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Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

“The title Ivy Tripp is really just a term I made up for directionless-ness, specifically of the 20-something, 30-something, 40-something of today, lacking regard for the complaisant life path of our parents and grandparents.”

Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee - Ivy TrippFrom Merge Records

Katie Crutchfield’s southern roots are undeniable. The name of her solo musical project Waxahatchee comes from a creek not far from her childhood home in Alabama and seems to represent both where she came from and where she’s going. Since leaving home, Crutchfield has drifted between New York and Philadelphia but chose to return to Alabama to write her first two albums: American Weekend, her debut filled with powerful lo-fi acoustic tracks full of lament, and Cerulean Salt, a more developed and solid narrative about growing up. Both are representations of a youthful struggle with unresolved issues and unrequited feelings.

Waxahatchee’s latest record, Ivy Tripp, drifts confidently from these previous albums and brings forth a more informed and powerful recognition of where Crutchfield has currently found herself. The lament and grieving for her youth seem to have been replaced with control and sheer self-honesty. “My life has changed a lot in the last two years, and it’s been hard for me to process my feelings other than by writing songs,” says Crutchfield. “I think a running theme [of Ivy Tripp] is steadying yourself on shaky ground and reminding yourself that you have control in situations that seem overwhelming, or just being cognizant in moments of deep confusion or sadness, and learning to really feel emotions and to grow from that.”

The band that plays together, produces together. Kyle Gilbride (guitar, keys, synth and tambourine), Keith Spencer (guitar, bass, drums and keys) round out Katie Crutchfield (guitar, keys, synth and vocals). Recorded and engineered by Kyle Gilbride of Wherever Audio at Crutchfield’s home on New York’s Long Island—with drums recorded in the gym of a local elementary school—Ivy Tripp presents a more developed and aged version of Waxahatchee.

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchi in New York in December, 2014
Michael Rubenstein

“I heard someone say that you have to be the change you want to see. I just want to be the kind of musician I want to see in the world. I want to present myself in a way that reflects that.”

Crutchfield is accompanied by both Gilbride and Keith Spencer on Ivy Tripp, and the record was produced by all three of them. With the addition of more guitar work, piano, drum machines, and Crutchfield’s vocals in full bloom, we are given a record that feels more emphatic and pronounced. Ivy Tripp opens with “Breathless,” filled with only a distorted keyboard and layers of vocals, showcasing Waxahatchee’s pension for quiet, personal reflection. The record then opens up into “Under a Rock,” a quicker guitar-driven song that lays the foundation for the rest of the album, which as a whole resonates with strong, self-aware lyrics, energetic ballads, and powerfully hushed moments of solitude. Crutchfield’s voice is certainly the guiding force behind Ivy Tripp—commanding and voluminous in the rock song “Poison,” candied and pure in the frolicking “La Loose”—gripping you tightly and then softly releasing you into the wilds of emotion.

Crutchfield says, “I heard someone say that you have to be the change you want to see. I just want to be the kind of musician I want to see in the world. I want to present myself in a way that reflects that.”

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers

Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers

What appeals to me is songs that deal with the messiness and ambiguity that come with any transitional period.

— Mac McCaughan

The Beard – EP 119 – Mac McCaughan by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers

Guitarist Mac McCaughan sings at Superchunk’s live show in Osaka

Who is Mac McCaughan(Read the HESO Interview)? If you listen to rock music these days it’s pretty certain you have heard something that he has had his hands on. Onetime frontman of the North Carolina Indie-Rock Superband Superchunk, Mac is also co-founder of Merge Records, the highly successful smalltime record label that puts out albums by Spoon, Mikal Cronin, Destroyer, Eleanor Friedberger, The Magnetic Fields, Arcade Fire and many more. When not working at Merge or touring with Superchunk (or any other band he may be playing with), he has recorded his solo work under the moniker of Portastatic and produced more than a decade of work ranging from solo bedroom 4-track recordings to full band recordings at Tiny Telephone. Often lo-fi and intimate, Portastatic’s explorative sound was even more popular than Superchunk’s upfront guitar rock with niche college crowds across North America. But beyond being the face of a long-running and influential alternative band and a powerful albeit low-key record exec, Mac is a pretty regular guy who just makes music he wants to hear. Over the years he has had the opportunity to do soundtrack work on various projects: Looking For Leonard (Merge, 2001), Who Loves the Sun (Merge, 2006), as well as live scores at film festivals: 1927 Tod Browning silent film The Unknown at the Seattle Film Festival, as well as 1927 Japanese film director Teinosuke Kinugasa’s silent film Page of Madness at the SF Film Festival.

