Mutant Renegade Zine

Superchunk

By Superchunk sTEve

SuperchunksTEve's Teenage Rockin' Roadtrip

I think that it's pretty fitting to have an article about Superchunk featured in the "Sell-Out" issue. Few bands in the short, but terribly messy history of Rock & Roll have had more success with the D. I. Y. philosophy. Having reached the point in their careers when it would have been much easier to "sell out" to a major label, sit back, count their cash, and wait for the backlash, Superchunk continues to work hard for their independence. With legions of fans, eight full-length albums, and a few dozen other releases to show for their efforts, there's little question about their success. They recently made a swing through Ohio on their way to record the upcoming album "Come Pick Me Up" due out August 10. This is the story of a very happy 'SuperJunky' during two days in early March, two shows, a soundcheck, and an anemic attempt of an interview.

If you've ever been to Sudsy Malone's in Cincinnati, then you know the surreal atmosphere of the place. There's something disconcerting about seeing a rock show in a Laundromat. This is to say nothing of the usual melodramatic social crises that tend to occur there--drunks, bottle fights, schizophrenic, transvestite republicans preaching about the Church of Christ without Christ. It's a strange place, but they book the best shows in Cincinnati. You can stumble into Sudsy's any night of the week and you're bound to see at least one good band. If you're lucky, you might stumble in on a great band.

On March 6th, Superchunk (the Majestic and All Powerful) made an appearance at the hall of filthy garb and stale beer. The show began with a couple of local acts-- Ditchweed (the Cramps-esque, Backwoods Oddlings) and Thistle (rocking at the edge of disaster, holding on for dear life)--playing to a packed house.

Legs and backs were aching, heads becoming fuzzy in the Rolling Rock, all-temperature-color-safe haze. Kids began squeezing into the front of the bar--backs to chests, shoulder-to-shoulder in that strange club phenomenon of spatial solidarity that occurs at the beginning of big rock shows. (Of course, this is a temporary phenomenon. Before too long, the sweaty friction becomes unbearable and much shoving, twisting, and malevolent maneuvering ensues. It's the smell, always the smell, which unravels the unity of the people.)

Superchunk took the stage around 12:30, launching into Animated Airplanes Over Germany. Mac started flailing around like an electrified gold fish trapped in a ziploc bag. Laura was pogo-ing with her hair hanging over her face. Jon, hunkered over the drum kit, was swinging in a stop-motion, bullet-dodging effect from The Matrix, and Jim stood back looking wholly amused by it all. Situation normal, they didn't miss a beat (which goes without saying, I mean, come on, this is Superchunk we're talking about here). This is a band with a reputation for amazing feats of rock & roll prowess and unparalleled energy at live shows, and they have yet to disappoint this fan.

They played a wide range of material including some "oldies" like, Tie A Rope, My Noise, and the perennial favorite Slack Motherfucker. There were a few new songs from the forthcoming "Come Pick Me Up", called (I think) HoneyBee, Pulled a Muscle, and White Noise. Sometime during the First Part some failed science experiment sprayed pepper spray into the crowd. A lot of people were running for air, but none of it slowed the show one bit. They ended with a noisy, revved-up version of Precision Auto ala "Incidental Music".

I met up with drummer, Jon Wurster afterwards, and we decided to hook up for an interview the following night at Little Brother's in Columbus. I bought the new 7" "Majestic", and was outside in time to catch the end of a drunken jock fight being dismantled by Cincy's finest. Ah, Sudsy's, it's always an experience.

I was at Little Brother's in Columbus by 6p.m. sharp the following night (March 7), thanks to the charity of Ed's rockin' Ford Escort, and no thanks to Nick's notorious sense of direction. (That's okay, Nick, I'm one of a hundred people forever indebted to Dayton's most lovable guitarist.) After they were done loading their equipment into the club, Jon and I sat down at the bar for the "Interview". I'm using this term loosely, as I am just taking my first little baby steps in "rock journalism" and have never interviewed anyone before. I've been interviewed: "Why do you want to work for McDonald's? What skills will you bring to our 'little family' ". I'm sure this valuable experience only helped to worsen the already preposterous situation.

MRZ (That's me) - The issue that this is going to be in is the "Sell-Out" issue. How would you define sell-out?

Jon - "Like, someone who goes out of their way to change their whole sound and presentation to cross over to mass popularity without it being sincere. I mean, if you genuinely want to, you know, wear leather pants, and get a complete makeover, you know, hairwise and everything else, then that's cool. But if it's calculated, like 'this is gonna work for us', then I would classify that as some sort of selling out. Everyone does what they think they have to do, so you can't really blame them I guess."

MRZ - Do you guys live off of Superchunk, or do you have day jobs?

Jon - " We live off it. I actually work a day a week at a local used book/record store, which I love doing. I hadn't had a job for about seven years or so, and you just kind of feel like you're missing out on, you know, interaction with normal people. The extra money's obviously nice, but it also kinda helps you get back into society, too, which I like a lot also."

MRZ - Do you guys all work at MERGE ?

Jon - "No. Just Mac and Laura do. Their tenth year anniversary is this summer, actually. Ten years…"

MRZ - When you guys left Matador [after "On the Mouth", circa 1993], was that something that you guys meant to do when you set out?

Jon - "Not really. I remember when we had one more record left in that contract, when it started to get a little bigger, you know, when the popularity of the band got a little bigger, and we did "On the Mouth" for Matador. We just kinda wanted to try putting ["Foolish"] out on our own. Merge had put out the "Tossing Seeds" compilation [1992], and that had done well, and that had gone through Touch&Go records, that's who distributes [Merge] stuff. So that worked and it sold, and we just decided to go fully independent. Even at that point, with "On the Mouth", Matador was having a hard time, they were by no means well off financially, they were still really struggling to keep records in print, so the records weren't always in the stores, especially with "No Pocky for Kitty" [1991]. That tour the records were all gone. The initial pressing was pretty small, and Matador couldn't really afford to keep pressing them. It got a little better with "On the Mouth", but we still just wanted to see if we could do it ourselves."

MRZ - I've been following you guys for years [I am not a stalker, so you can just quell that little giggle right now. Bad, bad, reader, bad.] and every year you hear people say, "Superchunk is breaking up"

Jon - "The break-up rumors really died after "Here's Where the Strings Come In" [1995]. I didn't really hear much about that anymore, but around the time of "Foolish" [1994] that was always being talked about. It was funny because it had never come up between the four of us ever."

Jon excused himself to do the soundcheck. I found myself staring at the tape recorder, which I had shut off, and thinking about the situation I was in. This was either going to be like walking in on your parents having sex, or it was going to be one of those unforgettable experiences that you tell your grandkids, who look at you and wonder when you're going to die, so they can stop coming over and having to endure this crusty old man rambling on and on about the "good old days" of Punk Rock. It turned out to be the latter. They soundchecked four new songs that they didn't play at either show. It was like being at a Superchunk practice. It was very, very cool, and, I say this with all sincerity and due respect, I am now cooler than all of the rest of you--HA. I have seen Mecca, and it is good. I was all glassy eared by the end of it. Jon came back and apologized for the interruption. I was, of course, gracious and polite. I was still trying not to act very stupid in front of them. I'm sure I did a bang-up job…

MRZ - Do you guys get a lot of offers from the major labels?

Jon - "Not anymore really, no. We did in like '91 and '92, or so. We just kind of put the notion forward that we weren't interested."

MRZ - Does everyone in the band have a sort of unspoken job or responsibility on tour?

Jon - "Jim I guess does most of the driving, well Laura drives a lot, too. I hardly ever drive. I'm responsible for this web site we just put up [www.superchunk.com]. I maintain that so, that's a lot of work. All the e-mail goes straight to me, so that's sort of my job, too… Public relations I guess."

MRZ - What are some questions that people never ask you in an interview that you'd like to talk about? [You can surely tell that by this point, I'm totally running out of intelligent things to ask…]

Jon - "Wow, there's nothing that really stands out as going unasked. [laughs] We've done some interviews in Europe that are always funny, cause the person doesn't have that great a grasp of english. So they'll kind of stumble through the questions, and they'll always somehow manage to insult us. [In a pseudo-Eastern European accent] 'Your new album is very… pathetic.' I think what he meant was sort of… well, it was "Foolish" so, it was a little darker. I think that's what he meant."

MRZ - Who's Marion Brown? [Song for Marion Brown from "Indoor Living"]

Jon - "I always want to make up something and say that he was an on again off again character on 'Good Times', or something. He was a jazz saxaphonist. Still alive I believe… [Jim Wilbur, who was now standing next to us, nods the affirmative] Yeah, yeah…"

MRZ - Um, er, uh… [god help me I'm becoming a babbling idiot] I've never interviewed anybody before do you think you could bail me out here?

Jon - "Never ask what a band's influences are."

MRZ - That's a horrible question?

Jon - "Yeah, that's a terrible question. [To Jim] What's another terrible question?"

Jim - "Where'd your name come from?"

Laura - "Do you like being in the band?"

Jim - "Do you have anything to add?"

I'd like to, at this point, express my profound appreciation to these guys for bailing me out of a real nose dive at the end of the interview. They didn't just let me dangle at the end of the proverbial hook. They all chimed in and had some fun with me. So thanks, guys! I pretty much shut off the tape recorder after that barage of bad questions, as it seemed to be casting some evil babbling spell over me, and I wanted a beer. Badly.

After the interview and much humiliation, I went to Dave and Rachel's (friends of mine… even I have friends) and they fed me. Dave and I got back to Little Brother's at 9:30. Little Brother's is like a bandbox. Walking into the place, there can be little doubt about its' purpose. The biggest thing in the place is the stage, then the sound booth, the bar, and one lonely pool table shoved into a corner near the bathrooms. I found a spot along the wall next to an extraordinarily cute girl with a lot of tattoos.

The show started with Mac warning us that we were going to be guinea pigs for some new songs they were working on for the new record. The new songs strike me as more of the "Here's Where The Strings Come In", straight up guitar rock variety, but it's hard to tell from one listen at a live show. Although I can't recall exactly what all they played (being somewhat distracted by the butterfly on her shoulder) the show in Columbus was a lot louder and more rockin'. They ended up playing three encores, ending with Jim's declaration, "This is it! I'm not kidding!" and Foolish (Superchunk sTEve's favorite).

A good weekend. Worth the gas, money, and sleep loss. See you at the next show. The question is how fast! --Superchunk sTEve 1999

MRZ #11

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Last Updated 5/24/99.