by Wade Chamberlain
Superchunk have had a busy year in 1995. They've released two albums this year. The first, Incidental Music, isn't actually a new album, but rather a collection of singles. The second, Here's Where The Strings Come In, is all new material, and in this, "writer's opinion" is possibly their best work yet. They also toured with Lollapalooza this summer playing several dates on the second stage, and are currently headlining a U.S. tour. During this tour, I was able to speak with the band before the show, and here's a bit of what I learned.
Superchunk was formed in 1989 by bassist, Laura Ballance and guitarist/vocalist, Mac McCaughan. At that time, the rest of the line-up included Chuck Garrison on drums and Jack McCook on guitar. Jim Wilbur replaced McCook just before their first tour. And in 1991, drummer John Wurster replaced Chuck Garrison to complete the current line up.
Besides being the co-founders of Superchunk, Laura and Mac also own and operate Merge Records out of their hometown, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. People often refer to Superchunk as the ultimate do-it-yourself band or one of the last true indie bands. Unlike most indie bands who begin their record label as a way to put out their own stuff, Laura and Mac actually began Merge before they were a band to release 7-inch vinyls for other bands. However, they started releasing tapes. Superchunk left Merge for a short contract with Matador. After the contract was over, they decided to go back to Merge and try it again. Wilbur compared their returning to Merge to moving away from home after college. Laura says that running a label is a lot of hard work, and it's not for everyone. But they feel having complete control of their music is best for them. They are very supportive of other indie labels such as Teen Beat and Simple Machines. Mac finds that people who were into labels like Teen Beat and Simple Machines are more likely to get into Merge stuff because they are aware of labels that size. Superchunk actually released a couple of split 7-inches on Simple Machines, and they thank Teen Beat owner, Mark Robinson, as well as Simple Machines', Jenny Toomey on Incidental Music.
Superchunk has worked with some pretty big name "producers", such as indie rock legend, Steve Albini. However, with the high regard they place on artistic freedom, they are very apprehensive to use the word "producer," claiming that in their case it is a very misunderstood word. According to Jim and Laura, "Producer is always a weird word because it doesn't ever really mean producer."
"We'll hire someone to be there because we want their technical expertise, but generally we're just telling them how we want it to sound." Here's Where The Strings Come In was recorded at the legendary Fort Apache, and was engineered by Wallie Gagel, who did an excellent job. Jim Wilber said that Fort Apache was the least comfortable studio he'd ever been in because there was an office in the studio, and it was really distracting to have people coming and going at all times. They also worked with Rocket From The Crypt's John Reis on the 1993 Matador release, On The Mouth, as well as putting out a couple of 7 inches for Rocket on Merge.
Superchunk is quick to dismiss the whole "Alternative" scene and bands like Pavement, Alanis Morrisette, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. "Bands right now are all trying to out cool each other, let's see who can be hip, who can be more Gen X. It's not gonna last. FIfty years from now are you gonna wanna hear 'cut your hair'?"
"There's no focus on any thing except obscurity." said Wilbur. He does like bands such as Tindersticks and theTriffits. "I like things that are ornate and emotionally over-reaching. A band like Pavement I can't get into, it just seems hollow. It doesn't really evoke any thing."
One of my current faves from Superchunk is the song "Shallow End" which origanlly appeared on the Jerky Boys soundtrack, and is now on Incidental Music. I found the Jerky Boys soundtrack a really odd place to find such a great song. So, I asked them how it came about. Wilbur claims that the movie company approached them and asked if they would put a song on the soundtrack. He said that he wanted to give it to them because he hated it. He thinks it sounds like Pearl Jam, but Laura jumped in and supported me saying she liked the song. "Shallow End" was recorded at the same time as "Green Flowers, Blue fish" one of the cuts off of Here's where the strings come in and that song was supposed to be on the Johnny Mneumonic soundtrack. Because the movie company ran out of money, they didn't end up using it. Wilbur claims it's because they had to pay to teach Keanu Reeves how to act. If that's the case, it didn't quite work. They were also asked to do the theme song for "Lawnmower Man, Part Two." However, Laura claims they couldn't pay them enough to do it.
While we were on the subject of movies, I had to confirm a rumor I had heard. After seeing an advertisement on the cartoon network for the cartoon "Superchunk", a friend told me that the cartoon had originated in the 60's and that is where the band had gotten their name. It turns out to be untrue, but Superchunk seemed to like the idea. They told me I could start a new myth by spreading that rumor far and wide. They wouldn't tell me where the name really came from, claiming that the cartoon myth was much more interesting. And that if anyone cared to know how they really got their name it could be found out with the smallest amount of research.
Regardless of how they got their name, Superchunk is a great band, and put on an incredible live show. I highly recommend seeing them. Also if you haven't yet checked out Incidental Music and Here's Where The Strings Come In , purchase both records soon. They are some of the more choice releases of '95. One final note, the kid skating in the KISS t-shirt on the cover of Incidental Music is Wilbur when he was like twelve.
Copyright © 1996, Rational Alternative Digital