Turntable Interview: Superchunk’s Laura Ballance
On the cusp of releasing their 10th studio album, I Hate Music, Superchunk founding member Laura Ballance had to break the news to fans: She wouldn’t be playing live with the group for the foreseeable future. Via a letter on the Superchunk website she explained that she had developed hyperacusis, a condition marked by oversensitivity to certain sounds, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears. It’s a condition that developed over years as she pursued her passion in music both as a bass player and as a co-founder of Merge Records. Jason Narducy has joined Superchunk as their live bassist for now, but don’t worry, Ballance won’t be leaving the band — she just won’t be touring in support of the new album or any time soon until she can figure out how to protect her hearing. Laura jumped on Turntable.fm and we talked about Superchunk’s new album, meeting Iggy Pop, who inspires her, and why you should always always wear earplugs at rock shows.
LAURA BALLANCE: I have arrived!
LAURA BALLANCE: I have never done this before.
LAURA BALLANCE started playing “Walk On By (Album – Remaster)” by Isaac Hayes
LAURA BALLANCE: Ha, I meant to start with something else but Isaac got away from me.
STEREOGUM: Isaac can do that to a girl! I have to say I was a bit nervous trying to figure out what music to play because not only were you in one of my favorite bands, but you also run one of the best record labels around. Luckily Isaac cures all
LAURA BALLANCE: There is so much good music in the world. I think I am feeling nostalgic today.
STEREOGUM: Wow this is a 10-minute version of this song. Why are you feeling nostalgic today?
LAURA BALLANCE: It’s 12 minutes long! It is the usual version, I think.
STEREOGUM: He should have gone for 20
LAURA BALLANCE: I don’t know. I recently have found myself thinking about what the music was that I was really into right around the time we started Merge. I wanted to be tough. Isaac does not really fall under that tough thing though. He seems like a pussycat.
STEREOGUM: But “Shaft”!
LAURA BALLANCE: True.
STEREOGUM: He gets tough credit for that.
LAURA BALLANCE: I so deeply regret I never got to see him perform. I missed him one time at the Blues Festival here in Durham.
STEREOGUM: Oh he must have been amazing live
LAURA BALLANCE: I had no idea he was playing it, and then I heard his voice drifting across Durham.
STEREOGUM Really? That’s incredible. Is Durham that small or his voice that big?
LAURA BALLANCE: It was outdoors in an old ballpark not that far from our neighborhood.
STEREOGUM: Like the Pied Piper of Awesomeness
LAURA BALLANCE: Unfortunately I was not able to scoot straight over there and see him. Now he is dead.
STEREOGUM: * Pours a little out for Isaac * Are there other bands or singers you wish you could have seen live?
LAURA BALLANCE: For sure. Now I have to remember.
STEREOGUM: I am excited for the Replacements reunion
LAURA BALLANCE: That will be awesome i hope! Not quite the same as the old days I am sure.
STEREOGUM: Well, hopefully they won’t be drunk and fall off the stage
LAURA BALLANCE: I saw X a few times over the course of the last few years and that made me so happy.
STEREOGUM: I saw them in New York and they were really good! Like what a band should be when they stay together.
LAURA BALLANCE: They rock so hard. And I have a lot of nostalgia surrounding them too. I made the mistake of wearing flip flops when I went to see them one time and I pogo-ed the whole time and bruised my heels pretty badly.
STEREOGUM: Haha sorry. We’ve all been there. Some of us at Superchunk shows! Speaking of band’s staying together, you have just had to stop touring with Superchunk. What has that been like for you?
LAURA BALLANCE: So far they have not played a show without me. I guess that starts tomorrow. I told them yesterday I was not planning on attending any of the shows because it will make me cry.
STEREOGUM: Aww I bet! When did the doctor give you the news? Or was it something you could feel?
Melissa Locker started playing “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child
LAURA BALLANCE: Oh, the doctor did not have to tell me. I have known for a while. At least ten years, but it has been progressively getting worse. Nice choice. Awesome song.
STEREOGUM: Thanks! You guys covered it once, right?
LAURA BALLANCE: The idea of Mac trying to sing this cracks me up.
STEREOGUM: I love ridiculous covers
LAURA BALLANCE: Yes, we did. A dumbed down version I am sure. I love the breakdowns like this.
STEREOGUM: I’m really sorry about your hearing. How did it work in the studio while you were recording?
LAURA BALLANCE: I used to record in the room with Jon. But I realized it was too loud. I have started standing in the control room so I can get away from the loudness. I need to have some control over volume.
