US - North Carolina - Full Moon 61 - 10/02/01
- an interview with Mac McCaughan
All the songs sound the same? Mac McCaughan talks!
For the best part of the last five years, especially in Europe, it felt as if "indie rock" ™
was dead and buried. You basically only had a chance if you jumped on the electronica bandwagon
or sold your soul to become a media rock star like Marilyn Manson, where the image is worth a
lot more than the music. So who needs College Rock in one form or another? No wonder then, that
a lot of bands who were on the verge of becoming superstars in the early or mid 90s have broken
up or at least abandoned the idea of (more or less) loud guitars, bass and drums as an art form.
Chapel Hill's Superchunk are a very notable exception. Releasing their records on their own
imprint Merge Records - now also the home of The Magnetic Fields, Lambchop, ...Trail Of Dead and
others - since day one (with some help on early albums from Matador in the States and City Slang
in Europe), never falling into the traps of the modern day music business and staying true to
their original ideas yet changing enough to keep it interesting, the band (still) deserves every
bit of attention they get. They even have an often overlooked humorous side to them. After many
accusations in the past, that there was too little variation in their music, the band went ahead
to name their publishing company All The Songs Sound The Same Music. Very cool indeed!
Two years ago they released the stunning Come Pick Me Up, produced by Jim O'Rourke,
which made clear once and for all that Superchunk may have never written a song as gloriously
over-the-top like their early single Slack Motherfucker again, a song that works both as
a catch-phrase and a statement, but as far as the diversity and richness of their music was
concerned, Come Pick Me Up was pretty much unparalleled in the Chunk's musical cosmos.
Yet it sounded as if they almost tried too hard to push their trademark sound into a new
directions at times. Enter Here's To Shutting Up, the follow up, an album that is further
prove that the best is yet to come for Mac, Jim, Jon and Laura. Now with Brian Paulson on the
control board, the album sounds like a looser, toned-down - in other words: better - version of
Come Pick Me Up. Reasons enough to us to talk to singer and guitarist Mac.
Carsten: You've been pretty much out of the public eye in most places in Europe
since you toured your last City-Slang-distributed album Indoor Living at the end of 1997.
Mac: "When we first started, it was sort of a big deal for an American band to come to
Europe and people were a lot more interested in seeking out Rock N Roll, especially from
America. Then things changed, especially in the UK and I think Europe follows the British press
to some extent in terms of what they are listening to. So that didn't mean good things for us
(laughs). Christof at City Slang probably thought that he did everything he could do with a band
like Superchunk and his successful artists were bands like Tortoise or Lambchop, which were not
really doing the 'rock thing'. I don't hold it against City Slang. They did a good job with our
earlier records, but it's hard to battle an entire nation of indifference or whatever (laughs).
Then we got picked up by Matador Europe, who were old friends of ours [Matador US], so we were
really excited to have a label that wanted to do our record over here. Because when City Slang
passed on Come Pick Me Up, it really looked like we might not even have a record contract
in Europe at all, which would be a shame. But Matador Europe did it and they did a good job I
think. Again, it's sort of a battle for anyone doing Superchunk records ar this point. In the
US people tended to stay with us and sort of follow the band's changes, whereas in Europe people
have this idea that we sound like we did eight years ago, y'know. It's not interesting for us to
sound like that though. Matador is trying to convince people now, that they should listen to
Superchunk with a new sort of outlook."
Carsten: You toured Europe only briefly though after the release of Come Pick
Mac: "The places where it was getting the best responses was places that we've been
traditionally strong, like Spain. And since it's so expensive to come tour in Europe... well,
since Matador was doing our record, we didn't want to break the bank on our first record:
"Thanks for trying to reintroduce us to Europe, now we're gonna spend all your money on our
tour!" (laughs). We couldn't afford to lose money ourselves, so we just had to structure the
few dates that we did where they made sense. So we did a couple of shows in the UK and then
went to Spain and did eight shows or so there. It was a fun kind of tour to do, because it was
so different, but of course that meant we didn't really get to a lot of other places."
Carsten: Are you surprised sometimes that you just stayed together and did not
break up like many other bands that first got popular around the same time as you did?
Mac: "Yeah, it is surprising, because we have been around for twelve years now and when
I think about the bands who were around when we first started, very few of them are still
around. Bands like Sebadoh and obviously Sonic Youth were around long before that, in terms of
bands people associate with 'indie rock', or whatever you wanna call it. It is kinda surprising
that we are still here, because you can see when you're on tour - even if you're a band like us
that is still together - why other bands break up (laughs). Just because it is stressful and
you're around the same people all the time. I even feel like we're doing different things with
Superchunk, but we're obviously a four piece band and that's one of our strengths, trying to
grow and change and trying to do things that are interesting to us. But that's also a process
of dragging the band into the next thing, when everybody would be just as contend to play
straight Rock N Roll. But instead of breaking up, we just pushed through it. And in the end it
took us twelve years to make a record like Here's To Shutting Up. It's gotta be a gradual
thing if you'e dealing with four people's opinions and tastes."
Carsten: You mentioned being around the same people all the time. So is it a
blessing or almost a curse that the Superchunk line up hasn't changed in almost ten years now,
that it's the exact same four people in the band and no "new blood"?
Mac: "It's how you use it! Having the same people means that you know as long as you can
get past a certain point, where you feel like you're gonna kill each other, it makes it easy
in terms of playing music, because you don't have to think about it as much, you don't have to
wonder what another person is going to do. You can just get together and play. You just know
that everybody is gonna do something interesting. In that way it's good, but as you said, you
do want new blood and new things to inject interest into the band. That's why we're trying to do
new things, working with new producers - to keep it interesting for ourselves."
Superchunk play a brief tour of Europe in early October and have lined up and extensive tour
in the States later on this year.
Copyright © 2001 Carsten Wohlfeld