Q&A with Superchunk's Mac McCaughan
Twenty-one years is a long time — long enough that most UNC students weren’t here to witness Superchunk’s rise to notoriety. Regardless, the band’s influence endures, and with a new record out Tuesday, the local outfit is set to further its impact on local and national music.
This week, Diversions Editor Linnie Greene chatted with guitarist and vocalist Mac McCaughan about running Merge Records and how Pro Tools can fix (almost) anything.
Diversions: What were some of your influences on the new record?
Mac McCaughan: That’s a good question. I mean certainly the ideas for the songs are ours and everything, but I think that you definitely hear — I don’t know if summation is the right word, but you hear a combination of all the stuff that we all listen to. And I think that on the new record, in terms of newer music, I think frankly I’m really influenced by the stuff we put out on Merge, because it’s the stuff I listen to the most. I think that bands that are kind of our peers, like Spoon or younger bands like Telekinesis that we work with, bands that write great songs and play them in a way that is, that there’s a certain energy to it that involves you. I think bands like that are certainly influential on what we do.
Dive: Has running a record label impacted the way you write your own music?
MM: I don’t think it’s really influenced the way we write music. I think it’s influenced the way that we work as a band in terms of the business side, but I think the influence might go more the other way, in terms of running a label as artists. You can see things from both sides.
Dive: What’s different about Majesty Shredding as opposed to past Superchunk records?
MM: I think one thing that’s really different about this record than the last album we did — that record was called Here’s to Shutting Up. And that record and the ones before it, we’d really written all together as a band just playing a lot in the rehearsal space, basically jamming until we had songs, and I would add lyrics on top of that. With the new record, we were not in the position to work that way because everyone’s so busy. So for the new record, I made demos of songs and sent them around to the band so they could hear them and come up with parts, and we’d just get together and rehearse a couple of times before recording. In some ways it’s more like our first couple of records.
And the title is a joke that started when we were in the studio. We recorded all the songs live to tape, and the producer, Scott Solter — we were listening to playback with him to see if it was a take we should keep or if we needed to fix something, and so we started this joke where if we heard a fuck-up on our part, we’d say, “Oh, you can fix that with the ‘Majesty Shredding’ app in Pro Tools, right?” We joked that there was an app that would make everything sound awesome called “Majesty Shredding,” and it ended up being the title.
Dive: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen since Superchunk emerged?
MM: I mean, obviously the biggest thing that’s happened is the rise of the Internet as something that people have access to and where they do business most of the time. I think, it’s a little bit of a chicken-or-egg thing, but for a small label like us, we don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising and things, and what few magazines remain, which are mostly bigger magazines — so for smaller bands, we’ll certainly advertise an Arcade Fire or a Spoon record or something like that. For smaller bands, the Internet has really been a way to get them out there. The downside obviously is that everyone else is doing that also, so you’re trying to get people to pay attention in a morass of other people trying to get their attention. It’s a tool that has really transformed the way that not just record labels — the way everyone does business, unless you’re a plumber or a locksmith or something like that.
Dive: Is it difficult to manage your time between the band and Merge?
MM: It is. I think that that’s one reason that we haven’t done anything in a while as a band. When Superchunk is active, it’s hard to do everything, and I think the harder thing is to balance all that with having a family and doing other stuff that you might want to do. I think it’s just a matter of accepting that you’re going to be really busy, and not complaining about it.
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