STEREOGUM: And to be clear, you haven’t left the band, you just can’t play live, right?
LAURA BALLANCE started playing “T.V. Eye” by The Stooges
LAURA BALLANCE: Yes, I can’t control the situation enough live. I have played with earplugs in for ages. I tried playing with both earplugs and head phones but it does not work.
STEREOGUM: Does it cause pain? Also: that reallllly sucks
LAURA BALLANCE: The headphones or the hyperacusis?
STEREOGUM: The hyperacusis, but both I guess
LAURA BALLANCE: Stooges=tough
STEREOGUM: The Stooges are super tough! Partially because I think Iggy Pop is made out of beef jerky.
LAURA BALLANCE: The hyperacusis is painful. Certain frequencies set it off, and loud things. It’s not as bad for me as some people. I read an article someone wrote about it that made me feel really lucky.
Melissa Locker started playing “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks
LAURA BALLANCE: Iggy is a weird guy.
STEREOGUM: Do you know him?
LAURA BALLANCE: We played one time at a festival in Birmingham with him. He showed up in a limo full of strippers.
STEREOGUM: Wow. That’s what you expect him to do.
LAURA BALLANCE: I guess. I hoped he would be more like us and be a person you could talk to. Never meet your idols.
STEREOGUM. That is true. Never meet your idols and always wear earplugs
LAURA BALLANCE: I love the Kinks.
STEREOGUM: We are teaching the kids valuable lessons today! I love the Kinks too!
LAURA BALLANCE: ALWAYS wear earplugs. I am worried about the kids these days
STEREOGUM: I know! I wear earplugs at shows and people will tease me
LAURA BALLANCE started playing “Handshake” by Pussy Galore
LAURA BALLANCE: Not only are they wearing earbuds and blasting their ears, but rock shows are always mixed so damn loud these days! I guess they have been since the 70’s but people really need to protect their hearing.
STEREOGUM: Seriously. Do you think you’ll be able to play acoustic shows?
LAURA BALLANCE: Oh man. That is not as fun as a rock show. I suppose I could, but I am a bass player! It’s not an instrument made for acoustic shows.
Melissa Locker started playing “It’s Alright, You’re O.K.” by Chisel
LAURA BALLANCE: Pussy Galore! We did not talk about it!
STEREOGUM: That is true. Come back Pussy Galore!
LAURA BALLANCE: I had a major thing for Julie Kafritz.
STEREOGUM: That is not a quiet band! And yes, Julie Kafritz is absolutely amazing
LAURA BALLANCE: She inspired me.
STEREOGUM: Who else inspired you to pick up the bass?
LAURA BALLANCE: I wanted to be her when I was 20. Kim Gordon, obviously.
STEREOGUM: Obviously. I still want to be Kim Gordon when I grow up
LAURA BALLANCE: Bridget Cross from Unrest too.
STEREOGUM: The NY Times had a slideshow of one of the Beastie Boys’ homes and he had Kim Gordon artwork on his mantle and it was SO good
LAURA BALLANCE: I have to go look at that.
STEREOGUM: How did you choose the bass?
LAURA BALLANCE: I did not. It chose me. Mac needed a bass player.
STEREOGUM: And that was that? Had you ever played before?
LAURA BALLANCE: I have never played any instrument before. I was terrible. I think he needed a girlfriend too.
LAURA BALLANCE I never was into Chisel when they were around. Just by ignorance. I was unaware, but I really think Ted Leo is great.
LAURA BALLANCE started playing “I Hate Milk” by Air Miami
STEREOGUM: He is. Wait are you really playing that? That is the next song in my queue
LAURA BALLANCE: You are kidding!
STEREOGUM: How did we both pick Air Miami? Whoa, Turntable Jinx!
LAURA BALLANCE: Same song?
STEREOGUM: Yeah! It’s the best song. So weird
LAURA BALLANCE: It’s a kickass song.
STEREOGUM: Especially when you are allergic to milk like I am. This runs through my head every time I accidentally eat something.
LAURA BALLANCE: I used it as my ringtone for a while.
LAURA BALLANCE: Did you and MBL from Telekinesis talk about them? They have the best bass sound ever!
STEREOGUM: I don’t know. We talked about OMD a lot.
Melissa Locker started playing “Little Red Corvette” by Prince
STEREOGUM: Had to switch out songs!
LAURA BALLANCE: This is a good one too. Takes me to the 80’s. One of the first concerts I saw was Prince and the Revolution in Atlanta.
LAURA BALLANCE: That or Neon Christ and the Bad Brains at the Metroplex.