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers

Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers

If not on the tip of pop music’s tongue, in his own way McCaughan is prolific. Recorded at Glendale Drive by McCaughan, mixed by Beau Sorenson, Brian Paulson, and himself, he played all parts on Non-Believers except drums on “Our Way Free” (Michael Benjamin Lerner), additional vocals on the ethereally and snaking “Real Darkness” (Jenn Wasner), and additional vocals on “Wet Leaves” (Annie Hayden). These tracks are a collection of unused work he had written for various movie soundtracks that screamed new solo album, but needed something. It seems that his early experiments with synthesizers, as on 1995’s Slow Note From a Sinking Ship, and the follow up, The Nature of Sap, paid off. Because in order to take songs he had composed for other projects they had to be reworked and rewritten. Exploring his fascination with ’80s Punk when it evolved into New Wave and became introspective, when bands were, as he puts it, “using keyboards and drum machines to relate through their music a disaffection or alienation” from what had come before, McCaughan delved into his own work and came up with something that sounds new yet references those old sounds.

To be sure, despite the emphasis on keys, this is still a guitar-driven album. “Box Batteries” is a throwback rocker that eschews bass altogether in the manner of his clean sounding yet still hollow lo-fi Portastatic days when he recorded with a whomever he could find–a random clarinetist and his brother on drums. “Only Do” is classic stripped down indie Superchunk guitar and keys call-and-response propelling a cosmic rollercoaster toward some kind of zen realization, “There is no try/ There is only do”. Much as in the first single “Lost Again” the overriding flat drone of “Real Darkness” is easily overlooked by McCaughan’s memorable melodies and knack for using the highs and scratchy lows of his voice as an extra instrument, as well as the Destroyer-esque background guitar solo so faint the effort to pick it up makes you appreciate the song all the more, The realization that not all songs are hits, but can regardless fit in to the flow of an album in a way that creates a sum greater than the parts of a Best of ever could. Ending with the upbeat “Come Upstairs” is a hither yon nod to the good times past and yet to come.

Throughout his solo recordings he has emerged, so to speak, from the comfort and cover that a pseudonym provides to requiring more. Hence the shedding of “Portastatic” for his own name (he stopped writing on the Portastatic blog a few years ago). When he asks, “I’m constantly discovering and consuming new music, so why does an old New Order song trigger the kind of emotional response that it does?” it’s not only a trick to get you to do more than listen to the atmospheric opening keys on “Your Hologram”, but to put you in a dusty old Honda with a tapedeck and roll down windows full of energy and nothing to do with it but drive, really to nowhere in particular. It’s about “the irony that comes with being 16 and having a car but not knowing where to go in it, or having a keyboard or a guitar and not knowing how to play it.” A more lighthearted musical reconnaissance into the shared alienation and isolation spawned by OMD, New Order, Depeche Mode and like synthpop bands, Non-Believers is a musical homage to the oeuvre of The Breakfast Club, that has grown up through the grungy ’90s and pushed through the adolescence of the 00s, into a full-grown celebration of the artisinal, home-brewed art of the self.

Between the Grateful Dead loving Boomers who are now part Tea-party Neo-cons, part Neo-Lib Wall Street investors and Ben Stiller’s Gen Xers who are gainfully employed and raising families in faux-American Dream suburban glee, there is a gap. McCaughan’s mid-’60s non-believer generation were a bit too late for punk and didn’t take to MTV’s bullshit Cult of Pop, so where do they fit? Merge Records writes that, “McCaughan had a duo of fictional teen goths in mind and followed them on their journey of growing into adulthood and transitioning into a world they weren’t sure they’d accept.” Acceptance is finding out where you fit in. McCaughan fits in where he always has–unassumingly belting out straightforward lyrics behind the mic and pumping out tight little riffs from his home studio.

