One on One with Sean Nelson: A Look Back at Harvey Danger’s History

Harvey Danger 2

The Click & Dagger crew is getting ready to head to The Crocodile on Saturday night to celebrate the life and times of one of Seattle’s most overlooked but most talented musical groups: Harvey Danger. Some have labeled the band as a one hit wonder, but we’ve followed the band throughout their rollercoaster existence. From the highs of having a widely recognized single to the lows of breaking up, Harvey Danger’s catalogue offers a sincere collection of masterfully crafted post-grunge rock that we’re sad to see come to an end.

Harvey Danger has a bit of a rocky past. After the huge commercial success of “Flagpole Sitta,” the single from their debut album, frontman Sean Nelson and his band mates, Jeff Lin and Aaron Huffman, struggled with how to follow in the record’s footsteps.

“We’ve been through so many phases of response to the success of that song—excitement, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, at length, acceptance—that it was for a long time difficult to get anything done,” said Nelson. “We would anticipate what people would say; we would despair that no one would listen; we would occasionally hope against hope that maybe something else would step up and, if not take ‘Flagpole’s’ place, then at least stand somewhere near it in the public consciousness. Every time I talk about this I’m aware how defensive and ungrateful I must sound, but I’m neither of those things, I don’t think.”

Wrestling with such an immediate success took its toll on the group. In 2001, the band decided to part ways after their second record, King James Version, fell flat.

“The failure of the second record was really devastating—not because we had mortgages or movie star wives to support, but because we had all just spent two solid years doing nothing but waiting for the day when we could finally make something that would vindicate all the bullshit we had agreed to live through,” Nelson explained. “And then we did make it, and had to wait a year and a half for it to come out, during which the internal anticipation grew even more intense, until it finally came out, and then it just sort of disappeared and that was that. Like punk never happened, as the expression goes. Plus we didn’t like who we were, individually or collectively, so we just ran away from it, or pretended to. Time passed and we realized that we were all still feeling like there was a lot of unfinished business.”

That unfinished business turned into a reunion in 2003, giving Nelson and his band mates renewed fervor to write more music together and become the self-sustaining band they had dreamed of.  In the years between 2003 and today, Nelson feels the band accomplished just that, and now it is time for a real retirement for the sake of the band’s work.

“For me personally, the past two years have been a real struggle because the band has been artistically dormant, but enough of a going concern that the idea of getting back to work was always in the offing. And then the offing just gets farther away,” Nelson said. “And then you find yourself in Aberdeen singing ‘Flagpole Sitta’ to a room that felt like somebody just left all the cages open at a zoo because someone offered you $15,000 or whatever. Welcome to dignity purgatory.”

Being respectful of the fact that Harvey Danger has run its course is not the only reason for the fond farewell this weekend. Making music takes a certain spark, a chemistry if you will, and sometimes that spark dies out as members of a band grow individually.

“The guys who form the core of the group—me, Jeff, and Aaron—don’t have very much in common creatively or professionally. It’s possible that we never really did, but when we were younger it was easier find a reason to make it work in spite of all that,” said Nelson. “The difference now is that there isn’t anything else to do, really. All that unfinished business is now more or less finished. You look around and you’re pushing 40 instead of being in your early 20s, and it’s much easier to see what you want and what you don’t. We enjoy and respect each other a lot, but we don’t really have the same, or even similar, ambitions or desires anymore. This makes it harder to write new music together, which makes the whole point of playing live shows kind of suspect, and the dominoes fall from there.”

However, while differences may be a contributing factor to the band’s upcoming retirement, the differing personalities, styles and experiences of the members of Harvey Danger are viewed as creative strengths for music making.

“Above all, the biggest influence on this band has been the fact that we are so incredibly different and separate from one another,” Nelson stated. “All the bands, all the films, all the books, all the paintings, all the relationships that went into to making each one of us an individual was definitely important. But it’s the fact that no matter how many experiences we’ve had, on every level of band culture, we’ve almost never really had them together. It’s been really hard, sometimes agonizing, to miss out on that band-as-gang experience that I see our peers getting to experience. But accepting that’s not who we are has allowed us to maintain a collective identity comprised of individual ones. That has been the secret of our sound, our longevity, our success, and our glass ceiling.”

While we are sad to know that Harvey Danger is bidding us all farewell at their show tomorrow night, the concert will be a celebratory and meaningful culmination of the band’s career.

“Playing Seattle is what we are built to do. It’s what we originally aspired to, and it’s what made all the other stuff we’ve done seem worth doing,” said Nelson. “Above all, it’s where our personal and musical eccentricities seem to require the least explanation. We were never properly a part of what people call the community, always occupied our own little Balkan nation among all the little Seattle scene principalities—that isolation used to bother me until I understood that the people who appreciated us were in the same boat, and our music was the occasion of its own community. Hence, playing at home always feels like a combination national holiday and family reunion. And retirement party, now.”

We hope to see you at The Croc tomorrow night (8/29) to help us say adieu to such a wonderfully transparent, genuine group of musicians. And the venue choice couldn’t be a better fit for the band’s farewell performance Nelson emphasized, “Of course we chose the Crocodile on purpose because it was where we always used to play and it’s so tied to our sense of what it means to play a rock show. In a very real way, our final show couldn’t possibly be held anywhere else.”

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~ by clickdagger on August 28, 2009.

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