Progress Report: Wrapping up their ninth LP, Majesty Shredding, out in the fall. Recorded at Overdub Lane in Durham, North Carolina. Produced by Scott Solter.
Superchunk never broke up or went on hiatus, they’ve just been moving slowly — very slowly — for the last decade, recording a handful of songs, playing one or two charity or small gigs a year. No particular event, (I thought it may have been their Coachella show last year) really pushed the idea of recording forward for Majesty Shredding, awesomely (just) named ninth Superchunk LP, according to drummer Jon Wurster. “I think it was having the time. Or maybe not even having the time but knowing that if we wanted to do this we have to make the time for it, which is kind of how it turned out. There was never really a defining moment where we decided, let’s do this again, actually making an album,” he says. “And I don’t even think we had a goal in mind. I think it was just ‘Let’s see how it goes, and if we’re still into it–it’s like five songs, let’s keep going.’” They found time together between their other gigs: Jon Wurster’s been drumming for Mountain Goats, touring with Ben Gibbard, Jay Ferrar, and Carl Newman, and hosting WFMU’s The Best Show, Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance run Merge records, while guitarist Jim Wilbur plays in Portastatic and works at a bookstore in Durham, North Carolina.
Because of their jobs and locations, Wurster says Superchunk had to make some adjustments to the way their wrote and recorded. The first change was really a return. For the last few records, from Indoor Living to Here’s To Shutting Up, the band worked together completing McCaughan’s songs. This time McCaughan brought in “pretty realized” songs from his home recording studio, with the other members filling in their parts. Another change was bringing in producer Scott Solter. Wurster worked with him on some Mountain Goats recordings. “I thought it might be interesting to have someone who would kind of push us a little bit which we never really had before, in terms of doing multiple takes or just trying to get a definitive version of a song,” Wurster explains. “In the past, and this is just coming from the punk rock, no money world, was just, ‘If it sounds alright, let’s move on.’ But things are a little different now and it’s been great having him because he doesn’t let something slide that could be better.” But Wurster says he had another somewhat contradictory phrase in his mind during recording: “First idea, best idea.” It reminded him to not over-think his parts of the songs, this reminder was driven by his tendency to over-think, and by the constraints of no longer living in North Carolina: More often than not, he only had two days between rehearsal and recording for each song.
Perhaps because of these adjustments, Wurster thinks Majesty Shredding sounds closer to their older records. “To me, it feels like we’re doing what we do best in a way. I hate to say it’s that classic Superchunk sound, but it kind of is! It’s more straightforward than the last two albums.” Some of his favorites: “Everything At Once,” and “Digging For Something,” a song Wurster calls a “pop gem,” but that also underwent a bit of reconstruction to get it to its present form: “We pretty much broke it down and we realized that the chord structure was the exact same chord structure at the end as a version of the Magnetic Fields song ’100,000 Fireflies.’ We just changed that. There was no argument about that. It sounded great, but it was exactly the same as something else that had come before it,” he says. After 20 years as a band, they’ve got the whole not arguing thing down. “Around some of those earlier records, there were — not battles — but heated exchanges about the parts and things like that. I think we all know what works best and what feels right and when to push and when not to push.”