Do you want to know the dark truth...
or do you want to see me whack some dingers?

Sep 20 2004

information leafblower exclusive!

Interview with Jeff Lin from Harvey Danger

HdgroupOne of the best learning experiences I had during my tenure in the music industry was working for the management company that looked after the Seattle band Harvey Danger during the start of their career which saw the band rise from utter obscurity to national headliners due to their hit Flagpole Sitta. Here they were, a bunch of "fookin' students" from the Northwest that write a batch of incredibly hooky songs, get championed by local DJ's, find themselves in the middle of a major label bidding war, watch their single blow the fuck up and enjoy the ride. Their debut album Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? was certified as a Gold Record in the US and the band soon themselves touring the world. As with most debut's, the album is spotty at times but during the moments where it works, the band really shines.

It was when the band released their version of Save It For Later on the 200 Cigarettes Soundtrack that I was really impressed by the band's muscianship. I guess it's amazing what you can do with a proper recording budget. String samples, drum loops; it proved that Harvey Danger could flip the script Gang Starr steez.

Soon the band went in the studio to record their follow up and bypassed the dreaded sophomore slump by releasing the criminally underrated King James Version. It was the first CD to ever feature my name in the liner notes and I couldn't have been more proud of the band for the record they made. Musically, it was light years ahead of their previous efforts. Packed with sharp, intelligent, rocky numbers that name drop Morrissey back when it wasn't cool, I felt this record had hit written all over it. Proving why maybe it's not a bad thing that I no longer work in the industry, the record stalled out of the gate and never got the props or chance it deserved. The first single, Sad Sweetheart Of The Rodeo didn't light radio on fire and MTV all but ignored the clever video which featured a newly single Ione Skye. The kicker was the label spent their entire advertising budget on trade magazine ads, leaving nothing left for consumer mags like Spin, Alternative Press and the like. Soon it was all over and the band went their separate ways. Jump cut to earlier this year, the band reconvened and started working on new material. They did a in studio performace for KEXP which you can listen to here and recently played a few proper gigs in honor of their 10th anniversary as a band.

So now, information leafblower brings you an exclusive interview with good friend Jeff Lin, Harvey Danger's guitarist/musician extrodanaire. I've broken down the interview into two parts. Today's section will concentrate on what happened to the band, and what they are up to now and everything in between. Tomorrow Jeff will talk about the state of the music industry.

I guess the most obvious question is what have you been up to since the last record came out? What are you doing now?

Well, after the album went pretty much nowhere, the band decided to go “on hiatus.” You can call it a break, or you can call it a breakup, I guess it depends how you look at it. I always thought of it as a break, but in retrospect I guess it was a more like the band broke up. Intraband personal relations had been pretty strained for a while, so without external pressure or reason to stay together, it seemed like the best thing would be to take a break for a bit. Just like in any sort of long-term relationship, sometimes the only way you can get a clear view of things and an appreciation of the other person is to take a long break from each other. We’d been at that point for quite some time, but since we were making our living from the band, it wasn’t practical to break things off. Without the external pressure it was then just a matter of time.

So we all scattered and did different things. Aaron, Evan, and Sean all jumped into other bands; I pretty much took the exact opposite tack and took what amounts to an almost complete break from music for almost two years. Which was weird since Aaron and I started the band together because we just thought the music we were listening was so cool we wanted to play it. It’s a weird thing for me, music that I love to listen to I will really want to play – it’s like getting one step closer to the music itself; instead of listening to something external to yourself, by playing it, in a way you get to listen to it as it goes through you -- you develop a more intimate relationship with it. That may sound weird, but I think it’s true for a lot of musicians. Either that or I’m really strange.

So when the break happened, I had no desire to play or listen to any music for quite some time. Instead I started taking classes and applied to get a second bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in computer science. Luckily they accepted me and now I’m almost finished. They say there’s a strong correlation between logical and musical intelligence; maybe the same is true of creative energies – perhaps I just channeled it all into my studies instead of music. Who knows?

Was having some time apart a good or bad thing?

I think it was crucial. As I said earlier, you really need a lot of time apart in order to appreciate everyone’s individual strengths and contributions to the group. And it also helps to have other experiences to compare and contrast with, in order to realize when you have a special chemistry that exceeds the sum of the parts. The relationship analogy holds here as well.

Was there any one thing that brought about the band getting back together?

