Thursday, January 21, 2010

Extra! Extra!

My review of the 4th Annual Len & Bob Bash has been posted on Lumino Magazine. Please click on the link below:


A Conversation With...Scott McCaughey

I first met Scott McCaughey on June 2, 1995 when I was 14.

That's to say I first saw Scott McCaughey from across a stage with 18,000+ people around me for the first of three concerts at the Rosemont Horizon on R.E.M.'s Monster tour. It was the night before my 8th Grade graduation and my first concert.

Fast forward to April 5, 2002, I'm now 21 and for the first time meet Scott after a performance at Schubas in Chicago. Scott had just wrapped up a show with his (now) ex-wife Christy McWilson. In attendance were the new four-piece Wilco (Jeff Tweedy, Leroy Bach, John Stirratt and Glenn Kotche). This was also my first time meeting Kotche, who had just completed his first full year with the band (I had just started writing for my college newspaper and said to Kotche, "I'd love to interview you some time," to which he gleefully responded, "And I'd love to be interviewed by you!").

Missing from the evening was Peter Buck of R.E.M., who (like McCaughey) played on McWilson's 2002 album Bed of Roses and was scheduled to perform with the band that night. Thousands of miles across the Atlantic in London, Buck had just been acquitted of air-rage charges filed against him during a British Airways flight on April 21, 2001. The court ruling came on the 22nd anniversary of R.E.M.'s first ever performance as a band. Thinking back to that night, now, all I can say is...fuck...a lot sure happened!

I landed an interview with Scott--my first with him--in 2003 for DePaul's newspaper, The DePaulia, after he completed work with Wilco for the latest Minus 5 album, Down With Wilco. Whether it's been on a journalistic basis or just after a show, it's always a fun time to chat with Scott. As I did with my 2006 interview for Chicago Innerview, I am sharing my entire interview with Scott from 12/21/2009 here on Getting In Tune, highlighting the latest R.E.M. live album, Live At The Olympia, The Baseball Project and much more that didn't appear in my recent feature piece in Lumino Magazine. Scott and I began by discussing Live At The Olympia:

CC: Do you remember the earliest conversations of this idea (a live album) being proposed?

SM: I don’t remember exactly when. I guess we were working on the record (Accelerate) in Vancouver. I don’t know if it was planned all along. I think it might have been, even before we started the record; it might have been in everybody’s head to go out and play the songs before the record was actually finished so we could test run them and see if there were things we discovered about them by playing them live. That definitely happened. Some of them didn’t change at all after playing them for the five nights in Dublin. Some changed quite a bit, and, on other ones we were able to fine tune them; we were able to kind of figure out what wasn’t working, maybe, by playing those nights.

I think it was kind of in the plan all along when we were making that record. I could be wrong, but that’s the way I remember it.

CC: At the time Accelerate came out, a lot of the interviews that Mike (Mills), Peter (Buck) and Michael (Stipe) had done really gave me this impression that the post-thinking about Around the Sun was less than desirable. What was it like having gone through that recording process to now take a different turn, incorporate live performance and hit the refresh button?

SM: Since Bill (Berry) quit the band, we’ve made three records that were all real studio records, and that’s not a bad thing. We were having a really great time. Each one kind of got, maybe, a little more convoluted and a little more drawn out. By the time Around the Sun got finished, I think we were kind of done with that process for a while (laughs). Peter, especially, was like, “I never want to make a record that takes that long, again.” I think he felt like that record was better after we had just gone in and played the songs in the studio before they got as much window dressing as they got. Some of the guitars got lost in the process.

We were pretty much determined to make a record where there was no possibility that could happen. Really, that meant mostly just playing songs with two guitars, bass and drums; play them live in the studio and not do a whole lot of overdubbing. So, it fit in perfectly to go and play them live with that kind of material. A lot of the Around the Sun songs ended up sounding—when we played them live—probably a lot better; a little more direct, a little more guitar oriented and stuff. That tends to happen with some of the studio stuff, anyway. It gets simplified when you play it live. With the Minus 5 it’s always like that. Most of the songs that we record that are piano songs we end up playing on guitar, ya know? Two guitars, bass, drums and let it fall where it may.

This time it just made sense for us to make a record that was not going to be as labored over and can just be really fun, bash it out live and not get hung up in the process of making a record. By playing the songs live as part of the process of the record, it really helped fulfill that ambition.

