In Conversation: Scott McCaughey & Peter Buck talk The No Ones, Tour Stories, Record Shopping & George Harrison Songs
It was a warm evening in the middle of a heatwave when I spoke via Zoom to Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck (who have worked together across different bands such as R.E.M., The Minus 5, and The Baseball Project) about their new band The No Ones, for which they are in the midst of tour rehearsals. The band also includes Frode Strømstad and Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen, from I Was a King, and they have recently released their second album, My Best Evil Friend, a superb record, beautifully punchy and glimmering, with soaring melodies and absolutely top-notch songwriting. It is simply a must-listen-to album.
In what follows, we cover topics such as The No Ones’ collaboration and new album, their upcoming UK tour, things they like to do while on the road, their latest record shopping purchases, and their favourite live concert experiences. I also pose them the ultimate brain puzzler; asking them to name their favourite George Harrison song.
How are you, where are you, and what have you been doing today?
Peter: We’re in my house in Portland rehearsing with The No Ones for the tour.
Scott: Frode and Arne just arrived from Norway a couple of days ago and we’ve been just nonstop learning, you know, forty songs. Because we made the No Ones’ record without actually playing together, as we did during the pandemic and so they tracked the songs in Norway and then sent them over to us. And then we started some here and sent them over to them – a lot of that kind of thing, but we haven’t played together for six years with them. So we’re getting back into it.
Can you tell us some background about the No Ones? How did the band form and start working together?
Peter: We did the climate change festivals – Snow Station and Sun Station years ago and I think Michèle who put the festival on suggested that we record a couple of songs which turned into an album and then recently another record. So we played in Norway, but the tour which was established in 2020, like many things, kind of disappeared. So here we are three years later with a new record.
Scott: It’s just kind of like a loose collaboration. We get together with all these different bands and different musicians, and you hit it off with people. We played a little together at the festivals. And then Frode sent over a couple of songs that he was working on that he said, “Maybe you Peter could add some bass and guitar to it,” or something like that. And then I was like, “Well, does this song have lyrics?” and he was like, “Well, not really”. So I started writing lyrics and then we just started collaborating and we made a little EP and we thought, let’s call it a band and then it became one. Peter and I didn’t have enough to do. We needed some projects!
I love the new album My Best Evil Friend. It’s one of my favourite albums released this year. Where did you record it and what was the recording of it like?
Scott: Well, Frode sent me a lot of demos of him playing the guitar and singing a melody and then I would write words to fit it and we would decide which ones were good or not. And then Peter had a bunch of songs that he had music written for, and I would write lyrics to those and so we kind of gathered a bunch of songs, just really rough demos. And then sometime in 2021, because our whole tour had fallen through because of the pandemic, we thought, well, let’s just record some more songs, so we started working on those and then, Frode and Arne went into a studio in 2021, and recorded ten songs of the demos we did. They worked them out as guitar and drums, so they recorded them. It had a kind of a nice live feel because they were actually in the studio playing together and then we added stuff to them and I said, Peter and I built some tracks with pro machines at my house and sent it over to them to play on too, so it was just kind of like a fractured process, but they were kind of used to doing that because Peter and I did that with Luke Haines. The Luke Haines records were also done without ever being in a room together with him.
I really liked the song 304 Molino Way. What is the song about?
Scott: Well, it’s about a singer named Pamela Polland who made a record in 1973 on Columbia Records, and she was in the Bay Area in the San Francisco area and I used to see her a lot because I‘d go to concerts and she’d be the opening act and I really liked her a lot. Then she made this record that I love – I still have it to this day – and I just kind of wondered what happened to her. Now you can find anyone because you look on the internet and there she is. She did a lot of interesting things. She was in this band called the Gentle Soul in the late 60s in LA and she toured with Joe Cocker and Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and she’s written lots of songs that other people have recorded, but I was just remembering her because she was really nice to us. After all, we were fans. We were fanboys, you know and we followed her around to go to show and she was really, really nice to us. She invited us to her house and she played songs for us on piano, you know, just for me and my friends. So, I was kind of like just thanking her for that and it’s also about my friend who I went with to her house a couple of times, who died. So, it’s just like a little memory and kind of a thank you. It was just making me think about how it’s cool to be nice to people who like your music, you know? 304 Molina Way is her address, which I just somehow remembered fifty years later. I still remember her address, because it meant a lot to me.
She’s really good. It’s just this album called Pamela Polland on Columbia and she had the usual music business stuff where the next record she made was big in England with Gus Dudgeon, Elton John‘s producer. Then, of course, it didn’t come out because of the person at the label, Clive Davis. moved on to Arizona Records, so the record got lost and it came out eventually, thirty years later on a CD recently, but she lives in Hawaii and she’s very happy and very nice and I actually just had her sing on a song for another volume of Neil Young songs that I’m doing. It’s really nice.
