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Interview with Superchunk, featuring Jim Ruland|
Originally ran in Flipside #110
Tuesday, December 18 2012
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Fourteen years have passed since this interview took place in 1998. In 2001 Superchunk released its eighth album, Here’s to Shutting Up and did a national tour with The Get Up Kids. The album received a mediocre response—due in part to the proximity of its release with September 11 and the disinterest of younger fans on the tour with The Get Up Kids. As a result, Superchunk decided to take a break from the write/record/tour schedule. They continued to play the occasional show and planned on putting out another record. The band was on hiatus from 2001-2010 while pursuing other projects and starting families.
Mac and Laura cofounded Merge Records in ’89 and watched it flourish during their break from Superchunk. Merge has released an impressive 257 records since 2000. Two years ago Merge released the Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011.
In ’94 Mac started a project called Portastatic, which released three albums during Superchunk’s hiatus. Mac also formed a band with Guided By Voices frontman, Robert Pollard called Go Back Snowball. They released the album, Calling Zero, in 2002. Mac has been scoring movies too, particularly with filmmaker Matt Bissonnette. He did the soundtrack to Bissonnette’s 2009 film, Passenger Side, starring Adam Scott of Parks and Recreation and Party Down.
Jim plays in a band called Humidifier. They put out an album in 2008, Nothing Changes. He says he’s enjoying a slower pace these days and spends most of his time working at bookstore.
Currently, Laura and Mac are equal partners at Merge, extremely involved in the day-to-day operations, including having final say on what artists are added to the Merge roster.
Laura became a mom during the band’s hiatus and has been focusing more on her painting and sculpting. (She and Mac have done most of Superchunk’s artwork.)
Jon has been touring steadily with a variety of acts. He’s been recording and drumming with The Mountain Goats, Bob Mould, Ben Gibbard, and Carl Newman. He’s a regular act on a radio show with Tom Scharpling called, The Best Show on WFMU and has written for an assortment of TV shows.
In 2010, Superchunk released, Majesty Shredding, to an overall positive response. This year they put out a single titled, This Summer and are scheduled to play a CBGB festival on July 6th with Red Kross and Labor Pool. They have one more show in July and are scheduled to play in Florida at the De Luna Festival in September. Mac is performing solo at the North Carolina Hopscotch Music Festival in September.
My appreciation of Superchunk is very late-‘80s, isolated town. Damned if I know where or how I first heard them. I’d bet a dollar to myself the first song I heard was “Slack Motherfucker” on tape. That tape was quite possibly recorded from the radio. Fast forward to 1998. Superchunk’s CDs took a proud six inches of width on my CD rack. (Including the dreaded CDEP and full-sized CD single. Note to future self—buy the 7”, dummy.) The gift that Superchunk gave me was a durable Venn diagram of punk rock. They were a whole hell of a lot more tuneful, melody-driven, and “college rock” than a lot of the punk I was listening to in 1998. (As a nice Philly contrast, I thoroughly enjoy playing Superchunk back-to-back with Flag Of Democracy, another longtime institution. Love ‘em both for wildly different reasons.) To this day, I defend Superchunk as a punk band. It’s because I like them a lot and like punk a lot. I want us to be on the same side.
In Los Angeles, 1998, there was a ramp-up of punk-looking punk. The problem for me was that a lot of it was clowny and corny. (Hair dye dripping down foreheads was a recurring theme.) The “punk-punk” tunes were largely unmemorable and ultimately forgotten. I was happy to find out during this interview that Superchunk is just regular folks playing music. There weren’t costumes or a bunch of aggressive ‘tudes. They liked drinking beer, and, hey, so do I.
Around the time of this interview (the actual date is fuzzy. The photos are labeled 2/98), Superchunk released Indoor Living on their own record company, Merge, the year prior. At first, Indoor Living struck me as waaay tooo slooow and I was a little bummed. But then that Venn diagram came back, animated, wrapped one of its circles around my shoulder and told me, “You should start trusting bands that you love. Let them lead you down different musical paths.” It sounds like such a mundane revelation today, but in 1998, it was a big deal to me. Just soak in an album. Sometimes, it’s great to have come-down music, sullen music, musical companions for bruised-but-not-broken occasions. As of 2012, I’ve played that CD hundreds of times.
That night—the first time I’d ever seen them—Superchunk was fantastic. The thing that still stands out to me is Laura bouncing like a superball in a highball glass the entire set. Live, they proved to be as great as I’d hoped they would.
