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October 6, 2003
Currently, the ball is in play for a Superchunk two-disc set (Cup of Sand), two Portastatic releases (The Summer and Autumn companion discs), and an extensive DVD set (Crowding Up Your Visual Field). And yet, in an act of genuine sweetness, Mac McCaughan took time to answer a few questions from long time admirer and all-around grateful gal, Sarah Peters.

---
LAS: Did you ever picture yourself at the helm of two successful labels, with talented bands and side projects, b-side comps and DVDs? I'm sure you probably wanted to be a rock star when you grew up - but where do you see yourself ten years from now?

Mac McCaughan: Hmmm ten years is a long time! I'm sure it will go by quickly. No I never pictured the whole deal; I think I never pictured much of anything this far down the line, but I definitely wanted to make music, be in bands, etc so I think I could easily have envisioned working in a record store or whatever as long as I was doing that.

It's hard to speculate, but what do you think you'd be doing if you weren't in the music loop? Shop teacher? Lion tamer? Glass blower?

Well, I like the idea of teaching (not shop - I'm not great with exact measurements) but I've substitute taught before and that scared me a bit… maybe graphic design? But there we go with exact measurements again…

You guys have some great videos. I'm really glad that the DVD will hoard them all in one place. I forget which one it was, but I love the one where everyone leaves the basement and Jon just goes nuts on the drums. He reminds me of Animal from the Muppets for a second. Do you have a favorite, looking back?

Well I've watched them all again recently since we've been putting the DVD together, and I think my favorite (well the one I laugh the hardest at) would be the "Watery Hands" video, which involves lots of cheesy video effects and David Cross and Janeane Garofalo being hilarious.

What was it like to put together a DVD? Tell me more about what we can expect from Crowding Up Your Visual Field. I see there are fan contributions involved…?

It's been a lot of technical hurdles, computer work, time-consuming detail work, etc for us and for Eric Masunaga (formerly of The Dambuilders) who's authoring the DVD at his company Modulus DVD. Also for Cam Carrithers, who helped me edit the tour documentary Quest for Sleep, which I think came out really well. Home editing software has definitely brought filmmaking to a place where anyone can do it, but there are still plenty of bugs that makes it a sometimes frustrating process. The fan contributions include a great animated video for "Ribbon" involving monsters wearing Polvo t-shirts… there's plenty of stuff on the DVD that's kind of lo-fi (like the live clips) because almost everything besides the actual videos were just recorded for fun with no intention of it ever becoming part of a commercial thing. But we figured that the kind of people who are going to buy this are the kind of fans that still might want to see these live clips even if the sound is less than great, etc.

I don't know if Christina (Merge radio goddess) told you this or not, but Bruce Springsteen is my favorite rock icon ever, so your inclusion of two Boss covers on Autumn as a Lark really delighted me. Thanks, Mac! How did you choose the covers for your EP?

Well there's a lot of other covers that Portastatic has done (it's much faster and easier for Portastatic to learn covers than Superchunk, and it doesn't require 4 people agreeing on it) that I would like to record as well, but the ones we recorded for this were ones that seem to come off best live, and that we knew the best, and that fit with each other musically. My wife Andrea and I are both big Springsteen fans - I was hooked when my parents took me to see the No Nukes movie where he does a couple songs, and I think we went straight to the record store to buy The River 8-track. Jim and Jon are both fans as well, though I loved the recent concerts I've seen but Jon thought it was a bit cheesy I think - I think you have to accept some cheesiness when it comes to the Boss!

In related news (not that anyone cares outside of my ability to crack wise), I think I have decided to go as my Brucey for Halloween. "Glory Days" era, if you're curious. Tightly rolled white shirt, 80s blue jeans, a red cap, and fake stubble. If it means I can sing my rendition of "Bawwwwn in the USA" all night, it's worth it. I'd better get candy, because I'm the Boss. I'd also better get duct tape, because the Boss is not chesty.

The songs on Born in the USA are so good, it's a shame that the production is so shitty it's almost hard to listen to! Thanks Jon Landau! For making such a dated-sounding record. I'm convinced that the production on that album is one reason so many people misinterpreted the meaning of the title track.

After all these years of rockin' out, do you enjoy touring? I'm sure you have a different view of it now than you did in 1992, but I can imagine it's still exhausting.

