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Danger, Harvey Danger!

Seattle neophytes aim for the top of the flagpole

Rock & roll just ain’t what it used to be. Despite the
simplicity of rock’s essential formula (a good backbeat and dose of
rebellion) it’s impossible to strap on guitars without being
corraled into one of the myriad categories imposed on the genre by
the “Industry.” It’s a problem that Harvey Danger frontman Sean
Nelson knows all too well, despite his band’s status as newcomers
to the field.

“I know that we’re a mainstream band,” Nelson acknowledges, “and
I have to come to terms with that, ’cause all of my favorite bands
are indie rock. Artistically, that would be my goal.”

At the moment, Harvey Danger are walking a fine line. After five
years of playing house parties and club dates in Seattle, last May
they released their debut album, Where Have All The Merrymakers
Gone?
, on the tiny Arena Rock Recording Company. Local radio
station KNDD — soon to be famous as the setting for this fall’s
The Real World on MTV — picked up on “Flagpole Sitta,”
the album’s infectious first single, and other stations soon
started spinning the song as well.

A bidding war for the band’s services resulted in a new home for
Harvey Danger: Slash/London Records, a major label with an
indie-jones and a roster that has included iconoclasts X, the Dream
Syndicate, Faith No More, and the Violent Femmes. Now “Flagpole
Sitta” is a genuine burgeoning hit single. The band will be
shooting a video for the song this coming weekend and it’s
garnering impressive airtime in so-called “tastemaker” markets like
New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and L.A.

If “Flagpole Sitta” does become the band’s breakthrough song, it
won’t be without a touch of irony. “I wanna publish ‘zines and rage
against machines,” Nelson sings over the bridge. “I want to pierce
my tongue, it doesn’t hurt, it feels fine.”

But if the lyrics point up that ugly indie-meets-mainstream
quandary yet again, the music itself is unerringly direct:
straight-ahead, high-energy guitar rock plied with liberal use of a
distortion pedal. Perhaps that’s because Harvey Danger got their
start when the four members (Nelson, bassist Aaron Huffman,
guitarist Jeff J. Lin and drummer Evan Sult), all students at the
University of Washington, struck upon the idea of playing Mudhoney
and Nirvana covers at parties.

“For all intents and purposes, we’ve never left Seattle,” Nelson
says on the eve of their first extended tour, a jaunt down the West
Coast. “And we’ve just barely left our basement.”

Still, it would be a mistake to call their sound a
bastardization of grunge. Merrymakers draws upon the pop
sensibilities of bands like Ben Folds Five, the Posies and the
Presidents of the United States of America.

For Nelson, the growing hype and comparisons are just part of
the adjustment process. Since completing the album, he’s started
playing keyboards — and now he has to carry them along on tour.
“I’m playing a Crumar Traveler organ, from the Seventies. I don’t
know why they call it a Traveler, ’cause it’s really, really
heavy.”

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