This interview was conducted in two parts, but still only took about a half hour. "Foolish" had just come out. It was spring and birds were singing in the trees outside my window. I'm not sure what it was like at the Merge compound. I didn't ask vocalist/guitarist Mac McCaughan and he didn't volunteer the information.
What was going on when this album was being made? A lot of the songs seemed to be about rejection and break-ups.
Mac: Not necessarily. I mean, it's sort of whatever you want to think really, you know? I don't know. I hate explaining songs because they're not really about anything. They're always going to be about whatever someone thinks they're about anyway, which is fine with us. It's fine with me, because bands that I listen to I always sort of had my own ideas what the song is about which I'm sure are different from what they're really about. I just go on thinking that anyway. Even if one of our songs starts out being about one specific thing, by the end of the song, it's probably about something else. That's just the way I write lyrics. It's hard for me to write one song about a specific thing and stay with it all the way through.
For some reason, track #7 has been my favorite on your last two albums.
Mac: Oh really? What's Track #7 on this one?
"Why Do You Have To Put A Date On Everything."
Mac: Yeah, I like that song too.
Last time it was "I Guess I Remembered It Wrong." It's always the long titles.
Mac: I didn't realize that they were both track #7. That's interesting.
How do you go about structuring your albums? Do you think about how the songs are placed?
Mac: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it definitely has to flow in a certain way so that not all the fast songs are together, not all the slow songs are together. The only way to think about it really is how would you like a record to sound that you're listening to, or how would you like it to be paced? So once everything's recorded, I mean, we recorded 18 songs for this record, and there's only 12 on the album so first we had to pick all the ones that we didn't want on the record, and then once you've got the ones you want, you have to decide where to put them. The only thing we definitely decided beforehand was "Like a Fool" would be first because it's just a different way to start a record than all the other records. All the other records, the first song is like really fast, it's the punkiest song or whatever. So this album sort of has the opposite effect, maybe just to surprise people or keep it interesting. Then sort of ahead of time, I thought about putting "Stage Whisper" last, just because it's kind of different than all the other songs, kind of weirder. So the album kind of fades out on that note.
So what about the other six tracks?
Mac: Well, two of them have already been used as b-sides to "The First Part" single. Then the other ones will just be either on various comps or more b-sides. Actually, one of them is on the new "Dope, Guns and Fucking in the Streets" single.
That's so weird. I never would have thought of you on an AmRep single.
Mac: Well I never would have thought that Tom at AmRep would like us, so I was kind of surprised also when they asked. But he's actually a really nice guy. He's kind of weird and he's funny. I was surprised that he was into the band, but he was. It's like us and Jawbox and ... maybe Guzzard and Chokebore I think are the other two?
Doesn't Steve Albini like you as well?
Mac: I don't know if Steve Albini likes us or not. I think he likes us as people, and when we recorded our record with him he said he liked it, but once he got sick of listening to it, he might have decided he didn't like it anymore.
At least he hasn't done an Eyewitness Record Review for any of them.
Mac: Uh, no, luckily. Those are pretty harsh.
Anyway, the songs seem slower and almost introspective on this album.
Mac: Yeah, I think there's a different mood to it, and I think overall they're slower, but there's still some fast ones. It's just that I think the slow ones make a bigger impression because they stand out more as compared to the last few records. I sort of felt like we were already moving in that direction with "On The Mouth" but nobody really seemed to think so besides me. A lot of the record reviews were like "Oh, it's just another Superchunk" record, although I thought that one was starting to get a little bit different. This one's definitely further in that direction even.
I finally got a chance to see the video for "Package Thief" about a month ago. What happened with that?
Mac: That was a friend of ours, a friend of ours who lives in L.A. actually, made those puppets himself and made the video himself sort of without our help. We just said, "Oh, go ahead and do it." We were really surprised it actually got played on MTV. The video for "Fishing" is a good one too. I like that one. The guy who made that one just made a video for "The First Part." You can never predict what MTV's going to do.
When are you touring for this record?
Mac: We're going to on tour in May and June. We're leaving here on May 17 or something like that, we're going to start in the Northeast and then head down through the South and out West. We'll be in San Diego at the beginning of June sometime.
I remember catching you at the Che Café with Rocket From The Crypt.
Mac: That was a crazy show.
The thing I liked best was that everybody wanted to hear "Slack Motherfucker" and you didn't play it.
Mac: Well you know, we get pretty sick of playing that song, just because we've played it so many times. People still always want to hear it. We play it sometimes, just because we haven't played it for so long we started to get not so sick of it anymore, but it's a rare occurrence when we actually feel like doing it. Every once in a while, someone in the audience will sing it just to make it interesting.