Portastatic LP Discography

  • I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle (Merge, 1994)
  • Slow Note From a Sinking Ship (Merge, 1995)
  • The Nature of Sap (Merge, 1997)
  • Summer of the Shark (Merge, 2003)
  • Bright Ideas (Merge, 2005)
  • Be Still Please (Merge, 2006)
  • Some Small History (Merge, 2008)

Tour Dates

  • 05/15/15 Philadelphia, PA Underground Arts
  • 05/16/15 New York, NY Baby’s All Right
  • 05/21/15 Atlanta, GA 529 Bar
  • 05/22/15 Asheville, NC The Mothlight
  • 05/23/15 Carrboro, NC Cat’s Cradle Back Room
  • 05/24/15 Wilmington, NC Bourgie Nights
  • 05/28/15 Birmingham, AL Saturn
  • 05/29/15 Nashville, TN The Stone Fox
  • 05/30/15 Chicago, IL 26 Comedy Festival
  • 06/07/15 Durham, NC Motorco Music Hall
  • 07/23/15 Denver, CO The Underground Music Showcase
  • 07/23/15 Chicago, IL Schubas

w/ Flesh Wounds

Mikal Cronin - MKIII

Mikal Cronin – MKIII

The Beard – EP 118 – Mikal Cronin by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Mikal Cronin - MKIII

Mikal Cronin – MKIII

Mikal Cronin – MKIII

Don’t let the cover to Mikal Cronin’s odd yet aptly titled album fool you–he cut his hair. No! you scream, not the only other well-maned indie rock god (a million split ends thank you J Mascis)! Don’t panic, becuse Cronin has moved on in other ways as well, having shorn himself of all the jangly clutter his previous albums seemed so fond of. Which is not to say that his eponymous debut nor MCII were at all bad or didn’t display the talent that the California Arts Graduate so obviously emotes on each and every track. The albums were messy in the way that a 24-year-old hastily throws together a picnic basket when he first learns that young women like that kind of thing–no real idea about wine, cheese, or how to look away when the lady’s skirt flips up in the wind, but still a pretty cool experience for all.

This time, MCIII (one wonders how far he will take the Roman Numerals…perhaps dropping them at L (50), much like the NFL will do next year), is so many breezy musical picnics and yet plays determinedly within a well-organized lyrical and instrumental framework. The wunderkind Cronin arranged and played nearly all of the record himself, including vocals, guitars, bass, drums, percussion, piano, organs, saxophone, and the tzouras, a traditional Greek string instrument he heard while on tour in Athens. It feels as if Cronin is finally going big, even doing his own arrangements. Not satisfied with the sad and lonely violin of the earlier output Cronin arranged parts for a full string quartet.

“It’s a continuation of what I’ve been trying to do up until now, but I’m finding a better way to do it,” he says. “I’m finding a more successful way of working those unexpected elements and textures and instruments into a rock record, of exploring that wormhole and mushing everything together harmoniously. I like riding the line between the two,” he adds. “I like finding new ways to bring different musical worlds together.” He, much like multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner, seems to excel at riding that line that fuses established musical genres, thus infusing new life into a tired and repetitive musical industry.

As if Cronin was once afraid to take a breath, knowing that it all might've collapsed if he paused to take stock of the situation around him. Click To Tweet

Recorded by Eric Bauer (worked with Ty Seagal) and mixed by Jesse Nichols at Fantasy Studios, the album pays homage to the LP record, in that it is split into “sides”, with the first five songs being of the straightforward variety perfected by power pop masters New Pornographers or Superchunk. Whereas Side B takes a much more dramatic symphonic-rock approach to telling some very personal story of breaking out of isolation and jumping into the dangers and beauties of being vulnerable in the outside world.

Serious as he can be, yet above all, Cronin maintains a sense of playfulness, evident on the new video for “Turn Around”, produced with comedians Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal who teamed up to recreate a shot-by-shot reenactment of Natalie Imbruglia’s music video “Torn”, throwing in some unexpected cameos, even eating a banana. This collaboration is part of JASH’s $5K Video Series where, JASH, the comedy network made up of Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric, and Reggie Watts, pairs a musical act with a comedian, gives them $5000, and tells them to spend the money however they want, as long as they spend it all and come back with a video.

