Harvey Danger know what diapers feel like. We need them, use them and then toss 'em. They are like the paper clips and pocket lint that get thrown in the spare change dish with the Abe Lincolns and the Canadian maple leaves. They are the daily newspapers, the Styrofoam cups, the broken light bulbs of the music industry.
And that's OK with them.
"Having gone through that ride of being disposable was really interesting," says Sean Nelson, lead singer for Harvey Danger, on a morning walk from his Seattle office to a nearby coffee shop. "I'm glad it happened. Now that it happened so long ago, the only people who remember us were the ones who liked us."
You remember Harvey Danger. They were those guys that came out of Seattle in the mid '90s who weren't grunge, weren't singing about peaches and weren't playing metal. Yeah, those guys -- the ones who met at the University of Washington, formed the band and then learned how to play their instruments. It was all a little bass ackwards -- but it worked. Some Seattle-ites ate it up, enjoying their niche art rock sound, and dissolving the heavy weight of grunge off their shoulders with Harvey Danger's catchy, breathless pop.
"There was never a thought that we'd actually become successful," Nelson admits. "Our goal was to play a weekend show in Seattle."
They made achieving that goal look easy, as their debut record Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? caught on locally, with the single "Flagpole Sitta." There was something innovative about Harvey Danger. Nelson's lyrics were tangible, creative and, above all, decipherable. His band mates Jeff Lin and Aaron Huffman were good musicians playing really catchy pop music. They became instant stars, bringing one more sound to the already broad Northwest music spectrum.
And then they were gone.
Their song and dance is the same as so many other bands: major-label woes, loss of identity, music becoming more work than fun. Nelson says that's when they hung Harvey Danger up to dry -- tucking their instruments and national identities in their closets of memories, then just moving on to other things.
"I don't think we ever got desperate," Nelson says. "We didn't desperately go for it -- we sort of hit the wall and realized it wasn't fun. Because we did that, we've been able to preserve our legacy."
It was a realization that Nelson, Lin and Huffman had been anticipating for a long time, from the time Harvey Danger went from being a fun side project to a full-time job.
"I think we were split between feeling like we were going to do [Harvey Danger] forever, and at some point we'd have to give up the dream and grow up," Nelson says. "None of us were really ready to hang up that dream."
But they did temporarily after the release of their nearly invisible 2000 album, King James Version. Nelson went on to play with the Long Winters, Lin and Huffman were never heard from again. Evan Sult, the band's original drummer, took off for the East Coast. The three remaining in Seattle would sometimes get together for the occasional nostalgic jam -- but they never called it Harvey Danger. It just brought up bad tastes.
"We had to get rid of our own baggage with it," Nelson says.
But then something happened when the guys were just screwing around in the studio one day. They recorded something new -- and it was good.
"Something really clicked in the studio, and we all snapped to attention and realized that there was more that we could do," he says. "We all thought of Harvey Danger."
And when they started to re-emerge around Seattle and western Washington, they realized that they were missed. People still knew Harvey Danger, and they were ready to see them come back. Maybe it was a craving for the past on the fans' part, for the fertile soil of the talent-rich 1990s Northwestern music scene.
"In certain corners of the world, Harvey Danger is still really famous," Nelson says, sounding surprised. "Some small towns across the world never really got the memo that we were done."
And for that reason, for the fact that they never got desperate and pulled a Green Day or Art Alexakis, Nelson scoffs at the term one-hit wonder.
"In terms of VH1, yeah, we're a one-hit wonder," he says. "In terms of the real world of music, we're just a band. Some bands get lucky and get hits, and I think we're one of those. Some bands are great and never get any hits."
Maybe they were a diaper once, but Harvey Danger feels as if, in the music world, they've transitioned to washable pull-up status.
Guitarus Maximus -- Why did Alternative Press hail Mastodon as one of the "Bands You Need to Know in 2004?" Find out this Saturday night when Mastodon opens the show for death metal institution Slayer at the Big Easy. Before the headliners' reign in blood commences, audience members will be treated to nothing less than nearly an hour of continuous rolling thunder -- a foot-stomping, chest-pounding long hair-twirling stampede of sound, fury and sweat.
As the band's name implies, Mastodon is a heavy beast. The Atlanta-based quartet has been hailed in the rock press and by fans as one of the most intriguing and challenging bands to emerge from the hard rock scene in the last decade. And the band comes by its reputation honestly. Mastodon's sound is an innovative, technically dazzling and explosive mix of hardcore, grind, thrash and metal that is boundary-smashing, appealing to a wide range of rock aficionados.
Mastodon was initially formed in 1999 by drummer Brann Dailor and guitarist Bill Kellihe, both former members of Today Is the Day and Lethargy. Upon moving from their old home base of Rochester, N.Y., to Atlanta, Dailor and Kellihe met bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds (of a like-minded band, High on Fire) at a local house party -- and a heavy rock super-group of sorts was conceived. Chemistry, alchemy and a hard-hitting demo ensued, paving the way for opening slots in 2000 with Queens of the Stone Age, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse and others. The group's live performances across America won converts to the cause -- so many that recording labels began taking notice. Mastodon eventually signed with Relapse (where the band felt right at home with label mates such as Today Is the Day, the Dillinger Escape Plan and Burnt by the Sun) and released its debut EP, Lifesblood, in 2001.
It's been a steady burn ever since, with each new accomplishment laying the foundation for the next. For its first full-length release, Mastodon teamed up with producer/engineer, Matt Bayles, notable knob-tweaker for the likes of Isis, Burnt by the Sun and Pearl Jam. The furious fruit of that labor was 2002's Remission. The album -- and particularly the single, "March of the Fire Ants" (the video of which has received massive MTV2 airplay) -- placed Mastodon squarely in the vanguard of yet another metal revolution.
The new album, Leviathan (released in August and again produced by Bayles) slams the whiplash speed, aggression and majesty of previous outings into hyperdrive, re-establishing this insanely intense and driven unit as a heavy rock standard-bearer, as one of the few bands in the land against which all other hard-hitting acts are now judged. Mastodon's addition to 2004's high profile Jagermeister Music Tour with Slayer and Killswitch Engage is merely the latest manifestation of the broad peer, critic and fan respect the band currently enjoys.
Yet the band members themselves -- while confident in their abilities and cognizant of their influence -- are remarkably light on pretense. Rather than follow the path of least resistance to success in this highly competitive arena, these guys have adhered to their own sterling work ethic and firm belief that what they are doing -- and, specifically, how they are doing it -- will, in the long run, not only benefit their own collective careers, but may in fact irrevocably alter the course of heavy music.
Ambitious? You betcha. Exciting? Undoubtedly.
Publication date: 12/09/04