It's good that there's a song people know you for, but at the same time people tend to identify you solely with that song.
Mac: Yeah, that's the one song they always think of. It's like every time we put out a single, we hope that maybe people will start asking for this single instead of the first single we put out or whatever.
A lot of people say Superchunk is the flag carrier for Generation X and slackers. What's up with all that?
Mac: Don't ask me. Don't ask us. That just sort of happens when people say stuff and you don't have anything to do with it. I mean, there's no point in going out and saying "We have nothing to do with that!" It's not worth the energy. People are going to write what they're going to write. I've never read Generation X and I didn't like the movie Slackers, so I don't really see why we're associated with that. Like I said, people are going to write what they're going to write.
A lot of times people just wind up writing stuff because they don't have anything new to say.
Mac: Right. People have trouble thinking of something interesting to say on their own, so they have to talk about what someone else has already talked about.
Is there a common theme on "Foolish"?
Mac: Not really. I guess drinking is a theme on the album. We've been doing a lot of that on tour. Ummm ... not really though. It's more of a mood or whatever.
Even though it's hard to figure the lyrics out, I'm glad you don't include lyrics with the albums. I think people listen more intently to figure out what you're saying.
Mac: Plus, maybe some bands write them this way, but the lyrics were never written to be read as like poetry or something. They're written just to be sung as part of the song. If you take them out of the song, they don't make as much sense, not that they made sense to start out with, but that's not how they were originally meant to be presented. The end up sounding really dumb. It's like, if you ever read lyrics out loud, just off the page, lyrics that sound good in a song can sound really stupid that way. I think that's another reason.
Some people have said that you should try to sign with a major instead of going back to Merge. It looks like you're doing better on Merge than you would on a major.
Mac: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to say what would happen, but as far as Matador to Merge, unless we were going to do Matador/Atlantic, Touch and Go, the label that manufactures and distributes Merge stuff, has the largest and best indie distribution system in the country with the way they're set up. So really, I mean, Merge itself is a smaller label than Matador, but our distribution, which is what's important, is still great for an indie label. You know, sure if you sign to a major you get in maybe more chain stores and more mall stores which might expose you to different people, but you've always got to sacrifice something. So we just sort of figured if you can do it and be in control yourself, then why not? Why not do that?
Then there's the whole sell-out thing that comes with signing.
Mac: Right. I mean, that's not really our concern. If you're going to go to a major, don't be worried about what other people are going to say about it. You decided to do it, hopefully for your own reasons.
Why do you do Superchunk? Is it the music, is it the gigs?
Mac: Well, it's all that stuff. It's fun to play, it's fun to go on tour at certain points. I mean, it's a job, we can pay our rent doing this, but at the same time we did it for four years before we could pay our rent. So it's not just that certainly. It's just fun to be in a band, it's fun to make records. I can't think of another way I'd rather be making my living. If we weren't doing this I'm sure we'd be working at the stupid places we've already worked.
Didn't you work at Kinko's?
Mac: Yeah. Jim and Laura actually worked there longer than I did.
What was the best show you've ever done?
Mac: That's too hard a question. I mean, I don't know, there's so many that are good and so many that weren't too good, it's hard to say which is the best show we've ever played. The problem is a lot of times what you think is a good show, people who there say "Oh, that wasn't as good as last time I saw them." So it's hard to pick out a best show.
How about interesting shows?
Mac: It was interesting playing at the Glastonbury festival in England just because it was so weird and so big. There were many people. That was last summer. It was really fun playing in Japan and Australia, but that was more for where we were than the shows themselves. We had really good shows in Chapel Hill, Boston, Albany. We've had really good shows in Texas. You know, it's hard to say. A lot of times you'll have a really good show in a really big place but you don't remember as much as a really good show in a really small place just because you're not as close to all the people who were there.
What's the weirdest question anyone's asked you?
Mac: I don't even know. Actually, the weirdest questions anyone's ever asked me come from Japanese journalists about lyrics, but they're not the right lyrics at all. They ask why I sing a line which isn't a line from any of the songs, it's just what they thought the line said. That sort of thing.
What's your favorite thing to wear?
Mac: Probably your basic t-shirt.
What's your favorite drink?
Mac: Let's see. I'll say red wine.
Mac: Indian food.
Are there any questions you wish someone would ask?
Mac: There never are.
When you were young did you ever think you'd be in a band and running your own label?
Mac: I thought about being in a band, but I never thought about running my own label.
Does Superchunk have any sort of motto?
Mac: Let's see, Jim would be better at that. Let's see. The hotter the better? It can apply to food or just about anything really.