, and the Baseball Project. Jim Sangster plays with McCaughey in the Lowe Beats, a Nick Lowe tribute band, as well in The Tripwires, The Picketts, The Longshots, and Sgt. Major . Tad Hutchinson was active with Chris Ballew in the Chris & Tad Show. And of course Kurt Bloch is producing just about anybody with music to be made.
At their worst, the Young Fresh Fellows were a pretty good power pop band. At their best, they could make you smile and rock out and dance at the same time, and you really can't ask for more from a band.
This page is authored and maintained by Rich Webb.You can send E-mail to me by following this link to the contact page. And feel free to contact me if you have any comments, criticisms, or suggestions. I remain, however, perfectly capable of ignoring your useless opinion...