The new Superchunk album is called Majesty Shredding, and that name is no accident. It’s a raw, ragged record, and yet another milestone for band co-founders Mac McCaughan (vocals, guitar) and Laura Ballance (bass), the independent-rock icons who also co-founded a little label called Merge Records. Shredding is the band’s first LP of new original material in nine years. At the Merge offices in Chapel Hill, N.C., Paste sat down with McCaughan and Ballance to discuss some of their other momentous firsts.
First time they thought music was something they’d like to try
Mac McCaughan: When my parents took [my siblings and I] to see The Kids Are Alright in the movie theaters. We were on vacation in Boston, and we went back to the hotel room and jumped around on the beds pretending to be in The Who. That was probably my first real thought of that.
Laura Ballance: My sister and my brother and my cousins and I used to do a lot of lip-synching performances to various musics. I don’t know if I really was thinking, though, that I wanted try to do music at that time. It was like singing along to “The Leader of the Pack” and acting it out. It was more Broadway-ish than anything.
First bands they really loved
The Beach Boys. We had Endless Summer [on vinyl] and there are big cartoon drawings of their faces on the front, so you kinda felt like you knew who the guys were and the songs were all very sing-along-able.
Ballance: One of them was The Shangri-Las. I remember really being into them and we’d listen to that over and over. Also, [my grandparents] had a Glenn Campbell 8-track that I really enjoyed. I was into that. Later, I remember really enjoying Styx when my sister got into them. But really, true love didn’t happen until I saw Adam and the Ants on TV performing live on a stage set that looked like a pirate ship. Then, I was smitten.
First fan mail they received
McCaughan: We didn’t really receive a lot of fan mail when we started because we started the label at the same time. But we would get mail order[s], which felt kind of like fan mail because people were sending you three dollars and wanted to buy your record. ... Jello Biafra was one of our first mail-order customers, so that was pretty exciting.
ballance: When he wrote his name, he’d put a little circle around the A so it looked like “anarchy.”
First time they thought Superchunk had “made it”
McCaughan: Probably the first time we had all the beer we could drink backstage, or something like that, without having to ask for it or pay for it.
Ballance: When we played CBGB’s
Canteen. It wasn’t even at really CBGB’s—it was next door.
First reaction their parents had to them making music their career
McCaughan: I think they were always into it. There was never really a lot of conflict about playing music or anything. I think they would have rather had me playing music than trying to play sports or something, ’cause it’s less dangerous.
Ballance: My parents were very supportive. They were concerned though, of course, that I’d be doing lots of drugs and having sex with everyone. I’ve tried to explain to them numerous times that I’m not doing lots of drugs, but they still don’t believe me.