Harvey Danger in 2009
|Origin||Seattle, Washington, U.S.|
Harvey Danger was an American alternative rock band that was formed in Seattle, Washington in 1993 by journalism students at the University of Washington. The band rose to prominence in 1998 with the single "Flagpole Sitta", which was later used as the theme tune to the British sitcom Peep Show. On August 29, 2009, the band played its final show at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle.
Harvey Danger began in 1992 with University of Washington classmates Jeff Lin and Aaron Huffman deciding "it might be fun to start a band." Huffman and Lin, who were both student journalists on the staff of The Daily of the University of Washington student newspaper, took the name "Harvey Danger" from a phrase graffitied onto the wall of the newspaper's office. Lin and Huffman played house parties and bars as a duo under the Harvey Danger name until 1993, when they invited Evan Sult to be their drummer. Despite his complete lack of drumming experience, Sult agreed, bringing along his own similarly inexperienced classmate Sean Nelson. Nelson was also a colleague of Lin and Huffman at The Daily's arts and entertainment section The Glass Onion.
The foursome played their first show on April 21, 1994 at the now-defunct Lake Union Pub; Sult and Nelson, both under 21, were only permitted entry during the set. That summer, the band moved into Nelson's student house together and began holding band practices in the basement. The band had little money and their drum set for their first few shows consisted of nothing more than a laundry bucket, 3 hubcaps, and a jar of pickles. More shows at the Lake Union Pub and other low-rent Seattle clubs followed, leading to exposure in The Seattle Times.
As the band began playing more shows at increasingly reputable venues, their songwriting gained momentum. In 1994, the band produced a six-song demo tape, sold at shows for $3. When three-quarters of the group became unemployed in 1996, they decided to devote yet more attention to the band, moving to another house and renting a rehearsal space. Their shows continued to improve, to the point of becoming regular weekend performers at the Crocodile Cafe.
The band recorded a three-track demo tape with producer John Goodmanson, which failed to draw attention from major labels, but found its way to Greg Glover, a London Records intern who ran his own small label, The Arena Rock Recording Company, Glover expressed interest in releasing a 7" single, and Harvey Danger provided him with an additional three songs--including "Flagpole Sitta"--also recorded with Goodmanson. On the strength of these, Glover agreed to bankroll a full-length album.
In 1996, shortly before the band's national success, Nelson was hired as a reporter for The Stranger newspaper in Seattle. Nelson opted to balance his journalism and music careers, and continues to write and edit for the newspaper to the present day.
Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? was released July 29, 1997 to local critical acclaim. The record performed well on college radio charts, and sold steadily in Seattle and New York, among other cities. By the end of the year, however, the band felt as though the record had lost its momentum and the group began to contemplate breaking up. Shortly before taking January 1998 off to contemplate their future, Nelson gave a copy of Merrymakers to KNDD DJ Marco Collins. Within weeks, "Flagpole Sitta" had become KNDD's most-requested song.
Influential L.A. radio station KROQ-FM picked the track up, and stations across the country shortly followed suit. When Greg Glover of The Arena Rock Recording Company was hired at Slash Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records, Harvey Danger were signed to the label. "Flagpole Sitta" made Billboard magazine's Top 40, and appeared in a number of films and television shows. Its video got heavy rotation on MTV and VH1. The song also became famous globally as one of the most memorable songs featured in the film American Pie, despite not being on the official retail soundtrack. It also appeared in the movie Disturbing Behavior and its trailer. More recently, the song was used as the opening theme to the British sitcom Peep Show for the second series and onwards.
The band toured extensively from March through December 1998, playing headlining and support gigs with some of the most popular artists of the year, and appearing at many radio festivals. The band had wanted to release the song "Carlotta Valdez" as the follow-up single to "Flagpole Sitta", but were overruled by Slash Records, who released "Private Helicopter" as a single instead in the fall of 1998. The single received lukewarm reception, and did not reach any Billboard music chart. In December 1998, Harvey Danger began writing songs for their follow-up album.
Harvey Danger began production of their second album in March 1999 at Albert Grossman's Bearsville Studios, near Woodstock, New York. Slash/London was unusually uninvolved in the recording process, a harbinger of what was to come. After three weeks of recording at Bearsville and several more weeks of recording and mixing in Seattle and Los Angeles, the band submitted the record, King James Version, to their label, and waited. What the band refers to as "elaborate corporate reshuffling" began almost immediately after they finished their album: mergers and acquisitions among record labels left them and their record in limbo for over a year, not knowing to whom they were signed, nor when KJV would be released.
Attempts to release the album on then-fledgling indie label Barsuk Records fell through due to legal complications, a tour with The Pretenders fell through due to lack of label support, and, just when the band was about to give up, newly reorganized London/Sire Records released King James Version on September 12, 2000. Reviews were strong, but buzz was almost nonexistent: sales of the album were slow, and the single "Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo" performed poorly on radio and MTV. For the album's supporting tour, Nevada Bachelors guitarist Mike Squires was added as the group's live guitarist as well as The Western State Hurricanes founder John Roderick on keyboard. Roderick would later fill in on bass when Huffman fell ill, days before a performance on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.
Harvey Danger played a "final" show in Portland on April 21, 2001, seven years to the day after their first show, and quietly disbanded for an undetermined period.
