Superchunk's Mac McCaughan Knows A Thing or Two About The Music Business.
Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance never set out to own a record label.
“Our goal at the time was just to put out our records and records by our friends' bands,” says McCaughan, frontman for the North Carolina-based indie rock mainstay Superchunk. “We loved records and cool labels that we were fans of — like Teen Beat and K and Sub Pop — and wanted to do the same thing in our town. We never really thought that far ahead beyond putting out tapes and singles.”
Now, though, 25 years after launching, Merge Records has grown into one of the most important indie labels around. Over the years, the label's been responsible for releases from the likes of Polvo, Arcade Fire, the newly resurrected Neutral Milk Hotel and, of course, Superchunk itself, just to name a very few.
So it's easy, given the responsibilities that come with such success, to understand how Merge's rise had a profound effect on Superchunk. In other words: It wasn't really a surprise at all when Superchunk went on an extended hiatus from recording — at least as far as albums go — after putting out 2001's Here's to Shutting Up.
But the band never broke up; Superchunk continued to play a limited schedule of live dates throughout its “time off.” And, combined with a dribble of sometimes offbeat recordings that the band would release, Superchunk's fans were able to hold out hope that a full-blown return was on the way.
That hope became reality when, eventually, the itch to create grew too strong for the band to ignore. In 2010, Superchunk released its ninth full-length, Majesty Shredding.
“[M]aking records is what we do, and playing shows is what we are good at,” says McCaughan. “It's not like taking on a burden — it's just doing what we do. It is something to figure out logistically, of course, but I look forward to it.”
Last year, after a much shorter break, the band released I Hate Music to near-universal critical acclaim. The tour in support of I Hate Music swings through Texas this week, starting tonight at Trees with an added wrinkle: Ballance, Superchunk's longtime bassist, won't be onstage, due to her development of hyperacusis, a condition that results in ear ringing and hearing loss. Ballance has been replaced for the tour by Bob Mould's longtime bassist, Jason Narducy, who McCaughan says adds a unique element to Superchunk's live show.
“Jason has been amazing to play with and tour with,” McCaughan says. “We've thrown a lot of songs at him to learn, and he's always game. His singing adds a lot, I think, because we often layer on a bunch of backing vocals on the record that have rarely been sung live until now.”
Add in the fact that Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield's post-P.S. Eliot project, is opening, and it should be a terrific bill. Waxahatchee's Cerulean Salt was one of 2013's very best albums, and the act's stripped down, bedroom sound should make for an interesting contrast with Superchunk's prototypical college rock.
“We just like touring with good bands,” McCaughan says.
Given his experiences with Merge and Superchunk alike, you've got to figure: The guy knows a thing or two about good bands.
Superchunk and Waxahatchee perform tonight at Trees. Tickets are $20 at the door. More information can be found here.