Eh, touring is a combination of mostly crappy stuff (being away from home, riding around in a van, playing a million stinky clubs we've played before) with some really great stuff (playing the actual shows, seeing friends around the world), so I have a love/hate relationship with the whole process. But once you record a record, you kinda want to play those songs for people, and it helps to sell records, so it's kind of integral to the process.

Should we expect Portastatic to issue winter and spring EPs as well? What projects are you currently working on?

Well I doubt it! The Autumn CD just seemed like a good companion to the Summer of the Shark album, and will also let people know about Shark and maybe go out and look for it if they first hear the new one. But I'm always trying to be writing songs so who knows how soon the next one can happen. Superchunk is also writing songs and getting ready for these upcoming east coast shows, so if we continue working on songs through the fall then that album would take priority since I think it would be cool to record a new Superchunk record in the spring… not sure if everyone else is as geared up for it as me, though, so we'll see.

How many hours of sleep do you get a day, Super Busy? Should your folks be worried? Because I'm not afraid to tattle.

Not enough! I love sleeping. But sometimes I'm just lying awake in bed thinking about songs I need to finish or art that needs working on or an interview that needs answering (ha) so at that point I might as well just get up and get on with it.

Did you all come out from Isabel unscathed? Any candy rations left?

Just lost power for a couple days, which was only bad after our next door neighbor got a generator that sounded like 5 18-wheelers idling in our driveway. Before that it was kind of nice reading by candlelight with the windows open and everything.

Who did the artwork for Cup of Sand? I don't see it listed anywhere, but I like it a lot. It's like Indie Rock Pokémon.

Laura did it - I'm surprised it's not notated somewhere. It's maybe my favorite album cover art of hers, though I'm not sure why I have to be the mosquito.

As far as musical trends go, do you find any strain particularly innovative (or conversely, inane)? And has Merge signed anyone new on lately?

There's always plenty of inanity to go around…"electro-clash" anyone? But there's always lots of good stuff out there even if none of it sounds particularly groundbreaking - e.g. I love the new Tyde album, but it really reminds me of The Church and Felt - though occasionally there's still a record that makes me think "how the fuck did they do that", it's usually an electronic record like Aphex Twin or Nobukazu Takemura or someone. I guess the newest thing on Merge (so new it's not out yet) is Camera Obscura, a great pop band from Glasgow, whose new album will be out in the new year. It's an incredibly charming record! Coming out before that is the new album by The Rosebuds, a great Raleigh trio and an amazing live band - the album is addictive in the way that records aren't too much anymore!

What was your first experience with free jazz?

I guess it was when Pharoah Sanders gave a clinic for the school jazz band I was in during the summer between 8th and 9th grade - and then played a solo set, just him in a high-school auditorium…it kind of blew all our minds! We couldn't figure out how he was doing what he was doing! So as a 13 year old I didn't rush out and buy "interstellar space" or anything, but it did stick with me.

What's on your desk in the Merge offices? Anything fun?

Hmm, old Christmas cards from Matador & Teen Beat, Carolina Hurricanes memorabilia, stacks of demos, stacks of papers, just lots of stacks! And some post cards and stuff… and dust!

What makes current Superchunk and Portastatic songs similar, aside from your inclusion in both projects? Is there a musical line that does not let one bleed into the other?

Not really a musical line, more of how the songs are written - usually a Superchunk song involves everyone writing it, whereas In Portastatic often I'm writing all the parts. It's hard for me to work on Superchunk songs by myself, even though I'd like to, because once I have a guitar part then I hear all the other parts like a bass line and things, and pretty soon the song is done, so I have to kind of reign myself in and stick to Portastatic stuff for the most part when I'm on my own.

Name five bands or artists you would have loved to sign to Merge in their heyday…

The Verlaines, Hüsker Du, The Minutemen, Yo La Tengo- okay they're still in their heyday! The Go-Betweens… this list could be about 5 times as long!

What's the Raleigh/Chapel Hill scene like right now? While it's probably nothing like it was in the mid-90s, I'm sure you still have a lot of burgeoning talent to come from there, right?

Tons of bands; seemingly the most there's been in a long while. Tthere's too many shows to go to I know that much!

What's the nicest compliment you've gotten about any of your music?

Well anytime another musician who's work I respect is into something I've done it's always nice and kind of surprising - I still think of myself as a fan who's also got a band.

SEE ALSO: www.portastatic.com
SEE ALSO: www.superchunk.com
SEE ALSO: www.mergerecords.com

--
Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other articles by Sarah Peters.

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