CC: In listening to everything that you’re saying, it seems like Accelerate kind of tied back to, in some ways, how New Adventures In Hi-Fi was made. A little bit.

SM: Yeah, that’s true to a degree. The difference with New Adventures was mostly songs that were being developed as we were actually touring. There were a few things from Accelerate that had probably gotten developed on the tour before that, things we played at soundchecks and stuff. Yeah, there’s similarities to the approach.

CC: Now, looking over the track listing for Live At The Olympia, I wasn’t really disappointed, but I was kind surprised that there wasn’t very much information given as to what songs came from what nights, but, that’s just geeky me.

SM: Right. I have no idea either. There’s a couple things where Michael says, “This is our second night,” or whatever. Who knows! (laughs). I don’t have any idea which songs came from which night either. It was a couple years ago, so, I don’t have a clue. Probably the only people who know are Garret (Jacknife Lee) and Sam (Bell), the guys who mixed it.

CC: What were your feelings as you were walking out on stage for the first of the five nights? I assume Peter still does the setlist. So, once the setlist was written up and you guys were ready to go, what do you remember back then?

SM: It was kind of frantic. Besides the fact that we’re playing all these new songs that we never played before live, we kept adding, everyday during a two hour soundcheck, other songs to play. Most of those other ones that I played live I’d never really played before; we did a lot of really old songs, and I just never really played most of those. Neither had Bill (Rieflin)! We were learning songs for hours at soundcheck before each night, as well as going over the new stuff. Then we’d have about an hour or two off and then play the show. It was pretty hardcore. It was a full day’s work, everyday, and, after soundcheck, I’d be cramming and trying to remember how to play “Little America” or something like that that I’d never played before, so, it was actually really intense. Once we got on stage, they were super fun. I had a great time. I didn’t worry too much about playing everything perfectly. I tried, of course, but I’m sure I failed on occasion (laughs).

It’s kind amazing how great it sounds. I know that Jacknife didn’t fix a lot of stuff or anything. He just kind of found the best takes. You can tell there’s rough edges to it, but that’s cool.

CC: And it keeps in spirit of what the whole project was all about.

SM: Yeah. It’s kind of a great record though. I like the pacing and sequencing. It’s just such a bizarre huge grouping of songs. The focus of it is really early stuff and then the really new stuff. R.E.M.’s most famous and biggest songs are totally unrepresented. Their biggest records, Automatic for the People and Out of Time, aren’t there at all…I think “Drive” was played. It’s pretty cool. I like the selection of songs. We were just picking them each day. They were just coming out of nowhere. It wasn’t like we had this big masterplan. We didn’t (laughs).

CC: From the musician standpoint, I know most of these songs, the older material, have popped up here and there—not very often—since the Monster tour. Thinking about songs from Fables of the Reconstruction or Chronic Town, what did you appreciate about those songs and the work that was originally done on them once you got to play them? For how old some of those songs are, they still sound great…

SM: Because they’re really weird songs (laughs). Musically, stuff like “Little America,” “Wolves, Lower,” and “Carnival of Sorts,” I’m like, “What the hell were you guys doing? How do write songs like that?” You can tell they’re songs that are written by a band and not by one guy sitting around with a guitar. They’re not singer/songwriter songs, which is kind of what I’m used to. There’s a different logic to the way they’re constructed. They’re a little tricky for me to get my head around. Peter’s guitar playing is so individual and so precise. A lot of the songs, I just wanted to stay out of his way. I had to figure out things that I could play that wouldn’t muddle up the songs but add a little force to them. I think it worked out well. They sound really loud and trashy. It’s kind of cool to hear them sounding a little differently than they do on the original record. Peter’s got a heavier guitar sound, and you can actually hear the lyrics (laughs). You start realizing songs like “Second Guessing” have basically one verse sung over and over again (laughs). It works somehow. They’re very strange songs, and it was really interesting to play them, for me, because it’s a whole different style of songwriting than what I’m used to.

CC: Did you get any impression from Rieflin? I would have loved to ask Bill this, about taking on Berry’s early work. ’95 was the only time I ever saw Bill Berry with the band. But to hear Chronic Town songs and hear how much is going on with the drums, however direct, there’s still a lot of presence there. Did he (Rieflin) share any thoughts of what it was like to perform that work?