There is a duality to the album, in more than just the Side A / Side B aspect. The perfectionist sense of wanting to do it all himself is playfully pushed to the limits of balance by a fools rush in mentality that belied his previous albums and tempts him here again on tracks “Say”, “ii) Gold”, and “iv) Ready. As if Cronin was once afraid to take a breath, knowing that it all might’ve collapsed if he paused to take stock of the situation around him. But that is exactly what makes “Turn Around” a nearly perfect ode to taking the piss out of pop, expanding and contracting like a horse’s lungs on a quick sprint down the beach at sunrise — relax, breathe, we’ve got all goddamn beautiful day to enjoy. It becomes clear by “vi) Circle” “This is what I’ve got / This is what I’m looking for / Please be all around” that he is at least as self-aware as needs be to continue progressing towards a more succinct sound on each successive album.

Mikal Cronin - MKIII

See Mikal Cronin on tour:

May 1 Los Angeles, CA — Eagle Rock Center for the Arts
May 5 New York, NY — Bowery Ballroom
May 28 Barcelona, Spain — Primavera Sound
May 29 Nimes, France — Maroquinerie
Jun 1 London, UK — 100 Club
Jun 2 Brussels, Belgium — Botanique
Jun 5 Ravenna, Italy — Beaches Brew Festival
Jun 6 Athens, Greece — Plissken Festival
Jun 8 Berlin, Germany — Lido
Jun 9 Cologne, Germany — Gebaude 9
Jun 10 Amsterdam, Netherlands — Bitterzoet
Jun 20 Chicago, IL — Subterranean
Jul 12 Los Angeles, CA — Hollywood Bowl (w/ Death Cab for Cutie, Tune Yards)
Sep 5-7 Seattle, WA — Bumbershoot

UPDATE- New Video from Mikal Cronin – Say

Interview with Mac McCaughan

Interview with Mac McCaughan

the focus should be on the records and the bands as opposed to the label. Click To Tweet

Superchunk is Mac McCaughan (guitar, vocals), Jim Wilbur (guitar, backing vocals), Jon Wurster (drums, backing vocals), and Laura Ballance (bass, backing vocals). Since releasing their first 7-inch in 1989 out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, McCaughan and Ballance co-founded Merge Records, and the rest is history, literally documented in Our Noise – The Story of Merge Records. “The Indie label that got big and stayed small” has been perfectly placed to serve the niche indie rock scene as it grew into itself throughout the 90s and became something the mainstream music industry has tried so hard to co-opt, yet failed to deliver the kind of personalized service that labels like Sub-pop, K Records, Matador, 4AD, Saddle Creek, Kill Rock Stars, among others, alongside Merge, have been able to provide those artists who prefer to play in theaters and clubs rather than arenas. Everything changed when Merge signed Arcade Fire, for the better of the cottage label industry. After having playing with Superchunk for more than a decade, the band took a break and McCaughan picked up with his solo project Portastatic, as well as recording various film soundtracks, all the while running Merge. But in 2009, they rebanded to record I Hate Music. HESO caught up with the Superchunk during their live show at Fandango in Osaka.

Interview with Mac McCaughan

Interview with Mac McCaughan

Guitarist Mac McCaughan interview at Superchunk Live in Osaka

HESO Magazine: How many times have you toured Japan?

Mac McCaughan: Three times, but they’re all spaced apart. The first time was in 1992, then 2001, and now eight years later here we are again.

HM: So you could say you have an interesting perspective on the country. 1992 was the end of the “Bubble” period and now eighteen years later, do you feel that it is completely different?

MM: Well, I do find it much easier to get around (Osaka) without speaking Japanese, but the map I bought today at 7-11 is pretty useless.

HM: This particular area, Umeda, is well known as a nightlife area. You’re staying at this hotel because it’s thirty seconds from the club (Fandango), but a quick walk around here will show that this is probably the only hotel that doesn’t charge by the hour.

MM: Yeah, this area is a bit…um, why are there hotels even here?

HM: This area, yeah, well, most businesses are involved with the Yakuza, loosely affiliated or directly run by them: this place is all Pachinko and Massage parlors, sex shows and Ramen shops. This economic recession doesn’t just affect normal working folks, but black markets too and well, even the Yakuza are feeling the crunch these days. Don’t even ask how live houses are staying in business.

MM: Do music fans, people who go clubbing go out of their way to find places to go?

HM: In order for Fandango to get a full house, they probably need a band the likes of Superchunk to play. The show will be packed.

MM: What about local bands?

