Remember 'Flagpole Sitta'? Harvey Danger Return

Band releasing Little by Little on Tuesday.

Remember Harvey Danger?

In the summer of 1998, the group's single "Flagpole Sitta" became a breakthrough MTV hit. With its catchy and sarcastic teenage refrain "I wanna publish 'zines/ And rage against machines" and its video with dorky frontman Sean Nelson dancing unselfconsciously, the group became an out-of-left-field sensation ... for a few months.

Success came a little too fast and a little too soon for the young band. "It created questions of identity and disorientation," Nelson said. "And, of course, you know, with all the cocaine and Ferraris lying around, it [all became] pretty, pretty disturbing," he joked.

The debut that spawned "Sitta," Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?, eventually sold more than 500,000 copies. But after the album's surprise success, the band seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. What really happened is an almost paint-by-numbers '90s story of record-company mergers that eventually screwed over the Seattle indie rockers big time.

"By the time [the label] got sorted out no one even remembered us at that point," Nelson said of their overlooked follow-up disc, King James Version. "It's such a classic, cliché story that it almost makes me cry to think about it. But I'm not going to cry. I promised myself that I wouldn't," he joked.

Deflated and discouraged by their lack of label support, Harvey Danger quietly called it a day, their band seemingly destined for the one-hit-wonder trash bin.

The bandmembers went their separate ways and took up different projects, musical or otherwise: Nelson became a movie critic for Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger and then eventually joined Seattle pop rockers the Long Winters in 2002, adding his sharp melodies and virtuosic keyboards to their pop mix, but then eventually decided he wanted to work on solo material. He also became a business partner in the Northwest Pacific label Barsuk that helped launch his friends Death Cab for Cutie (Harvey Danger essentially discovered Death Cab and gave the then-fledgling band its first few opening slots, and frontman Ben Gibbard appeared on King James Version).

After a few years of distance and some water under the bridge, Nelson enlisted a couple of ex-Harvey Danger members — guitarist Jeff Lin and bassist Aaron Huffman — and Nada Surf drummer Ira Elliot to assist with his solo material. Soon after the sessions began, the Harvey Danger guys clicked again.

Bonding with Nada Surf didn't hurt, either. Nelson and company witnessed how Nada Surf also went through the one-hit-wonder problem (with the 1996 song "Popular"), were neglected by their label, and somehow came out on the other side to achieve acceptance as a genuine band.

While recording songs in the studio, they looked at a calendar and realized April 21 — the 10th anniversary of Harvey Danger's very first show — was on the horizon. The band booked a gig for that day and played an inspiring reunion show that cemented the group's faith in a comeback effort.

"There was such an outpouring of love from the crowd and to each other [onstage]. It was just really fun and really gratifying," Nelson said.

Working at a relaxed pace, the band finished its third album, Little by Little, in February. The LP is due Tuesday (September 13), the fifth anniversary of the King James release. However, the band will be distributing its album for free on its Web site starting next week. Produced by original Harvey Danger producers John Goodmanson and Steve Fisk, the piano-driven 10-song disc is coming out on the group's own Phonographic Records, and will be accompanied by a 30-minute bonus EP of alternative takes and some new material.

Whether fans familiar with "Flagpole Sitta" will return to Harvey Danger's side is unknown, but Nelson said he's just happy the band has gotten a second chance on its own terms. "We'll have that sense of satisfaction or closure that comes from making a record and releasing it to the public. They either embrace it or don't, but at least they'll have the option of noticing it this time."

Of course, an "O.C." slot couldn't hurt. After all, half the band's friends have been on the show.

"Death Cab is practically a character on that show! I sang on the Nada Surf cover of [Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's] 'If You Leave' [featured on the soundtrack and show]. I mean, Harvey Danger were on 'Dawson's Creek' a lot, which was sort of 'The O.C.' of the '90s. Maybe I could do a cameo as someone's grandpa. That would be fun."

Little by Little track list, according to Phonographic Records:

  • "Wine, Women, and Song"
  • "Cream & Bastards Rise"
  • "Moral Centralia"
  • "Little Round Mirrors"
  • "Happiness Writes White"
  • "Incommunicado"
  • "Cool James"
  • "What You Live By"
  • "War Buddies"
  • "Diminishing Returns"

Little by Little bonus EP track list:

  • "I Missed It"

  • "Picture, Picture"

  • "Cream and Bastards Rise" (writing session snippet)

  • "Elvis, I Don't Love You Anymore"

  • "Cold Snap"

  • "Little Round Mirrors" (writing session snippet)

  • "Moral Centralia" (demo)

  • "Cream and Bastards Reprise"

  • "The Piano Lesson"