Superchunk's Mac McCaughan: The extended interview
Congratulations on the success of Majesty Shredding--it's such a spirited, assertive record. How long have these songs been gestating? And what made you realize that the time was right for the first Superchunk full-length in nine years?
most of the songs were written in the year before the record came out. learned to surf and winter games were a couple years old, but the rest were new, i think "everything at once" was the last one written and that was sometime in the middle of recording. once we knew we were setting out to make an album, writing songs became really easy because i knew where they were destined to end up. we'd been talking about a new record for a couple years but had to get our minds around the idea, and how to record it (and tour) in a way that worked with everyone's different lives. took awhile to get to that point! but it was really fun once we did.
I think the easygoing camaraderie of the band comes through clearly in these songs, giving them a natural energy that other bands would kill for. Was it a seamless transition being back in the studio together again? And how have things changed for all of you since the last time you recorded together?
pretty seamless really, which is one of the great things about being in a band with the same people for 20 years -- we know how to play together, and what works for us musically and what doesn't. makes it easy to write songs when i know that these 4 people will be playing them. of course being in a band for 20 years also means that we really hate each other intensely, but there is the upside of knowing how to make a rock record...
I've been trying to figure out the message and meaning of "My Gap Feels Weird." I hear it as you trying to connect with a younger audience that perhaps doesn't know that you were once just like them-- the skinned knees and growing pains we are all due to experience and learn from. Is that totally off? And how important is it for you to connect with a younger audience as opposed to just your dedicated, longtime fans?
you're not totally off at all...i mean most of our songs aren't really about just one thing, i have trouble staying on the same subject even within a song but what you're talking about is definitely part of it.... i guess it's about both sides of that issue -- going to shows as a 40+ year old person where most people there are 20+, and feeling both alienated and encouraged by that. it's also about my daughter losing a tooth.
"Fractures In Plaster" is one of my favorite songs from Majesty Shredding, and one of the rare mellow moments on the blistering album. It's quite a wistful, nostalgic number. How does the vast amount of experiences that the band has shared collectively over the years color your songs? And do you draw on that familiarity while recording, like "play that riff just like you did on "Driveway To Driveway?"
hmmm i hadn't thought too much about our shared experience as a band though a lot of our songs are about being somewhere else, and much of that traveling has certainly happened via us being on tour together. "Fractures" is more about nostalgia, being a kid, and AA Milne. but as far as "play that riff like you did on X song" -- that's funny you say that because we actually have to do the opposite, we have to watch ourselves and we're often saying "uh isn't this like that part in "Dance Lessons" " or some other song no one remembers including us and then having to change the song we're working on so we don't plagiarize ourselves.
You've been putting out great records on Merge almost as long as you've been making music as a band. Do you find the process any different when you are releasing your own music?
one thing that's different is that it's us complaining about having to do interviews rather than convincing other artists that they NEED to do them! so the shoe is on the other foot and we're busted.
How has being in the industry for as long as you have shaped your experience making and releasing music? Do you find it any easier at this point, or do you still have the same complications that you have always had to work through?
it's harder, time-wise, to find the time and space to make records and write songs. but having done it this long it's easier in the sense that we pretty much know what has to happen to get from point A to point B. point B being having an awesome new record.
Has the success of the illustrious artists on Merge allowed the band the luxury of taking an extended hiatus, or was the lengthy time off just a matter of you all taking time to focus on other aspects of your lives?
we were all really burnt out on touring, was the beginning of the hiatus. we still had fun playing the odd show here and there but all needed to step away from the cycle of write-record-tour, it was becoming a grind especially on the touring we did right after Here's To Shutting Up came out, which also happened to coincide with 9/11. the success of Merge and Merge becoming that much busier definitely meant that getting back into Superchunk was even more difficult from a time standpoint as we were so busy with the label. but it was something that at least I always thought we would come back to in some way.
Has the consistently fantastic music released on Merge inspired you at all to get in the mix yourselves, and show these younger bands that perhaps just know you as the heads of the label that you can still bring it musically as well?
Ha, well not so much as a "look what we can do" but being surrounded by the work of the artists on merge really is a daily inspiration to make music. Bands on Merge like Telekinesis and Wye Oak and have so much energy to do this, and seem to make their music so effortlessly that it makes me want to get in the basement and write songs, or at least play guitar. Other artists making great records that were an inspiration in writing and recording this one were The Reigning Sound and Jay Reatard and David Kilgour.
I really enjoyed reading Our Noise, and have always thought that Merge was consistently the best record label in the country. Was it a rewarding experience to dig through the archives in order to tell your fascinating story? And did going back through the years help you realize the tremendous significance of all the things you and the bands have been able to accomplish over the years?
It was pretty exhausting writing and thinking about all that stuff, and trawling through bins of photos and flyers, but really fun yeah. we really couldn't fit half of what we would have liked in there, we've worked with so many great artists, but i think the stories that did get told are good ones and the visual aspect was really great to be able to have in there too. as far as realizing our own significance, i don't think we're in the best position to analyze that, partially because we're such an active ongoing concern that i don't like to think about merge as existing in the past tense.
How difficult was it for you in the early days to balance getting a label off the ground while also trying to bring Superchunk to a wider audience?
it was weirdly not difficult -- only because we didn't see it in those terms, that is, we weren't trying to "break" the band or the label in any directed way, we were focused on making records and writing songs and playing shows, so it didn't seem "hard" it just seemed like, "this is what we are doing".
You guys have played some pretty memorable shows at First Avenue over the years (I haven't missed one since '92). Any favorite memories from any of those shows? And why has it taken you so long to make your way back to Minneapolis? We've certainly missed the four of you and can't wait until your show here in December.
well we haven't played much of anywhere in 9 years but yeah it's been quite awhile (though Portastatic played the Entry w Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear a few years back on a really freezing cold night), Minneapolis isn't on the way from NC to anywhere really, is the only excuse i have! we've played shows there with a ton of great bands, off the top of my head Chris Knox, Teenage Fanclub, Rilo Kiley, Pegboy at the Entry...tons more i'm forgetting but we're looking forward to coming back!
SUPERCHUNK play with Times New Viking tonight, WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1, at FIRST AVENUE. 18+. $18. 7:30 p.m.