SM: I think there were times when he was definitely really, really impressed with how cool the drum parts were, and, other times, he was probably slightly amused because Bill’s (Berry) drum parts are really cool and really unusual. A lot of people don’t give him the credit that he should get. Bill Berry was a pretty amazing drummer, and he wasn’t really playing like anybody else back then. Rieflin did an amazing job at being faithful to those parts, not slavishly, but they kind of have to be there to make the songs work the way they did because they’re pretty intricate and precise kind of songs. I think Bill really appreciated Bill Berry’s drumming and really nailed it. The thing that I was most impressed about on the record was listening to Bill’s drumming. I just think he’s so awesome on this, and the drums sound really amazing, too. They’re super powerful and really rock. Hats off to Rieflin.

CC: It was definitely cool to hear him on songs like “Wolves, Lower” or “Circus Envy.” I remember e-mailing you the night after you guys performed that song, and I think I found a YouTube video that same night. I was just excited to hear the band fuzz it up, again.

SM: (Laughs). Yeah, I was pretty excited that we did “Circus Envy.” I’m always pushing for that one. It just got in there that day.

CC: Now, I never knew this, but, the Young Fresh Fellows did a cover of “Circus Envy”?

SM: We did. It’s on a record that came out in Spain in 1996 or 1997. It’s a pretty weird, little cool version of it (from 1999’s Tribute to Music, released only in Spain) . I like it a lot. It’s a little more Gang of Four or something. I love that song, and I think the lyrics are awesome.

CC: This is the second live album from the band that for many years said it was never interested in doing a live album. Oddly enough, both live albums are from the same city, two years apart. Do you have any sense of why in recent years there’s been more of a willingness to share more of a live document of the band’s stage performance? I was just thinking about this…the last U.S. related R.E.M. live release was the concert DVD Road Movie, filmed over the course of the final nights of the Monster tour in Atlanta. Since then, it’s been mostly European cities getting the luck of being displayed in full R.E.M. glory.

SM: I don’t know. It’s not like we went and said, “Hey, we’re going to record a live album.” We never really did that. You do all these shows that people want to record or film, say, for MTV Europe or management will say, “You’re doing two nights in Dublin. It might be a good time to film the band and record it just in case we might want to use it sometime.” You record these things for posterity and occasionally you say, “Hey, that’s really good. Let’s release it.” That’s really all it is…I think. The reason we were recording those shows is because we thought there might be the chance we play one of the songs from the album better than the studio version. So, that’s kind of why we were recording them. Maybe “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” live will be better than the version we record in the studio. As it stands, they’re basically almost the same because we had that song so down. Probably listening to the songs and going through it, everybody thought, “This is really cool. We should put this out.” I think it’s that more than anything. It’s not like a contractual obligation or that they wanted to make a live record. It’s just that we recorded something really cool.

It’s always weird when you plan on making a live record. The Fellows have done that. In Spain, they say, “We’re going to record the good show and release that as a live record.” And that always ends up being the worst show of the tour. We did that with R.E.M. They said, “We’re going to film one show of the tour to release as a DVD.” That was Wiesbaden, Germany (show date 7/19/03, as seen on the Perfect Square DVD). Everybody thought, in the band, that was the worst show of the tour. The audience thought it was great. You watch the DVD, and it’s really good. But we knew that we played better other nights. So, the reason you play better is because you’re not thinking about being on camera. That’s just kind of typical the way that goes. I don’t know if The Who would say that Live at Leeds was the worst show of that tour. I’d like to think it wasn’t, but did they record twenty shows and that was the best one? Or did they kind of get lucky and record one that happen to be fucking amazing? Or did they all think that they did other nights of the tour that were better than that but that was the one that was recorded and, so, that’s the one they released? Who knows (laughs).

My experience, often, has been when you know you’re recording something you end up not having the best show. With this “This Is Not A Show” thing…we knew we were doing five nights, we knew we were kind of messing around and experimenting—it wasn’t supposed to be a live record—we were all really loose and having fun. We were working and trying hard, pushing ourselves by playing so many different songs over the five nights. We didn’t have the pressure of thinking each night would be released as a live album. That wasn’t in our heads at all, which is probably why it’s so fucking good.

CC: I guess I just wish there were more U.S. shows getting the live album treatment.