HM: It’s definitely harder for them. The live house system in Japan is rigorous and strictly defined kind of paternal patronage. A local promoter (probably in a band) puts three or four roughly similar bands together on one bill and then each band must sell X number of tickets, the money for which they are responsible. So if you don’t sell you tickets, i.e. can’t get your girlfriend’s friends to come to the show, you have to buy them yourself. Play often and you will find out just how expensive this can be. What do you charge to get into your show in North Carolina?

MM: Usually around $15.

HM: Here it ¥6500. That’s almost 350 percent markup. So these fans really love you. As a musician who is also a label owner, are you noticing anything in particular these days?

MM: It’s true that the industry as a whole is not doing great. In some ways it could be an overall lowering of expectations. We’ve had a couple really good years, but one just hopes that the trend of people continuing to buy our kind of music doesn’t go off a cliff. And that it settles in, maybe less than it used to be, but still enough to support bands that were never planning on and don’t need to sell a million records to survive.

Superchunk Live in Osaka

Merge Records 20th anniversary

HM: When you started Merge all those years ago, wasn’t Superchunk’s first album with Matador?

MM: We released a couple singles on Merge before that, but initially we started the label to promote other local bands. We couldn’t really afford to put an entire album out then. By the time our contract ran out with Matador, Merge was then big enough to put out albums, so we signed with ourselves.

HM: Did Matador’s merging with Atlantic affect your decision at all?

MM: When they went with Atlantic, we wouldn’t have had to sign to them, we would have still been on Matador. If Merge was still tiny at that time maybe we would’ve just kept it separate. Merge was doing well and it just seemed to make sense. Why wouldn’t we be on our own label if we could?

HM: Was that a purely business decision or was that more in keeping with the independent ethos of the time?

MM: I think it was both. I don’t think we would have done it if it didn’t make sense from a business standpoint. If it would have meant that no one could find our records or press them, then no. It all just made sense.

The challenge for record labels is to create music fans. Music fans will pay for music. Click To Tweet

HM: Looking at your discography shows us that Superchunk has released eight albums, seven Portastatic, plus a sizable amount of compilations and soundtracks. A lot of them were simultaneous too. The window of time from 1994-1999 is prolific in terms of sheer output. How were you managing to run a label while recording multiple albums and promoting artists,?

MM: The label wasn’t as big, in terms of how many releases per year and artists we have, as it is now. At that time the Superchunk albums were still the biggest releases we were doing. There was no Arcade Fire. We were touring a lot, but we recorded really quickly. Then in my spare time I would do the Portastatic stuff on my own.

HM: Did you record the Portastatic albums at a studio at home?

MM: More like in my bedroom (Laughs). Well, half were at home and half were at Duck Kee Studios, in someone else’s house with a sixteen track recorder, where we did the first Superchunk record. It was a matter of keeping busy because, well, we didn’t really have anything else to do. No kids or anything yet, so that’s what I was doing.

HM: I guess that’s the ideal situation an independent artist can hope for. Sort of like Coke deciding to buy a bottling plant and bottle their own product, consolidating production.

MM: Right. Exactly.

Superchunk Live in Osaka

Guitarist Mac McCaughan tunes up for soundcheck at Superchunk Live in Osaka

HM: You had bands like Polvo, Lambchop and the Karl Hendricks Trio, but who was the first band bigger than Superchunk?

MM: The first record that sold more than Superchunk was 69 Love Songs and then another record that came out around that time, but didn’t really sell that much at first was Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea. It took a while to get going, but it has sold a lot now. Those were the first albums bigger than Superchunk and it all happened at a good time. Superchunk was slowing down in terms of not touring that much and so it made sense for us to spend more time at the label anyway, as these records required more of our energy.

HM: Was that something that you had expected or hoped for?

MM: We didn’t really expect it. We knew that people would like 69 Love Songs, but none of Stephin Merritt’s albums have sold that many before and the fact that it was a three-cd set…

HM: Seems kind of like marketing suicide.

MM: Right. We knew it would get attention because of the novelty of it, but then it really took off and we just got really lucky with it.

HM: I was introduced to your bands a long time before I put it together that Merge was you and Laura Ballance.

MM: That’s one thing we didn’t do as much in the same way that say Sub Pop did, or Matador even, which is market Merge as a separate thing from the bands. Which to us made sense, because the focus should be on the records and the bands as opposed to the label.

