The Minus 5 began life as a side project of the Young Fresh Fellows’ Scott McCaughey, who started recording the first Minus 5 songs in 1993. McCaughey designed the Minus 5 as a pop collective, with each record featuring a new ever-expanding lineup of guests and contributors. Throughout these releases, he worked closely with R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck, who was featured on the group’s eponymous 1994 debut EP, as well as every subsequent release and tour.
Their full-length debut album Old Liquidator was released in 1995, and the Minus 5’s lineup consisted of McCaughey, Buck, and Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies. Their Hollywood Records debut, The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy, was released the following spring, and featured additional contributions from members of Pearl Jam, Guided By Voices, and the Presidents of the United States of America.
In 2000, the Minus 5 became less a psychedelic folk side project and more a real rock band. Buck and McCaughey performed for the first time with ex-Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin and guitarist John Ramberg (a superb singer-songwriter known for his work in the Model Rockets, the Tripwires, and with Neko Case). This became the longest-running version of the group, immediately recording The Minus 5 In Rock CD, and eventually touring the U.S., Japan, England, and Spain.
In 2001, the Minus Five and the Young Fresh Fellows released a split double album, Let the War Against Music Begin/Because We Hate You, with the Minus 5 making its first national television appearance, on The Late Show With Conan O’Brien.
After a change of guard at Hollywood Records, the Minus 5 found themselves releasing music via independent channels, with the Return to Sender label releasing a collection of outtakes from Let the War Against Music Begin called I Don’t Know Who I Am before McCaughey signed the band to the Yep Roc label for his collaboration with Wilco, Down With Wilco, and this amalgamation was featured in the Minus 5’s appearance on Late Night With David Letterman.
The band’s seventh album, self-titled (but known as The Gun Album), was released early 2006, and features, along with the core line-up, Mott The Hoople’s Morgan Fisher, Wilco, Kelly Hogan and The Decemberists‘ singer/songwriter Colin Meloy, among others.
In 2009, the Minus 5 released Killingsworth, recorded in Portland with contributions from all of the Decemberists, as well as many other luminaries of that city’s indie rock scene.
The Minus 5 represents but a small part of McCaughey’s musical activities. Since 1984 he has toured and recorded copiously with Seattle’s legendary Young Fresh Fellows, a band generally credited with inventing everything good about music. Together with Peter Buck he has been a member of world-music-jazz collective Tuatara, Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, The Baseball Project, and Tired Pony (featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol). From 1994 through 2011, he worked with R.E.M. both on stage and in the studio. Originally brought on as a second guitarist for the Monster tour, McCaughey remained with R.E.M., contributing to the band’s studio albums New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Up, Reveal, Around the Sun, Accelerate and Collapse into Now. Additionally, he has received credits for his work on the live albums R.E.M. Live and Live at The Olympia album as well as their 2003 greatest hits collection, In Time. When working with R.E.M., McCaughey played guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, and sang backing vocals.