You have a great song for George Harrison on the album. What are your favourite songs by him?
Scott: That’s a really hard one.
Peter:Long, Long, Long (from The White Album).
Scott: That’s probably my favourite too. I got to go with Peter on that one. Yeah, that’s just a beautiful song and just such an incredible recording. It’s just fantastic a song. I’ll go with that one, that’s definitely right up there.
The album is one of the ones that you hear and think, “I want to hear this live!” What songs from the album are you looking forward to playing live the most?
Scott: Well, a lot of them. I mean, 304 Molino Way is always a really good one. Peter and I actually played that once. Only once, maybe. We played it at a Minus 5 show in Portland, like last year or something and we’ve played a couple of them with the Minus Five, but there’s a lot of them that we’ve never played at all. There’s one called Set List that is only on the vinyl, it’s not on the CD. I’m really excited to play that because it sounds really good when we’re playing it. KLV is gonna be really good. Yeah, I mean, it’s just really fun to play them all because they’ve never been played. So, it’s really exciting to play all of them you know, they’re really good.
I love that this is a USA/Norwegian collaboration. How does this union between the countries work so well?
Scott: It’s because of Michèle Noach really, who put together these climate change events up in this little town called Vadsø, that’s up above the Arctic Circle and she just brought a bunch of people up there to play. I’m not sure why it was there, or how it happened but we just made friends with a lot of people up there. It was really nice and she brought John Paul Jones over and Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon and some British musicians came. Dream Syndicate played two or three times. But yeah, it’s just fun to play with different people, you know. Frode and Arne already had a great band called I Was a Fantastic King and we always were fans of theirs. So, it made sense, it was like falling off a log as they say here. It was just so natural because we like the same kind of music. It’s kind of almost hard to know who wrote what songs, in a way. I mean, some of them you can tell, but for most of them it just sounds like a nice mixture, you know, and Arne from the No Ones, the drummer, he’s got a really great band called Rural Tapes, he’s put out a couple of records recently, where he plays all the instruments. So, he brings a lot to it too, because he played a lot of keyboards and strings and all kinds of stuff. So, it’s a really, really good collaboration.
I really enjoyed the new music video for Band with No Head. Can you tell us about the shooting of this?
Scott: (laughs) Well, I filmed it without knowing it was going to be a video, but I thought it might be come in handy. I think it was when we were over there with Luke Haines, and it was filmed at Chiswick House and I always loved going over there because The Beatles had a lot of photographs taken there and they had a video before music videos existed so I filmed us running and walking around there and I thought this will come in handy at some point. I don’t even know how to make videos. I just put it together really really quickly, but it was fun! I think it came out pretty good.
The Minus 5 haven’t played in the UK for fifteen years. I was lucky enough to be at those shows and I had the time of my life. What are you most looking forward to about playing live again in the UK?
Scott: Yes, the only times we’ve ever played in the UK before was for those two shows – in Dingwalls, London and Colchester. It’s funny though because we’ve actually been to the UK two months ago with Luke Haines and so we’re playing some of the same clubs – at least one of the same clubs we played a couple of months ago. But yeah, it was really, really fun. I mean it’s kind of nice just to get over there. We hadn’t played there for a long time and then the last year going over there twice with Luke Haines, it was good. Really good. So hopefully, this one will be just as good. But we have lots of friends over there and lots of fun and we played some places we hadn’t played before like Leeds and we’re gonna play the same club in Leeds again, I think. It’s a really good club and we played in Bristol a few months ago and that was great. Now it’s Cardiff proper.
You are playing a show in Cardiff at Clwb Ifor Bach. A fantastic venue! It’s a great, smallish venue that plays an important role in the Cardiff/Welsh music scene.
Scott: Good the smaller, the better as far as we’re concerned! Our friend Charlie Francis lives in Cardiff and he’s going to come and sit in and play some keyboards and Mike Peters from The Alarm is probably not going to come because he’s got a gig that night! We just played a show with him in Los Angeles for a benefit. He is a really nice guy.
Thinking more about touring, what are your favourite things to do on tour?
Peter: You get in the van and drive all day and play a show at night. I just walk around the cities. I always as a kid dreamed about actually getting to England. I didn’t know it would ever happen. So wherever I am in the UK or anywhere I just kind of walk around and that’s it. I don’t do anything.
Scott: Yeah, me too. But we’ll probably have almost no time in the UK this time because we’re coming from Norway. We’re playing a couple of shows in Norway, and then we’ll get there the night before we play in Cardiff. We’re playing all five days and we fly out the next day, so it’s gonna be full on, you know. It’s kind of unfortunate, but that’s the way it is these days. It’s not really like a vacation or anything. We get in and get out, but I always do like to look around the cities as much as possible, which means we’ll probably make a little circle between soundcheck and the show. Wherever the club is, that’s what we’ll see. And the Moto – we really enjoy the Moto and getting snacks at the truck stops.
