Wednesday, February 05, 2014

What Can We Do

Superchunk is a band that thankfully doesn't quit. Though they took a number of years off between Here's to Shutting Up and Majesty Shredding, I was happy to see them back with a new album last year called I Hate Music. Given the opportunity to talk with longtime guitarist Jim Wilbur as the band heads back to Dallas to play Trees, I couldn't help ask a few questions I've always wanted to ask a member of the band.

We touched on many things about the band and the label they've had for all these years: Merge Records.

The first time I saw Superchunk’s name in print, it was in a book called Rolling Stone’s Alt-Rock-A-Rama. You remember that book?
Oh yeah. I know where this is going, too.

You, Mac, and Jon had a list of the worst bathrooms in the country and Trees was one of them. Would you be happy to hear they’ve improved the bathroom in the last few years?
It was just me. We were all credited. I made that list. Our tour manager is from Denton and when I saw we were hitting Trees, I was like, “Oh no.” And he’s like, “Oh no, it’s been renovated since you were there.” I don’t even know the last time we were there. It was a long time ago.

I remember the show in Fort Worth at the Ridglea Theater where The Good Life opened, but I can’t remember the last Dallas show.
Dallas used to be a stop on every tour. There was a place called the Galaxy Club, which was horrendous.

You’ll be happy to know the place has closed and might never reopen.
Yeah, that was a memorable night. Our British soundman pissed in the garbage can backstage. Just before we were leaving, he wrote on the wall in large letters, “This place is not fit to suck the shit out of my ass.”

You knowing Jon [Wurster, drummer] for all these years, is it interesting to see he have such a presence on social media? The guy knows how to post funny stuff. It’s like this humor was bound to come in some form or fashion.
I don’t know. The weird thing about Jon is, he’s not talking a lot in person. It’s very internal. He’s not very gregarious. He’s not really outgoing. He’s cheerful, but he’s not constantly joking and riffing. I think a lot of times he’s keeping quiet, working up something he’s going to post on Facebook or Twitter. Jon is Jon. I’ve known him for over 20 years now, so I’m not surprised. He’s ambitious, too, and he’s a hard worker. He’s got all those followers on Twitter. I don’t do Twitter; I hear about that from my wife.

Seems like whenever he posts about KISS, it’s always hilarious.
Anything that is related to KISS is catnip for him.

Do you still have the tour itinerary for the Seam tour as a reminder of how bad things can get?
I carried that around for years. It disappeared at some point. Laura [Ballance] wanted to take a picture of it for the book [Our Noise] and I opened my wallet and it magically disappeared. It was getting pretty bare towards the end. I really did carry that around and I did pull it out when I was feeling miserable and it would cheer me up. Because I would think, “Thank God I am not on that fucking tour anymore.”

How has Jason [Narducy] worked out as a bassist? Has he helped the transition of playing with Laura for all those years and now it’s someone else.
Jason is really good at what he does. He’s very quick to learn and he’s really easy to get along with and he’s funny. It doesn’t feel weird that Laura is not there, to me. It’s like a boys’ club. Laura was more like the mom. She handled the money. We had a lot of fun. But it’s a different dynamic without her. She couldn’t be with guys all the time, so we’d bring a female T-shirt person. It’s not like we’re partying or womanizing, but the dynamic was more family-ish than rock band-ish. Now, there’s a little less stress and I don’t mean stress like bad stress. It’s just a bunch of guys being on the road. We would watch what we would say and be polite, but when we’d get back from tour, Laura’s husband would say, “You’re foul-mouthed.” And she’d say that she had been out with all these guys. She became one of the boys, to a degree.

I’ve traded brief messages with Mac and Jon over e-mail over the years and I was happy they responded. There was once a time that I asked Mac about Bobby Patterson and he responded in kind, even though Merge was very busy with Arcade Fire at the time. Knowing your background, it seems like if you were brought up in American hardcore, you responded to everyone that contacted you, no matter how busy you were.
We all came from hardcore. We were all hardcore kids and part of that is breaking down the areas and the ego of bands like Loverboy or Van Halen. We are fans of music and fans of bands. It didn’t have to be “us and them.” I guess that’s why we are more approachable. It was a principle to not have an ego. Mac is more of a fan of music than anyone I know. He’s also very generous. That’s just his personality. It’s genuine.

I keep thinking about Our Noise and how it seems like a great way of explaining how to do a long-term label. It’s like, do one release, you borrow money, you print up the single or tape, make the money back, borrow money and make another release.
I agree with you. I think it’s about having realistic expectations for what you do. Don’t try to accomplish more than what you can do. Before you’re ten years old, you have to be five years old. You can’t rush that.

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