Stroke Manor is all about Minus 5 leader Scott McCaughey’s brain on music — including the trippy video for the song “Bleach Boys and Beach Girls,” premiering exclusively below. And he’s happy to have his head so engaged.
On Nov. 15, 2017, McCaughey suffered a stroke, from which he’s substantially recovered though he still has trouble remembering some song lyrics. His musical recovery began just a few days after, when good pal and frequent music collaborator Peter Buck brought a guitar to the Portland, Ore., hospital and “plunked it down on my lap,” according to McCaughey. “My hands went right to a chord, and that was really a great kind of breakthrough moment for me, ’cause I didn’t know if I’d be able to remember how to play. And I couldn’t really play but I remembered how to put my fingers in the right place, so I wasn’t going to be starting from scratch.” McCaughey also began scratching out lyrics while he was in the hospital, which began the process of making Stroke Manor, which comes out in a limited edition for Record Store Day vinyl and CD release on April 13, with a wider release due later.
“This record is completely formed by what happened to me,” McCaughey recalls. “The words were written mostly in the hospital. I didn’t really know if they were going to be songs or anything — I just was writing whatever was in my hand. And after a month or two when I was back at home I started picking up the guitar and strumming some chords and looking at the notebook, and they seemed to want to be songs. I wasn’t sure if they would, but they did.”
McCaughey’s medical experience can be traced throughout Stroke Manor, including tracks such as “MRI” and “Plascent Folk.” “Beacon From RKO” and “Pink Bag for Rip Torn” were inspired by TV he was watching through his convalescence, while “Beatles Forever Little Red” came from a Beatles playlist Buck made for McCaughey while he was still in the hospital. “I don’t know what some of these songs are even about,” he acknowledges — and that includes “Bleach Boys and Beach Girls,” whose video includes images of McCaughey’s brain scans blended with vintage beach movie clips, almost like a psychedelic representation of his creative process.
“I don’t have any idea where that (song) came from or what I was trying to say when I wrote it,” McCaughey notes. “Once it became a song, because of the vibe of the song I kind of went with the feeling that the words evoked, which was kind of a ’60s thing. So I lightened it up a little bit, got some video of dancing girls in bikinis and made a video out of it.”
McCaughey has been performing again since last year and has shows on the books in support of the album, starting with a release day performance at Music Millennium in Portland. He’s also busy wrapping up pre-stroke projects with Fresh Young Fellows and the No Ones, and next week he’ll be in the studio with Buck and Joseph Arthur working on their second Arthur Buck album in Portland. McCaughey isn’t hazarding a guess about what’s next for his own music, however.
“I haven’t been able to write any new songs since the (Stroke Manor) songs,” he reports. “I’m struggling to sort of write new songs. I’m kind of wondering if my brain is different now, and if I’m going to be able to write the way I did before. There’s part of my brain that’s dead and won’t come out, so now it’s figuring out ways around that. I’m driven to get this thing (Stroke Manor) out and then…I feel like, ‘What am I gonna do next?’ And I really don’t know.”