Thursday, July 03, 2008

Archive Interview #2 - Superchunk

Who says you should never meet your heroes? This interview was originally published in 2004 and dates back to October 2001 when Superchunk, for the first time in a long while, came to Scotland as part of their tour for their “Here’s To Shutting Up” LP and yes, I was very excited.

Myself and John Mackie caught up with Mac McCaughan and the flitting in and out Laura Ballance at Glasgow’s King Tut's Wah Wah Hut.

I kicked off by asking about the long gap between visits.

MM: "I guess the main reason is the massive indifference in the crowds over here. Whenever we’ve come to do a tour in the last few years we’ve only done London and whenever we’ve tried to go beyond that it’s been a miserable night. The last time we tried to do Nottingham it was freezing cold and there was only 30 people in. It was one of those gigs where you’re playing but you’re thinking “what are we doing here?” It’s so expensive to come over here – the longer you make a tour, the more money you have to use so you want to maximise your time somewhere and for us that’s meant generally going somewhere where people want to see us. Our shows in London are always pretty good so we think maybe we should try to go outside of there, but it’s just never that good. This time it didn’t make sense to do a whole bunch of stuff in Europe and our booking agent wasn’t having the best of luck trying to do that anyway so we didn’t want to just do another tour of Spain so we’re trying to more UK stuff and we’re playing Ireland where we’ve never played as well."

It’s hard to say how many people will turn up tonight – I imagine it will be quite busy, I hope it would be at least.

MM: "As you say, it’s hard to know. Where we’re coming from we have no way to gauge. The record has just come out and it’s been a long time since we’ve been here which could mean people will be excited or it could mean people don’t care any more!"

I hope it’s the former. Moving onto the new record. How happy are you with it?

MM: "I’m really happy with it, I like it a lot. This record, even more than the last record, is a situation where we managed to do something a little different. If you were a fan of the band as opposed to a casual listener I think you would notice that it’s different. It wasn’t the most fun record to make, but I’m happy with it."

What was it like working with Brian Paulson (producer of 1994’s “Foolish”) again?

MM: "It was good. He’s good at taking a mess, which I think is what we had when we finished recording, and turning it into something that’s listenable."

An unfair question maybe, but how do you think he compares to Jim O’Rourke who produced your last record? ("Come Pick Me Up")

MM: "They’re both really fun to work with in that they’re both good at doing that same thing of being able to find a good space to put everything in a mix. They both have good ears basically, but in terms of working styles, I don’t know…"

LB: "I think that Jim almost seems a little more organised, which doesn’t seem like he would but he seemed to know where things were more than Brian. You know what I mean?"

MM: "Maybe. I don’t know, Brian’s a lot more willing to keep piling stuff on, Jim was into that to a certain extent, but Brian has his computer hooked up to his 24 track, he was like "oh we can keep putting stuff on here" which is kind of a scary proposition as there’s too much space to work with."

I’m not sure if this is the right word, but how much trust would you give to a producer if they are getting you to try things out?

MM: "I think it’s more like us saying what we want to do and then making it happen and when you get to the point where you just get stuck those are the guys you can ask “what do you think we should do with this?"

There’s a song on the new album called "Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama)". For those not in the know, i.e. me, who is Yayoi Kusama, and why for her?

MM: "She is a Japanese conceptual artist, mostly active in the 60s and 70s, she’s still alive though. If you go on the internet, there’s some pretty good stuff you can read about her. She was good at presenting conflicts and the dichotomy of what you’re doing with your life – you’re serious about your art, but you’re also selling it so she’s an interesting character."

When you were over in Japan, were they interested in that over there?

MM: "A couple of people were. One writer brought me a postcard of an exhibit that she had been to in Tokyo, but she’s fairly underground there as well. She’s famous enough to have had exhibits and the Museum of Modern Art and stuff, but as for general public knowledge, I don’t think she’s that well known over there."

Earlier you touched on the fact that your profile in the UK is quite low, people have almost tended to write you off as The List (Edinburgh & Glasgow listings magazine) did by calling you "first wave grungers" or perceiving you as underachievers. That annoys me, I’m sure it would annoy you.