HM: Now looking at the list of artists you represent, there are some pretty big names there. Was it the success of Magnetic Fields and Neutral Milk Hotel that allowed you to sign, say, Spoon?

MM: We signed Spoon after they had been dropped by Electra, kind of a low point, so they weren’t really all that “big” at that time.

HM: Do you think it’s more a fact of wanting to be a part of a successful label that is run by fellow artists?

MM: Yes, especially if you are a band like Spoon that got dropped from a major label, which made them want to go to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Superchunk Live in OsakaHM: In Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small there’s a quote about East River Pipe’s Fred Cornog, “The guy in an orange smock at Home Depo is also the guy who gets profiled in New York Magazine and writes exquisitely crafted songs that have touched thousands of lives and will live on long after he is gone is like the regular-guy-can-make-music-too ethic in Lambchop. Probably the best argument there is for what makes Merge special.” This goes against every big business model out there. How many employees are you?

MM: We’ve gotten slightly bigger over the years. Now we have fourteen people at Merge. That’s the dichotomy at work: in order to put out an album by that band that’s getting bigger you have to spend more and more money. We tend to work with people who are making records because that’s what they do and they would be doing that whether they get really big like Spoon or whether they don’t even want to tour like Fred Cornog and East River Pipe. They would probably still doing these recordings whether it’s at home or in a studio.

HM: Similar to the infamous Lambchop U.S. bust of a tour Merge put together in an effort to give the fans a chance to hear them how they are meant to be heard. Why does that kind of artistry often go overlooked in the U.S.?

MM: Right, like when they tour Europe with strings and play to sold out crowds in fancy theaters and no one shows up in the U.S. I don’t really know how to explain it. If I did we could prevent that from happening.

HM: What do you think of a band like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah who don’t have a label and became big via word of mouth from Myspace and Pitchfork, basically using the internet, being able to sell their albums in the Tokyo HMV for $23, the same as any other artist?

MM: When they decided to go it alone with their second album, it was newsworthy because no one had really done that before, but to me it’s just not that interesting. I like the idea of labels. I like the idea of Matador and K Records having a kind of character unto itself. Even though they represent all these different bands, they have their own vibe. That’s more interesting to me than a distribution deal. I don’t feel like if I was in a band and I was putting out my own record which was going straight to this distributor that was also distributing hundreds, thousands of other records every year, I wouldn’t feel that my record was going to get the attention it deserves, that it would get from a label that had signed us because they wanted to put out our record. That’s not exciting to me a music fan at all.

HM: I recently saw an Ian Mackay interview in which he says, “…American business at this point is really about developing an idea, making it profitable, selling it while it’s profitable and then getting out or diversifying. It’s just about sucking everything up. My idea was: Enjoy baking, sell your bread, people like it, sell more. Keep the bakery going because you’re making good food and people are happy. Dischord really does exist as a result of hard work and the goodwill of the people.” How do you envision the future of Merge?

MM: I can’t say what’s going to happen in ten years. One of the reasons we still exist is because we never really tried to predict what was going to happen.

HM: Can we talk about your blog? Obviously you are into music, but hockey? How did that come about?

MM: In 1980 when I was a kid growing up in Florida we got cable for the first time and I found ESPN, who didn’t have any contracts with major sports except for hockey and Australian Rules Football, so I watched hockey all the time. What really got me into it was the when the U.S. Team won the gold in the 1980 Olympics. I didn’t think much about it again until North Carolina got an NHL team in 1997 and then I got back into it. We won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06.

HM: Back to Superchunk. Is this a “reunion tour”? Are you putting together an album?

MM: This is the beginning of the new album. We have six new songs so far and it’ll be an album eventually. We have to do it in spurts, because our drummer John is on tour with the Mountain Goats, Bob Mould and some other people. It’s an ongoing thing. I don’t think there’ll be another Portastatic album for a while, although I’ve been recording various other material. I just did an album of Merge covers for our 20th Anniversary box. Then I did the score for a short film by the artist Andrea Zittel which is in the box set. I’ve been doing a lot of recording like that and right now Superchunk is the priority.

