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- Posted on May 24th 2011 1:00PM by Cameron Matthews
Superchunk stepped back into the spotlight last year with 'Majesty Shredding,' and while the band "still has your attention" they are reissuing their '95 classic 'Here's Where the Strings Come In,' complete with acoustic demos and a live recording of their set at the Cat's Cradle from October 2003. Spinner recently caught up with McCaughan to talk about Superchunk's long-lasting legacy, the spirit of Chapel Hill and the adolescent energy behind 'Strings.'
What do you see as the biggest difference between where you are as a band now and when you were making 'Here's Where the Strings Come In'?
It's an interesting question because in some ways I feel like that record was the first one where we became the band we still are now ... in terms of working together on songs, knowing how to make stuff sound good in the studio, being more willing to let smart people -- like Wally Gagel in the case of 'Strings' -- help us make it sound good. But the biggest difference between then and now -- other than logistical practical concerns like not being a band that wants to tour half the year when we put out a record -- is probably confidence. Making 'Majesty Shredding,' while a lot of work, was pretty easy actually because we've been a band for so long now that we know what to do when it comes to recording. And we know how to play great shows.
How do you think Superchunk contributed to making Chapel Hill, N.C. a hotbed for hardcore and indie rock? What about the city lends itself to creativity and music?
The same conditions exist now as existed when we started: multiple universities, great college radio stations, venues, record stores. These things all work together and create an artistic ecosystem of sorts -- probably best for someone else to determine what our contribution has been. But I feel like we went out on the road both further and more often than a lot of the bands around here. And, ironically, in the sense that we became known for being on Merge as well, I think the fact that we signed to Matador for our first couple albums gave us national recognition that it sometimes takes for people to pay attention to what's in their backyard.
How do you see Superchunk's influence in bands today?
I don't! I mean, again, it's probably not for me to say because if someone says, "Oh, this band sounds like you," then I think, "Well, maybe they just like the same bands that we liked when we started." But it's obviously flattering. Even if they're terrible, it's flattering -- I'm not thinking of anyone in particular, honestly.
1994's 'Foolish' was such a huge record for indie rock. What was your approach for the follow-up? What did you want to achieve?
Back then, I don't think we ever set out to "achieve" anything in particular other than record the set of songs we had just written. Going to Boston to make 'Strings,' we were excited about working at Fort Apache. We came out with our best-sounding record to that point in terms of getting some depth and low end in our sound, and adding a few things like organ and mellotron for the first time.
The song 'Hyper Enough' really captures the spirit of '95. When you were making the album, did it seem like something big was about to happen in music?
Not that I can remember! But for us, things were going well and that song actually got played on commercial modern-rock radio in some places, which is still amazing considering the other stuff that was getting played at the time. But it was definitely a moment when a band like us could have a song on the radio like that, get a video on MTV. And the next Lollapalooza was the "indie rock" version of the festival, it was pretty great, actually. We had a blast and Sonic Youth were headlining the main stage. But while hearing them play an amazing song like 'Diamond Sea' every night in an amphitheater was awesome, it didn't seem like that kind of music was going to replace whatever was truly popular.
You've played the North Carolina venue Cat's Cradle so many times in your career. Can you describe what you remember from those show that we can't hear on the record?
Well, some of the shows blur together because we have played there a lot over the years. But there are definitely specific things from specific shows that I remember pretty well. The best thing about playing the Cradle is the crowd -- not that it's always completely off the chain or even sold out -- in the sense that it's a good mix of people we've known forever and some college kids mixed in, all fully prepared to have a great time but in the sense that they want us to succeed, rather than playing some places where the crowd feels like they're saying "prove something to us." At this point in our career, we get more of the former, but at the Cradle it's always that kind of "let's have a great night" feeling. Which is its own kind of pressure, but I like that kind of pressure.
What's the meaning behind the album's title, 'Here's Where's the Strings Come In?'
It's a lyric from a song. Kind of meaning "here come the dramatics" -- didn't refer to the album overall, really, just seemed like a good title. When in doubt, use a lyric.
Many of the songs on 'Strings' are anthem-like and so singable. Do you write with an audience in mind?
No, we were just kind of doing our thing. We wrote a lot of the songs in a cinder-block house where the trumpet player for the Squirrel Nut Zippers [Stacy Guess] lived and rented one room out for rehearsals. I mean, we've always wanted to have songs that people could latch onto pretty easily. That's what I like when listening to rock music like the kind we make. The challenge for ourselves has always been how to make songs and records that are catchy and fun to play and listen to but aren't facile or obvious. I mean, sometimes you gotta go for the obvious hook. But you have to use that sparingly.
Why has 'Strings' been out of print for so long?
I guess the simple answer is we've been busy -- Merge, that is. And since the band hasn't been incredibly active for the last eight years or so until last year, there wasn't a lot of urgency to repress old titles. But it seemed like the demand was there, especially for the vinyl, so we figured while we have your attention we may as well make stuff available again.
What's your favorite memory of that time in the band's history?
Working at Fort Apache was fun, making the video for 'Hyper Enough' with Norwood Cheek was pretty hilarious. And seriously, that Lollapalooza tour we did as part of the 'Strings' touring, and Governor's Island stop in NYC, in particular, was one of the most fun tours we've done. Frankly, "fun" and "tour" don't often appear in the same sentence. But the bands on our stage -- Built to Spill, Versus, Redman, Helium, Patti Smith -- were so great, the crew was great, and of course the main stage lineup with Jesus Lizard, Pavement, Sonic Youth, etc., was excellent as well. Good times.