SM: Well, the thing is, that tour in ’95 was sort of our peak in America, and we’ve probably gotten down in America since then, and, yet that was when is started really picking up in Europe. We’ve just gotten more and more popular in Europe. I think it was ’95 or ’99 and we played Dublin at Lansdowne Road stadium (show date 7/16/99); it was like 40,000 people there. The crowd was just insane. We just started realizing that we’ve really got it going here in Ireland. People really liked us a lot (laughs). Certainly that’s part of the reason we ended up doing these five nights in Dublin. We were going to record at Grouse Lodge (Studios) directly following the shows. And we all like Dublin a lot. It just made perfect sense.

It’s one of the only places where if I’m walking around in the streets of Dublin, people recognize me from R.E.M., not from the Fellows or the Minus 5. If I walk around in Portland or Seattle, I might get occasionally recognized for that. If I walk around Dublin, people recognize me as being a guy from R.E.M., and they know my name. They even know how to say it, even though it’s pronounced differently in Ireland.

CC: And then it’s followed by the offer of a beer.

SM: Yes (laughs). That does occasionally happen.

CC: So, what’s currently happening in R.E.M. land? You guys were down in New Orleans doing some recording.

SM: We did three weeks of work and tracked a bunch of new songs. Michael sang on about half of them, probably. So, we got a really good start on the next record.

CC: Are there other locales in mind for recording, like Vancouver?

SM: We’re not going to Vancouver. We’ve got a couple more stops in mind. I don’t think they’re exactly nailed down, yet. We’ll do two more three week stays, but the next one probably isn’t going to be until April into May. So, there’s a lot of time right now to sit around and ruminate on the songs or come up with new stuff; mostly for Michael to work on lyrics, melody and stuff. He’ll probably end up doing something before the rest of us get back. He might just go somewhere with Jacknife and record some more vocals. He’s got some great stuff. We got a really good start. The tracks all sound amazing, and the stuff that Michael has come up with are super cool, too. I’m pretty excited about it.

Right now, I’m not thinking about it for a little while. I’m going to let it go a bit and then get back to it, but I’m really happy with the stuff we did in New Orleans.

CC: And that was pretty much the first session?

SM: Yes. This was the first real session where we started getting ideas for the record.

CC: This next record will be Rieflin’s third with R.E.M., and it will be your sixth since New Adventures In Hi-Fi. How do you feel your role and Bill’s role has developed with the recording process?

SM: Now, it feels like we’re a regular rock band. The last record and most of the next record are going to tend to be two guitars, bass and drums songs. We’re all really comfortable with our roles. Bill came in on Around the Sun, and that was the first thing he did with the band. He just came into the studio and just tried to play along to see how it went. Obviously, Peter and I knew that we played great with Bill because we had been playing with him for four-five years at that point. We knew it was going to be great, but we had to see how it would work with everybody, which they all liked him immediately. All his first work was really just studio stuff. So, that’s different when you go out touring, but, of course, Bill is awesome every night on tour. We’ve played together now for years with this group. It just feels really normal.

My role has probably changed a little bit. Whereas I used to filled in stuff off the records, keyboards, bass or whatever that needed to be fleshed out live—I was kind of more a jack-of-all trades—but now I’m sort of the second guitarist. Peter plays his super distinctive stuff, and then it’s my job to play something that’s really different from what he’s playing. So, I don’t get in his way, but I don’t really play rhythm guitar. I kind of come up with parts that will compliment what Peter’s doing and what Mike’s doing. It’s fun for me to really concentrate on playing guitar because I don’t get to do that that much. I don’t even think about playing guitar when I’m singing, and it probably shows (laughs).

CC: In your Roger Daltrey mode…

SM: Yeah (laughs). But we’re a pretty solid rock band that’s played a lot of shows together and done a lot of recording together with this lineup. It feels great.

CC: So, what’s currently on deck—no pun intended—with the Baseball Project?

SM: We started recording a new record. We had a couple days off on our last tour with the Baseball Project, Minus 5 and Steve Wynn. In Portland for two days, we tracked twelve songs, all live. Peter was there for the session this time, which was great, because he just did overdubs on the last record. So, we had the full on four-piece going to track all these songs, which was great.

