October 8, 2014

Love, Hate and Indie Rock: Superchunk at 25

Friday, Oct. 10 @ 40 Watt Club

Photo Credit: Jason Arthurs

Superchunk frontman and Merge Records co-founder Mac McCaughan knows a thing or two about the music industry. Having been at the helm of both entities for 25 years, McCaughan is qualified to make a joke about the pitfalls of life in the business. “As someone who owns a record label, you’re constantly presented with demos and new music to listen to. Sometimes, well, you just want to turn it all off,” he says.

I Hate Music, Superchunk's followup to 2010’s Majesty Shredding, isn’t so much a return to form as it is an exercise in consistency, proof that the band has aged exceptionally well. For the better part of this century's first decade, Superchunk was relegated to being a strictly live act. Although the group released several concert recordings during that time, studio efforts came to a halt. 

McCaughan says the nine years between 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up and Majesty Shredding were full of output for the band's members—it just wasn't released under the Superchunk name. 

“There wasn’t really anxiety in those intervening years, because everyone was doing different things,” says McCaughan. In addition to three studio records with Portastatic, McCaughan continued to run day-to-day operations at Merge, releasing records from artists such as Arcade Fire, Dinosaur Jr. and Conor Oberst.

“We also felt like we wouldn’t make a new record if we thought it wasn’t any good. It wouldn’t be worth it if it were half-assed. Whatever we’re going to do, it is going to be full-on,” McCaughan says of the band’s hiatus.

Although I Hate Music is sonically representative of Superchunk’s energetic back catalog, its lyrical content delves head-first into noticeably heavier thematics. Hear the opening lines of “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” which play on the album’s title (“I hate music/ What is it worth/ Can’t bring anyone back from this earth”), and you get the sense it isn’t all fun and games anymore. 

The songs have always reflected some sort of reality, whatever age we’ve been.

When asked if the album is a take on getting older and grappling with life’s inevitabilities, McCaughan says, “I don’t know if you get more realistic, it’s just that life presents you with reality the older you get. The songs have always reflected some sort of reality, whatever age we’ve been."

The band received a healthy dose of reality when bassist Laura Ballance, who co-founded Merge with McCaughan, decided not to tour in support of the new record because of a hearing condition that affected her ability to perform live. “When it came time to put out the album, we all thought we had to tour on it to support it. And Laura knows that, but she just didn’t want to subject herself to that volume night after night,” says McCaughan. 

But Ballance’s departure from the touring unit won’t deter Superchunk from sounding as punchy and polished as ever, thanks to Merge mainstay Jason Narducy, who has taken up bass duties. McCaughan says Narducy, who also plays with Bob Mould in addition to fronting his own project, Split Single, can learn songs faster than anyone he knows. “He’s insane like that,” says McCaughan.

McCaughan admits that the road life is probably “most chaotic” for drummer Jon Wurster, who splits his time with The Mountain Goats and Mould’s band. (Wurster also performs and records in the comedy duo Scharpling & Wurster with writer and funnyman Tom Scharpling). 

“We’re all aware of what the other bands are doing,” says McCaughan of his bandmates’ hectic schedules. “We just work it out. Superchunk doesn’t tour five months out of the year, so it’s not as hard to schedule around [this band] as it might be for a band that is always on the road.”

In addition to spending the year promoting and touring in support of I Hate Music, McCaughan also celebrated the band’s—and his label's—silver anniversary. A North Carolina festival, called Merge 25, celebrated the history of the venerable indie outlet this summer. 

McCaughan says being in the music industry for this long has offered him a unique opportunity for reflection, which manifests itself on I Hate Music. “If you’re someone who listens to music and looks to it as a source of meaning in your life, the fact that there are moments when music doesn’t do what it used to do for you—even if that’s a passing moment—that’s still an unusual feeling.”

WHO: Superchunk, Crooked Fingers
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 10, 8 p.m.