I’ve lived in North Carolina for all of my life, and I’ve been a fan of indie rock for most of it. There’s a lot of really good music coming out of my wonderful home state, and aside from the stuff that I wrote for Hopscotch, I haven’t really touched on any of it. This is long overdue. I’m not gonna promise an entire month or even a whole week of exclusively North Carolina music, but I’m going to be writing about my state a lot from now until the end of the calendar year.
There’s really no better place to start than with our royalty. I sort of throw that around a lot, I’ll admit, but it’s true. Superchunk really are royalty. Not literally, of course, but these cats put Chapel Hill on the map for something other than college basketball. They were more than just trailblazers of NC indie rock, they were also among the trailblazers in DIY. Instead of spending time, effort and money trying to find a label to release their stuff, Ralph “Mac” McCaughan and Laura Ballance founded their own label — Merge Records– just after they started their band.
The band got started in 1989 with McCaughan on vocals and guitar, Ballance on bass, Jack McCook on guitar and Chuck “Chunk” Garrison on drums. They initially named the band Chunk, then later changed it to Superchunk. McCook and Garrison left the band within a couple of years to be replaced by Jim Wilbur (guitar) and John Wurster (drums). Since 1991, the lineup has been the same.
In total, the band has released nine proper albums, dozens of singles and EPs, three albums of collected singles, several albums of collected live songs, and a few other official releases. After their punk-rock influenced self-titled, self-released record in 1990, they were courted by several major labels. Not wanting anything to do with that, they signed with Matador Records. Ironically, Matador was swallowed up by Atlantic Records in 1993, and later taken over by Capitol. Still later, Matador was sold to Beggar’s Banquet. Superchunk arranged a deal under which they wouldn’t have to display the Atlantic insignia on their records, but they still didn’t want any part of the major label. On The Mouth (1993) was their last record with Matador/Atlantic,and they went back to the label that they themselves had founded for the express purpose of releasing their own records.
I might have been a little late to the game. I’m pretty sure that On The Mouth was my first exposure to the band, and I loved the album immediately. It wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered their definitive jam “Slack Motherfucker”.
Superchunk is one of those bands that often gets accused of sounding same-y. Some of the songs sound very similar, and I don’t have a problem with that. Neither do they. They named their publishing rights company “All The Songs Sound The Same Music”The Wedding Present got the same criticism. The Weddoes embraced that criticism back in the 1990s by selling t-shirts displaying the slogan “All The Songs Sound The Same”. They have a new one, which displays “All The Songs Still Sound The Same”.
All that same-ness taken into account, I love most of their albums, and I still pick On The Mouth as my favorite. From that album, it’s really hard to pick a favorite song, but today I’m feeling “Package Thief”. This is that song.
“Package Thief” by Superchunk
Like just about all of their songs, it hits the ground running. Like just about all of their songs, the pace is pretty quick, the energy is really high, and the volume is really high. Like most of their early songs, it ends pretty abruptly as well. That’s still their punk rock edges.
This song is about an elderly neighbor of Mac’s who he suspected was stealing packages from his doorstep. He didn’t suspect that the delivery guy was messing up. Instead, he envisioned a scenario where the old lady was filling her house with stuff that she stole from all the doorsteps.
The kids around are scared
They keep their distance
Room after room of stolen goods
It means nothing to her
I’ve been home
I’ve been out
Something’s kept him off his route
The boxes never reach my house
I love the little change-up at 1:33 that lasts a few seconds of chaos before settling back into the breakneck rhythm of moderate chaos.
I’ve seen the Chunk dozens of times in a few different environments, but mostly from the confines of their “home” club, Cat’s Cradle. It’s really hard not to get swept up by the infectious energy when they’re on stage. It’s almost impossible to keep from pogo-ing during today’s song. Or really any song for that matter. It’s also impossible to refrain from singing along with the chorus of “Slack Motherfucker”. It’s so much fun to see live.
Superchunk’s newest record —Majesty Shredding— came out in the autumn of 2010. It was the first new proper record since 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up.
The “big four” classic Superchunk 1990s albums (No Pocky For Kitty (1991), On The Mouth (1993), Foolish (1994) and Here’s Where The Strings Come In (1995)) were remastered a couple of years ago, and you can get On The Mouth directly from the Merge Records web store here.
For extra credit, enjoy this video, with marionette versions of the band.