We were going to try and get it out for the next baseball season, but it seems like it would have been a little bit of too much of a push. We want to try and do some different things with this record. I think we’re going to take our time and finish it over the first half of 2010 and probably not release it until just before spring training 2011. So, it’ll be over a year old by the time it actually comes out, but that gives us time to work on it. We have a few more songs we want to record, and we haven’t done any overdubs on it. We’ll get other people to play on it, too. We’re going to take our time. That’s ok. Steve, Peter and I are all usually bash something out-release it. I think Yep Roc wants to really make something happen with the record. So, if it’s good for them to have more set up time, then we can deal with it.

I’m going to have R.E.M. duty in 2010. I haven’t really thought much about the Fellows or the Minus 5. I should probably think about that, too. There’s a Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 record coming out (titled Propellor Time) in March (3/22/10 - U.S. Release 4/6/10). Hopefully, we’ll do some dates on that. I don’t know how much time we’ll have. Hopefully Bill, Peter and I will be able to devote a little time to that as well. I’d like to get the Minus 5/Baseball Project/Steve Wynn thing over to Europe, too, but it’s all a matter of timing if we can do it.

CC: Now, at least tell me there’s some consideration within the Baseball Project that there will be a song based on Nolan Ryan (Texas Rangers) beating the shit out of Robin Ventura (Chicago White Sox) on the mound (8/4/93).

SM: (Laughs) Yeah, I don’t know if there’s going to be a song about that, but I certainly enjoy watching footage of that. It’s pretty awesome. I saw his last game ever pitched at the Kingdome in Seattle (9/22/93). He pitched to four batters. The first two batters got on and the fourth batter hit a grand slam, then he walked off the mound. His arm just totally went. It was sad because he’d been great up to then. He never pitched again…of course he was 90 years old (laughs). Nah..he was 46 or something. He was so good.

R.E.M. – Live At The Olympia (Warner Bros.)
Released October 27, 2009 (U.S.)
Recorded at Olympia Theatre (Dublin, Ireland) on 6/30, 7/1, 7/3-5, 2007

Disc One
Living Well Is The Best Revenge (7/4/07)
Second Guessing (6/30/07)
Letter Never Sent (6/30/07)
Staring Down The Barrel of the Middle Distance (7/5/07)
Disturbance at the Heron House (7/1/07)
Mr. Richards (7/4/07)
Houston (7/5/07)
New Test Leper (6/30/07)
Cuyahoga (7/5/07)
Electrolite (6/30/07)
Man-Sized Wreath (7/4/07)
So. Central Rain (7/3/07)
On The Fly (7/5/07)
Maps and Legends (6/30/07)
Sitting Still (7/1/07)
Driver 8 (7/3/07)
Horse to Water (7/4/07)
I'm Gonna DJ (7/1/07)
Circus Envy (7/4/07)
These Days (7/1/07)

Disc Two
Drive (7/1/07)
Feeling Gravitys Pull (7/3/07)
Until The Day Is Done (7/1/07)
Accelerate (7/4/07)
Auctioneer (Another Engine) (7/5/07)
Little America (6/30/07)
1,000,000 (7/4/07)
Disguised (aka Supernatural Superserious) (7/5/07)
The Worst Joke Ever (7/5/07)
Welcome to the Occupation (7/5/07)
Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars) (7/4/07)
Harborcoat (7/4/07)
Wolves, Lower (7/4/07)
I've Been High (7/1/07)
Kohoutek (7/3/07)
West of the Fields (7/4/07)
Pretty Persuasion (7/5/07)
Romance (7/5/07)
Gardening at Night (7/5/07)

*Special thanks to Jill Hollywood at Big Life Management, Darryl White's fantastic site, The R.E.M. Timeline - The Complete R.E.M. Concert Chronology, and engineer Sam Bell for helping fill in the gaps of source information on songs appearing on Live At The Olympia.

Darryl White's site can be found at:

Photo By: Marty Perez at House of Blues (Chicago) on 1/14/10

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Extra! Extra!

About three weeks ago, I had the chance to speak with Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows, The Baseball Project). This was the first time since November 8, 2006 that I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Scott, the night Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 performed at Metro in Chicago. I should dig that interview out sometime!

A feature article was published today on Lumino Magazine of my recent interview with Scott as a spotlight on the upcoming performance by The Baseball Project at the 4th Annual Len & Bob Bash for Chicago Cubs Charities. The event takes place tomorrow night at the House of Blues. The Baseball Project are the openers.

The complete interview with Scott will be posted on Friday. For now, enjoy this piece: