Band of the Week: Superchunk

Band of the Week: Superchunk
Photo credit: Merge Records

MEET THE BAND: Mac McCaughan (guitar, vocals), Jim Wilbur (guitar, backing vocals), Jon Wurster (drums, backing vocals) and Laura Ballance (bass, backing vocals)

THE MERGE MINDSET: When the band first started in Chapel Hill, NC, in 1989, singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan formed Merge Records at about that same time. Some of the early Sub Pop bands like Mudhoney, Southern rockers Drivin' N Cryin', art punks Sonic Youth and the British band the Buzzcocks inspired the group. "That was a lot of stuff we listened to for awhile," says McCaughan. "Dinosaur Jr. was really new at the time. We liked them too. [When we started Merge Records], we wanted to have an aesthetic or vibe that people could latch onto. It started as more of a hobby or art project than wanting to be a big record label."

TAKING AIM AT TRUMP: Some of the songs on the band's new album, What a Time to Be Alive, were written before and some were written right after the 2016 presidential election. "If you're writing songs all the time anyway, which I am, there wasn't anything else to write about," says McCaughan. "It's all anyone could think about it. We didn't have it on our calendar to make a Superchunk album, but once I had the songs, it made sense for Superchunk to be the band to record them. A lot of what we do is based on Jon [Wurster's] touring schedule. Once we saw we had some time to make a record, we just jumped on it."

WHY YOU SHOULD HEAR THEM: With its prickly guitars and loud-to-soft approach, the lurching "Break the Glass" suggests the urgency at the core of the songs on What a Time to be Alive. "That is a song that is most about no one being able to think about anything else other than the insanity of the fact that Donald Trump is in the White House," says McCaughan when asked about the tune. "You have to go about your life and take the kids to school and pay your bills, but at the same time, this insane thing is happening. It's an emergency but how do you not go crazy? Musically, I wanted it to sound like sparks or something. We were lucky to have Sabrina [Ellis] from A Giant Dog sing on it. She helps take the song to a better place." In typical Superchunk fashion, songs such as "Bad Choices" and "Dead Photographers" thrive on dynamic guitar interplay, even if the approach this time out is much more basic. "In general, the songs are fun to work on and play live because they are so straight-to-the-point and stripped down," says McCaughan. "I think this is the first record to not have keyboards on it since [1992's] On the Mouth."


WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM: Superchunk performs with Cheap Clone at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at the Grog Shop.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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