HM: It’s interesting to note that after the Superchunk hiatus started in 2002, Portastatic really picks up compared to before: four albums, B-sides retrospective, two soundtracks, live scores even (The Unknown at the Seattle Film Festival – live score to 1927 Tod Browning silent film and Page of Madness at the SF Film Festival – live score to 1927 Japanese film director Teinosuke Kinugasa silent film). How was that?

Superchunk Live in Osaka

Guitarist Mac McCaughan sings at Superchunk Live in Osaka

MM: Those were great, a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work for just one performance, but very cool.

HM: I remember quite vividly when The Nature of Sap came out, as it happened to directly coincide with the getting together and the breaking up of my ex-girlfriend and I, so thank you and screw you at the same time.

MM: Ha, thanks! (Laughs)

HM: That album is a definite shift from straightforward guitar-fueled Superchunk type songs. Then when Superchunk went into hibernation, and you released, for example, Bright Ideas, it’s extremely pop type guitar-rocks ditties. It’s not just a one-man group anymore. Do you have a rotating membership in Portastatic?

MM: Kind of. When we do shows as a band, a lot of times it’s with Jim (Wilbur from Superchunk), my brother playing drums, a guy named Zeke has played drums before, and Margaret White plays violin, but she lives in New York, so sometimes we have done some shows without her, like last fall when Some Small History came out, it was me, Jim & Ivan from the Rosebuds playing drums. We kind of just put things together as we can.

HM: What about your testimony on The Future of Radio, mainly speaking about the importance of low-power, non-commercial, and college radio, the need for diversity in an age of media consolidation, and the importance of net neutrality.

MM: That was for the Congressional Commerce committee put together by the Future of Music Coalition, which is essentially a pact with a lobby group for artists’ rights in the digital age. I got involved with the F.O.M. through Jenny Toomey from Simple Machines and got to go before Congress to testify.

HM: I’m a fan of Bill Moyers who has taken media consolidation to heart. The idea that huge media corporations can simultaneously own television, radio and print media companies became quite loosely regulated under the previous president’s administration. Obama has already reversed Bush’s pro-corporate stance.

MM: Yes, that is a dangerous possibility. But whenever republicans try to strip away public funding for stations like PBS, everyone always cries out, “You can’t cancel Sesame Street!” Where else is there programming without commercials? But the U.S. has always been like that. Whereas in Europe there are publicly funded rock clubs. Culture seems to be much more appreciated there.

HM: As a musician running their own label, which puts out physical products (CDs, LPs, T-shirts, etc.) what do you envision for the future of the digital age?

MM: I think that the challenge for record labels is to create music fans. Music fans will pay for music. If you’re a fan and you’re interested in the artist who are making the music, then you understand that you need to support that. I think it helps to have a physical product involved because people feel more of a connection with something when they buy it, take it home, listen to it, look at the cover, read the lyrics, that kind of thing. I personally feel much more of a connection to something I can hold in my hands rather than something that is just a file on a computer. Either way there is the role of the label, which is to work to promote artists and to be a filter for people who are looking for music. I can’t predict the future and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think it’s important for us and other labels like us to get the music out there in the way that fans want, whether it’s a vinyl LP or an MP3 download. Though I personally don’t think that mp3 downloads sound good.

Check out the full gallery of Superchunk’s Live show at Fandango in Osaka.

Superchunk Discography

  • Superchunk (Matador, 1990)
  • No Pocky for Kitty (Matador, 1991)
  • On the Mouth (Matador, 1993)
  • Foolish (Merge, 1994)
  • Here’s Where the Strings Come In (Merge, 1995)
  • Indoor Living (Merge, 1997)
  • Come Pick Me Up (Merge, 1999)
  • Here’s to Shutting Up (Merge, 2001)

Portastatic Discography

  • I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle (Merge, 1994)
  • Slow Note From a Sinking Ship (Merge, 1995)
  • The Nature of Sap (Merge, 1997)
  • Summer of the Shark (Merge, 2003)
  • Bright Ideas (Merge, 2005)
  • Be Still Please (Merge, 2006)
  • Some Small History (Merge, 2008)

Film Scores

  • Looking For Leonard (Merge, 2001)
  • Who Loves the Sun (Merge, 2006)
  • The Unknown at the Seattle Film Festival (live score to 1927 Tod Browning silent film)
  • Page of Madness at the SF Film Festival (live score to 1927 Japanese film director Teinosuke Kinugasa silent film)

Superchunk Live at Fandango in Osaka

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