MM: "Yeah. When someone writes that it’s just so clear that they don’t listen to music. Saying "first wave grungers" and the fact that people would still use the word "grunge" to describe anything shows that they don’t give a shit. A writer like that is just taking the easiest way out when they don’t really want to listen to something or think about it or write about it. In terms of being underachievers, well in their mind who are the overachievers? If you do this for a job, for your life and you tour x amount of months of the year and you make records and do other stuff, what’s underachieving about that? If their conception is that we’ll make a record and sit around at home for a couple of years then they just have no idea what they’re talking about. For us, it doesn’t make any sense to pay attention to people like that. That’s one of the reasons we don’t come over here as much, people don’t seem to care about music, they care about fashion or some movement they can invent."

That’s the problem with the UK press at the moment – they’ve latched onto the bands from New York for example and everything else seems to be ignored. What more can you do?

MM: "It’s just stupid. Obviously there’s music fans here, but not enough to change the way the music industry works and not enough to make it worthwhile for us to come over. If there was a grant you could get for only being able to draw 10 people then we could come do a tour! It’s so expensive."

Speaking as an outsider it seems in the US and the way people write about bands there’s none of those cliques and intolerance of things that are different.

MM: "I think there’s a lot more respect afforded to bands. There’s still terrible writing everywhere though."

Indeed. I’d like to ask about Merge Records – how’s that doing at the moment?

MM: "Going good, things are busy as usual. Pretty much everything is out for the year – we did a record with The Clean that Matador did over here. There’s a Lambchop record that didn’t come out over here, a compilation of singles, remixes and b-sides. Right now we’re getting ready for next year – the David Kilgour record, we’re going to do a record with Imperial Teen, another Spoon record…"

LB: "And The Clientele."

MM: "Yeah, The Clientele, a band from London. We did their first record, a compilation of singles, that’s on Pointy over here. It’s doing well over there, they get great press and they came over and did a short tour and they’re doing really well."

You’ve probably been asked this before, but I’m interested in it. What’s the deal with Matador and Merge over here? Why aren’t your records coming out on Merge over here?

MM: "Just because we don’t have an office over here. Basically, all our records that we can license to overseas companies we try to because they do a better job if you’re a label who has an office. You can do a better job with a record in the UK if you have an office in the UK, being able to call the press and get distributors. For us to have it on Merge over here would mean just having it on import whereas Matador and previously City Slang can actually have someone working on it in the territory."

And with that we parted – if I remember rightly, we went to the 13th Note for veggie burgers and I imagine the band would have had what Jon Wurster calls "promoter pasta" for their dinner. It was wonderful to finally see them live later on that night, they were fantastic – some band called Idlewild were supporting so there was a bit of a crowd there. Thanks to Mac and Laura for taking the time out to chat – it was a pleasure and I hope it won’t be the same length of time between visits.


bmck said...

great interview. i never did understand why superchunk (as well as other chapel hill greats like archers of loaf, polvo and butterglory) were so criminally overlooked in the uk. how was that show? i finally got to see them for the first time two years ago (having waited about twelve for the opportunity) and they blessed the audience with stunning renditions of choice selections from their entire back-catalogue. they opened with 'cadmium' for chrissake! anyway - hopefully a new chunk record soon, which will mean a new tour as well. good work, sir, on reminding me of one of my favourite bands.

plentyside said...

They were pretty fucking great as you might imagine. Idlewild supported them that night and all the folk that came to see them fucked off before Superchunk came on so King Tut's was probably no more than half full. Alas, it summed up their experiences with the UK, those kids' loss though.

There should be an ATP curated by Superchunk - I would go to that!

bmck said...

there is (sort of). mergefest. the next one isn't too far away.

atp new york looks like what i imagine a superchunk curated atp from back in the day would look like. shame the damn thing sold out before i could even look at it.

I Cried A Bit But Not For Long said...

It was indeed great to read this interview again. It really can't have happened 7 years ago. I can remember how toothy- and toothsome- Laura was and I can mind thinking that Mac was a mite more dour than I thought he would be! It was the 2nd closest I will ever get to 'meeting your idol'. Aye, the Chunk have always meant that much to me. I do feel there is the chance of another alboom if maybe not any realistic chance of a UK visit. Since I heard that Versus were back together I now dream that one day I will see the sign ootside Mono or some other nice pliss to see bands up here. It'll be a massive board which will say the following "TONIGHT. SUPERCHUNK + VERSUS. Please note both bands will play for 3 hours and will cull their sets from all corners of their canon eg the fat bald "obviously a nostalgia man" loner will say to Mac "Can you do 'Ribbon'?" At which point Mac will turn to Laura, Jim + Jon and they will blast through said song" Aye...