STEREOGUM: That is one of the best first concerts I’ve heard of.
LAURA BALLANCE: I can’t remember which one was actually first. They both changed my life though.
STEREOGUM: I bet! My first was Jesus and Mary Chain
LAURA BALLANCE: Nice. Were they really loud?
STEREOGUM: Probably! I have to admit that I don’t know Neon Christ.
LAURA BALLANCE: Neon Christ were a local hardcore band in Atlanta.
STEREOGUM: I probably didn’t wear earplugs. Hardcore is so important when you’re younger.
LAURA BALLANCE: We played with Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine one time. Talk about loud shows.
STEREOGUM: Really? Do you find yourself now thinking about all the loud shows you played?
LAURA BALLANCE: I do. And all the loud ones I went to. Hardcore: I was mostly not that into it.
STEREOGUM: As a first concert it must have made quite an impression, though.
LAURA BALLANCE: There are choice bands that I liked, but I was not into that sort of tough. I thought it was boring.
LAURA BALLANCE started playing “Car Trouble” by Adam & The Ants
STEREOGUM: Do you still?
LAURA BALLANCE: I guess. I never got into a lot of the hardcore that a lot of people my age loved, like Black Flag and Minor Threat, and even Husker Du! It’s blasphemous i know.
STEREOGUM: Whoa. Does Bob Mould know that?
LAURA BALLANCE: I never told him. I was just trying to find one of my favorite hardcore songs to play for you and they don’t have it.
Melissa Locker started playing “Dance Song ’97” by Sleater-Kinney
STEREOGUM: What song were you looking for?
LAURA BALLANCE: “Lights out” by the Angry Samoans
STEREOGUM: I have never heard of that band.
LAURA BALLANCE: I have to talk about Adam and the Ants! Adam and the Ants were the first concert I saw on TV. It was before I started going to shows.
STEREOGUM: They played on TV?
LAURA BALLANCE: In Atlanta in the 80’s we had a lot of crazy stuff on cable because Ted Turner started everything there.
STEREOGUM: Oh right! Did you start dressing like Adam Ant?
LAURA BALLANCE: It was some prerecorded show where they played on a set that looked like a pirate ship. I was entranced.
LAURA BALLANCE started playing “Sonic Reducer (normal)” by Dead Boys
LAURA BALLANCE: I tried, in my limited way. Went the goth route. Oh, this is a live version. oops.
STEREOGUM: Do you think Merge would put out the Dead Boys if they were starting now?
LAURA BALLANCE: Hard to say. Maybe. Or we might think, “those guys are bad news! someone is gonna o.d.!” We are pretty wholesome.
STEREOGUM: Awww that’s a great business model! So how do you choose bands to put out? When I talked to Michael from Telekinesis he said he just got a phone call one day.
LAURA BALLANCE: Picking bands is hard.
STEREOGUM: I’m sure!
Melissa Locker started playing “Boys Don’t Cry ( LP Version )” by The Cure
LAURA BALLANCE: It helps a lot if we can meet them first and hang out and make sure they are people we like.
STEREOGUM: This is in tribute to your goth phase.
LAURA BALLANCE: I love it. I have listened to so much of this band. This is one of my favorite albums. I have never seen them play though!
STEREOGUM: Me neither! Always wanted to. I had a giant Boys Don’t Cry poster in my bedroom
LAURA BALLANCE: When “Head on the Door” came out I listened to it constantly.
LAURA BALLANCE started playing “I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song)” by The Ikettes
LAURA BALLANCE: I used to play Seventeen Secords to put myself to sleep at night.
STEREOGUM: I love this song!. What’s it like putting out records that you know the kids are listening to over and over again?
LAURA BALLANCE: Awesome. Both as Superchunk and Merge. It adds so much meaning to what we do.
STEREOGUM: Is some of your desire to put out wholesome bands because of the role model factor?
LAURA BALLANCE: That, and also addicts are a pain in the ass.
STEREOGUM: Words to live by. Don’t do drugs and wear earplugs, kids.
LAURA BALLANCE: Seriously. And don’t beat on ladies like Ike Turner did.
Melissa Locker started playing “Heroes (Single Version)” by David Bowie
STEREOGUM: Well THANK YOU for chatting with me.
LAURA BALLANCE: Thank you. This was fun. This song=summer.
STEREOGUM: So good. Thanks again! Can’t wait to hear the new album. Bye!
LAURA BALLANCE: Bye!
I Hate Music is out 8/20 via Merge. Watch its trailer here.