During the hiatus Jeff Lin returned to school, Evan Sult relocated to Chicago and joined the band Bound Stems and Aaron Huffman formed the group Love Hotel. Sean Nelson recorded and toured with The Long Winters, the group formed by former Harvey Danger live member John Roderick, and worked on solo material, sometimes with Lin and Huffman (actually recording several unreleased songs, among them covers of songs written by Harry Nilsson for a future release entitled Nelson Sings Nilsson). He wrote for the weekly alternative Seattle newspaper, The Stranger; Nelson also became a partner in Barsuk Records and a DJ for Seattle's KEXP-FM. The idea of reforming Harvey Danger was raised several times, but rejected.
Nelson, Huffman, and Lin entered a studio together for the first time in three years to record two new song ideas, with Nada Surf's Ira Elliot accompanying on drums. The session went so well that the trio agreed to begin writing music together--with "no strings attached". Sult, busy in Chicago, was unable to return, but sent his blessing for Harvey Danger's reincarnation.
April 21, 2004 saw both the 10th anniversary of Harvey Danger and their first show since 2001. With Nada Surf opening and Elliot again filling in on drums, the band played Seattle's Crocodile Cafe to a rapturous audience. Die-hard fans and long time message board members flew cross-country, from as far away as Middletown, NY, Cleveland, Florida and Baltimore to witness the long-awaited reunion. The show also previewed songs that would be part of the new album: "Moral Centralia," "Wine, Women, and Song," and "War Buddies."
Free of pressure, expectations, and a major label, the band found itself renewed and rededicated to making music.[according to whom?] They recruited Seattle-based drummer Michael Welke, formalized their return as a band, and performed with their new lineup at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle in the summer of 2004. The year ended with the self-release of a five-song EP, Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas (Sometimes) and another sold-out show at the Crocodile.
In February 2005, Harvey Danger entered Robert Lang Studios to record their third album. Joining them again was Goodmanson, accompanied by Steve Fisk. The recording process ran smoothly, and Little by Little... was released on September 13, 2005, five years and one day after King James Version.
Citing "a long-held sense that the practice now being demonized by the music biz as 'illegal' file sharing can be a friend to the independent musician," Harvey Danger released their third album, Little by Little..., as a free download via BitTorrent a week after its release, and directly from the band's website a week after that. Within two months of release, the album had been downloaded 100,000 times, while the first pressing of physical copies (packaged with a disc of bonus material) had nearly sold out.
Reviews of the album were mixed, but mostly positive. Pitchfork Media gave the album 6.9 (of a possible 10); AllMusic granted 3.5 (of a possible 5); PopMatters wrote: "If Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone is a rebellious kid kicking over trashcans in his neighborhood, then Little by Little seems to be that kid all grown up, taking out the trash, putting the lid on tightly, getting in his Jetta, and driving to work." Treble.com wrote: "Little by Little is one of the most pleasantly surprising albums of the year and one that truly displays the intricate and clever songwriting of a band in its prime." Threeimaginarygirls.com said: "Little By Little... deals with complex issues like politics, religion, and relationships on an intelligent level that's both challenging and accessible." The album's first single, "Cream and Bastards Rise," made Rolling Stone's "Hot List." It was also released as a downloadable song for the "Rock Band" video game series on October 7, 2008.
On July 25, 2006, Olympia-based label Kill Rock Stars re-released Little by Little... with a slightly altered track listing (songs on the bonus disc and main album swapped places). This release was much more widely available, and the band set out on its first national tour in five years in support of the album. On October 10, 2006, Barsuk Records released Little Round Mirrors as a maxi-single/EP with four B-sides.
On May 28, 2009, the band announced, "After 15 years, three albums, hundreds of shows, and far more twists and turns than we ever imagined possible, we've decided to put Harvey Danger to rest. The decision is totally mutual and utterly amicable." Harvey Danger played eight farewell shows in August, the last three of them in Seattle. The band closed with the last song it wrote, "The Show Must Not Go On".
In 2011, Harvey Danger released The Dead Sea Scrolls B-side collection and final single "The Show Must Not Go On" for free on their website.
Since the band's breakup, Nelson has continued to write and edit for The Stranger alternative weekly newspaper, which he had done for most of the duration of the band's career. As of 2016, he is the publication's arts editor and music critic. Huffman also worked for the newspaper as an art director.
Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? was released, on vinyl for the first time on July 29, 2014 by the independent record label No Sleep Records. The packaging for the Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? re-issue LP will feature new artwork, designed by Huffman, Sult and Nelson, using the iconic house from the original cover art now updated to reflect the passage of time, now surrounded by freeways and skyscrapers.
Founding guitarist Jeff J. Lin co-founded the IT company Captricity in 2011 with Kuang Chen.
Founding bassist Aaron Huffman died of respiratory failure due to cystic fibrosis on March 6, 2016, at age 43. His death was reported in The Stranger by his newspaper colleague and former bandmate Sean Nelson.
|1997||Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?|
|2000||King James Version
|2005||Little by Little...
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Album|
|US Air.||US Main.||US Mod.
|1998||"Flagpole Sitta"||38||33||3||50||9||98||63||57||Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?|
|1999||"Save It for Later"||--||--||29||--||--||--||--||--||200 Cigarettes soundtrack|
|2000||"Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo"||--||--||27||--||--||--||--||--||King James Version|
|2005||"Cream and Bastards Rise"||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||Little by Little...|
|2006||"Little Round Mirrors"||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|2009||"The Show Must Not Go On"||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||Non-album single|
|"--" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.|