Sean and I had written a couple of songs last summer and we went over them with Aaron – it wasn’t anything specific, but what really did it was that we got a day up at Bear Creek Studios and recorded basic tracks for two of the songs (since Evan had moved to Chicago we cut one of the songs without drums and we used Nada Surf’s Ira Elliot on the other). I think we were all a little worried how it was going to work out; as it turned out, the old chemistry was there and they turned out really great. It was really a terrific experience, since that feeling had been gone from the music-making process (at least for me) for years and years; I remember at the time thinking, “Oh yeah, *that’s* why we kept at it for all those years.” I think everyone else felt the same thing and our 10-year anniversary was coming up and it just seemed natural to play an anniversary show, and that went great; as far as performance experiences go, it has to rank as one of my all-time highlights. Other stuff just started happening after that and it seemed to gather a momentum of its own.

It’s my understanding that Evan Sult will not be participating in the band anymore. What’s the story there?

Evan moved to Chicago a couple years ago; currently he’s doing well with his new band, The Bound Stems. You should check them out.

Fair or not, I’ve heard Harvey Danger referred to as a one hit wonder. How do you feel about this?

HdcoverThere’s really not much we can do about it. I can only speak for myself, but even having a “hit song” was something that I never thought about when we were writing/recording the first album. I was recently reading a book by Viktor Frankl and in the introduction he talks about how success is not something that is pursued but is rather something that ensues as a byproduct of the work you do; if you aim for it you’ll inevitably miss it. That mirrors our experience exactly; that we even had one hit still amazes me. We certainly weren’t trying to write a hit song.

We may never have another hit, we may have ten; to me there’s no way to determine or affect that. All I can do is work on the music; as long as that is satisfying then it’s worth doing. On the other hand, if the work is not satisfying but is commercially successful, it’s really no different than a day job, is it?

I’m pretty sure that quite a few of the people that bought Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? , don’t even know that you ever released King James Version. How does this make you feel?

I’m sure of the people that bought Merrymakers, quite a few bought for “Flagpole Sitta” and didn’t really care for the rest. In which case they probably wouldn’t have been down with KJV, so that doesn’t make much difference. But it’s those that really “got” what we were doing that I hope got their hands on a copy of KJV, because I think they’d probably dig it. Hopefully we can find some way to do that. KJV certainly has some problems, but I think it holds up pretty well listening back to it.

Harvey Danger missed out on the “geek rock” revival and emo revolution by about a year and a half. If the change in musical tastes tilted towards your favor sooner and things with King James Version had gone better, do you think that the band would have stayed together?

507060jeffguitarI think it would have only delayed things. At some point you really do need to take a break from each other – we certainly did. Some of the intra-band stressors might have been related to success issues, but certainly the intrapersonal issues had nothing to do with external factors. In some ways I really do think that how things turned out wasn’t necessarily all bad. There’s a Taoist saying that nothing is completely good and nothing is completely bad; there’s always something good to be found in “negative” events, and something bad in “positive” events. Who knows? Maybe it’s because KJV fizzled like it did that allowed us to take the breather necessary for us to get back together and work more like the way we used to.

What was the vibe at the 10 year anniversary show? How did it feel to be back on stage again?

It was really great. It was amazing to see how many people were there and how much they were into the material. It’s easy to forget when you toil away in a basement that the work has any relationship to the outside world, so that was nice. It was also really rewarding because I think the performance was really good – I’d say it ranks among the best we’ve ever given. I’d always felt we were very spotty as a live band and that is one of the things I always regretted and was very dissatisfied with. So it was deeply gratifying to step up and deliver a great performance as a group.

For me, there are really only two reasons to be doing this: one is the satisfaction of creation -- of working in the studio and coming up with something you feel is really good. The other is the satisfaction of performing well, of creating a moving and/or enjoyable experience for others. I suppose they are both derived from the joy of creating; in one you’re creating something permanent, in the other you create something transient. If you find that you’re not doing either, that’s when it’s time to hang it up and move on to something else.

Buy King James Version through the iTunes Music Store. It's $10 well spent my friends.

Join us for Part Two of the interview tomorrow when we talk with Jeff about Harvey Danger's future and his take on the music industry in general.

Posted by Kyle in Permalink


great interview, KG! i, for one, am very much looking forward to the new Harvey Danger jawn. and i'm looking forward to Part II of this interview. schmobvs.

Posted by: Uncle Grambo at September 20, 2004 9:35 PM