What’s the best live show you have ever attended as an audience member, and why?
Peter: I saw Patti Smith do two sets a night, four days in a row in February of 1976. That was kind of mind-blowing. She played two-hour-long sets, Wednesday through to Saturday. I was there for every show in Georgia, and no one was there. It was great.
Scott: Wow. That’s pretty amazing. Yeah, there are so many that I can think of, but one I would say is when I was really young in 1976 I saw Wings and that really left a permanent impression on me because it was my first time seeing a Beatles, but that was like a real mind-blower. But every year I go to shows that I think “This the best show I’ve ever seen” [chuckles]. So we’ve seen like literally millions of shows..you’ve seen millions of shows too and if you’ve seen one million, we’ve seen 10 million probably [chuckles].
And it’s funny the ones that stay in your mind for different reasons. And it’s what you bring as an audience member to a show as well sometimes, isn’t it?
Scott: Yeah, what I bring to a show is when there’s nobody there, I go stand up in the front and centre, when nobody’s up there. That’s what I bring to a show. Just to try to make people kind of get up and pay attention and get excited. You know, that’s, that’s my thing.
Scott, your other band the Young Fresh Fellows released so many great albums, including Toxic Youth in 2020. What was it like recording that, and having a new album out there for the band?
Scott: Recording that was awesome, you know, I mean, we recorded it like three years beforehand. It took a long time to get it out. But I was really proud of the record even though it was recorded under trying circumstances. I thought it was really a return to form for us. Not that we ever lost form. But you know, it was just, really amazing and we couldn’t do anything about it of course. I mean, honestly, we wouldn’t have toured much anyway with the Fellows, we put out a record, we go to Spain for a week and play in Portland and Seattle. That’s pretty much what we do. So this time, we couldn’t even do any of those things. We couldn’t play any shows. But the album came out on Record Store Day and all the copies just disappeared. So it’s gone. It’s sold out. So that makes me feel good. But it was a great experience. I don’t know if we’ll do another one, but we might. It could happen, but I think it was a great album to go out on if we don’t make another one. It was a really good album to do. Because we went back and recorded with Conrad Uno who was the guy we made our first four or five records with. So, we went back to the old garage studio in Seattle where we started out and it was it was really fantastic.
If we went record shopping together now at a record store, what records would you buy?
Scott: Well, I went to the store the other day and bought the new Jenny Lewis record. I was really excited about that one. That’s a great record. I’m really, really into her and she’s fantastic. So, I got that record. That was the latest record I bought. That was just like a couple of days ago it came out. So that was one that I went to the record store the day it came out to get and I didn’t get it off Amazon. I went to the record store. I’d gone to the record store a week before that when they had a big sale and I bought a whole bunch of really dumb records that were really old and beat up that were like $2 and I bought a bunch of brand new records too. I bought two Jerry Jeff Walker records that I’ve never heard were just weird. They didn’t have any hits on them or anything like that, but they’re really good. We’ve been really enjoying them. Peter, what was the last record you bought?
Peter: That Kim Weston record right there [This is America]. Super obscure. She was on Motown and this is a more political record.
Scott: And then there’s this one we just got- This is the new Minus Five CD and it just came out two days ago. It’s called Calling Cortez: Neil Volume Three. It’s volume three of my Neil Young tribute record, but I wrote half the songs on this, but they’re written about Neil Young. That’s really dumb, but that’s what I do [chuckles]. We’ll be selling these at the gigs in the UK.
What new music are you enjoying at the moment? What are your favourite albums or songs so far this year?
Scott: You know, I get so much new music all the time and people ask, and I can’t think of anything. That’s what happens. But I just was listening to the Lola Kirke record, which is really good. Margo Price – I love her music. She’s like a Nashville country singer but not pure country. She rocks out a lot too. She’s great and Lola Kirke is a good singer-songwriter who’s also living in Nashville now I think, but not really country. A little bit country. Went and saw The Figgs recently, they are a band from New York. They were great.
Finally, what other projects do you have on the horizon?
Scott: We’ve got a new Baseball Project record coming at the end of this month and we’re going to tour on that in this summer in the US. It’s kind of more of a USA kind of thing – We have been to Europe, but we’ll concentrate our time over here and then Peter is playing with a guy named Nando Reis in Brazil who is really, really popular.
Peter: Yes, I’ll be there for a few months in Brazil. I’m just trying to keep busy.
Scott: They’re putting out a new triple album that they just recorded and so, he’s going to be in Brazil a lot of the time next year, I think. He’s really good. Peter has been working with him off and on for 25 years or something.
We’ll look forward to those releases coming out. Thank you both, and see you in Cardiff!
My Best Evil Friend is out now on Yep Roc Records. You can catch The No Ones on tour in the UK, with The Minus 5 as support, on the following dates:
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