The Minus 5, plus baseball
Scott McCaughey combines his love of twangy bar rock and America's pastime
Special to Metromix
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Scott McCaughey likes to stay busy. He leads two bands of his own (the Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus 5), plays bass for Robyn Hitchcock’s Venus 3, and has toured and recorded with R.E.M. since 1994. If that wasn’t enough, McCaughey formed the Baseball Project last year with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck (also of the Minus 5) and Steve Wynn (the Dream Syndicate).
McCaughey, Buck, Wynn and Wynn’s wife, Linda Pitmon, are currently touring in support of the Minus 5’s excellently twangy new album “Killingsworth” and the Baseball Project’s “Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails,” an album of songs that are, as the band’s name suggests, all about baseball.
“The four of us are all three bands on the bill: the Minus 5, the Baseball Project, and the Steve Wynn IV,” McCaughey explains by phone from his home in Portland, Ore. “We’ll probably do two fairly long sets with a break in between to go make a fresh margarita or something.”
What do you do on a typical day off?
I don’t have any days off. [Laughs]
I was afraid you were going to say that.
Yeah, I’m hitting the computer as soon as I get up and answering a million emails and organizing shit for the tour coming up. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since getting back the night before last from Spain, where I was doing a show with the Baseball Project.
Do people tell you that you’re a workaholic?
Yeah, I get that…my feeling is that I don’t ever do enough work and that I should be doing more, putting out more records, writing more songs and all that.
I read on your MySpace site that the songs on “Killingsworth” might be performed differently in concert. Do you consider the recorded songs mere blueprints for what you present live?
No, in a way, it’s almost the opposite. [Laughs] The records for the Minus 5 are like the completed building. And then I think when we go on tour and we go back to the sketches, to the blueprint, as it were. It’s cool in a way, because you present this [album] and then you take it out and it’s different. Our approach is a little bit like Elvis Costello and the Attractions’—not that I would compare us to them, they have a different caliber of musicianship, but they would often do songs live quite differently than they were on the record.
So, the records might be a bit more elaborate but in concert there’s going to be more energy because of the spontaneity of it?
Yes. You can say that. They’ll also be louder live. [Laughs]
You released an entire album about baseball last year and mentioned that a second volume is in the works. Who’s the biggest baseball geek in the group?
Peter’s definitely the least. He’s such a smart guy and growing up in Georgia he absorbed a lot of Atlanta Braves stuff. He doesn’t really follow any sport at all, though. And I admire him for it—sports are a big fucking waste of time. I spend way too much time thinking about baseball and reading box scores, and going to games and all that stuff. I just love it. It’s my passion. Reading box scores is like my one little window of relaxation I allow myself. Steve and I are pretty geeky about baseball, so that’s why we led the charge on this project. And Linda’s pretty big on baseball, too.
As an artist, how does being a sideman in a monster band like R.E.M. differ from fronting Minus 5 and working in a collaborative role with the Baseball Project?
They’re all a little different, but then again they’re all about playing rock music in front of people, which I love to do. It’s definitely more pressure if I’m doing Minus 5, but it’s not too bad. Yeah, in Minus 5, I’m the guy who makes the set lists, does the between song banter [laughs] and that kind of stuff. But I don’t mind that—I enjoy it. When it comes to R.E.M., I love just being the guy who stands out there and rocks out on guitar. Even though we’re playing for more people, there’s less pressure because Michael [Stipe] is the one who has to work the audience and talk to them and that’s a big responsibility.
When you’re on stage watching Michael Stipe, one of the more charismatic frontmen in rock, do you ever think, “That would work for me as a frontman”?
I probably do that with some people, but Michael is so unique, and so different from me, that you can’t really compare what we do. I admire him, though. And I do watch him sometimes and just crack up when he does something amazing—or says something that is really funny. And I’m like, “Shit, I wish I would have thought of that.”
Will you be doing any R.E.M. songs on this tour?
There’s been a couple times when I’ve suggested maybe doing an R.E.M. song just for fun in the Minus 5, but Peter’s really not that keen on the idea. I think he likes keeping them separate. Or maybe he just knows they wouldn’t be as good. [Laughs]
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