Superchunk, thank you. You were one of the reasons I continued to love music; not just a genre or a scene, but music overall.
Interview by Todd Taylor and Jim Ruland
Photo by Jim Ruland
Originally ran in Flipside #110, Jan./Feb. 1998
Todd: What was the worst uniform you’ve ever had to wear for a job?
Jon: I had to wear a bear suit. There was a local...like a Lions Club organization where I lived in Pennsylvania. It was low budget and it was called The Bears and I would go around and pick up donations that businesses had pledged to the organization. I had to wear a bear suit.
Todd: So you were a goon bear?
Jon: Exactly. Luckily, I didn’t have to make the calls. I just had to pick up the money.
Mac: He was the bag man.
Laura: I don’t think I ever had a job where I had to wear a uniform.
Mac: Remember when you worked at that cooking store in Atlanta?
Laura: Nope, uh-uh.
Jon: Mr. Thunderbox?
Jim: I had to dress like a teacher when I was a teacher, but I didn’t even feel like I had to wear a tie.
Mac: When I worked in the cafeteria at DukeUniversity, when I was in high school, I had to wear a paper hat. That’s about as close to a uniform as it came.
Jon: And he still wears it.
Mac: I just slip it on for old time’s sake.
Jon: We all wear uniforms in our own way.
Mac: Like those ‘50s shirts you wear; vintage, man.
Jim Ruland: Retro-unique.
Todd: True or false? Speedo from Rocket From The Crypt, when doing On The Mouth, changed everything—used studio musicians, the whole nine yards—and tried to release it. Is that true?
Mac: Yeah. He brought in a bunch of ringers from San Diego and cashed them into playing their instruments—unlike us. He tricked us into not playing by... He brought in all this porn and locked us in this room. We were hypnotized by this porn. We came out and the album was done and we were psyched. We paid him $250 for his troubles.
Todd: Do you still talk to him?
Todd: When you first started were you guys named Chunk?
Todd: Was that after the guy in Goonies?
All: Goonies? What’s...
Jim: Great movie.
Todd: Yeah. Chunk’s the kid who they make pull up his shirt and do the truffle shuffle.
Jim: No, but we probably named it after someone very similar to that character. Our old drummer’s name was Chuck and in the phone book they listed him as Chunk Garrison.
Jim: So his phone bills came to Chunk Garrison.
Jim: So it was named after him.
Jim Ruland: I knew this guy whose phone number was LSD1BITCH. I still know it. I’ll never forget his number.
Laura: Yeah, it’s funny that the telephone company—having originated the thing with the Chunk thing and becoming our band’s name—recently I got a check from someone and instead of it saying “Superchunk” on it, it said “Superchuck.” So I was like, “All right, full circle.”
Todd: That’s in relation to another question. How do you feel about being lumped into the “super” bands now? Superdrag, Supersuckers, Supergrass...
Mac: There was no other “super” band... Who started that shit?
Todd: Super Deluxe, Superconductor...
Jim: I see more and more coming out every year.
Jon: Yeah, it’s like, “Some originality, please.”
Jim: Promoters try to put you on bills... “I just had a great idea. You guys play with Superconductor and Superdrag.”
Todd: It will be a Superextravaganza!
Jon: We have a great idea. You suck.
Jim Ruland: A big, super no.
Mac: I hate to admit it, but I kind of like that new Supergrass record.
Todd: Really? I haven’t listened to it yet.
Mac: It’s some good tunes.
Jim Ruland: Have you guys listened to Death Star?
Jon: We just got a tape from a band called Death Star.
Laura: It might not be the same one.
Jon: Probably not.
Mac: Where were they from?
Laura: Somewhere in Texas or New Orleans.
Jim: Or San Francisco.
Jim Ruland: This band’s from California.
Laura: Well, there’s another band named Death Star.
Jim Ruland: This band’s good and they’re on St. Francis, a label out of Seattle. They just put out an EP and it’s definitely Superchunk influenced.
Jim: Oh really?
Jim Ruland: It’s really good.
Jim: It’s always weird to me when people say that. Sometimes we’ll talk to people in different towns where we’re playing and they’ll say, “Oh, there’s this band around here that you’ve gotta hear. They’re really influenced by you guys.” I never thought we sounded that original to start out with so it’s weird for me to hear that someone sounds like us, because what does that mean? They sound like a band we sound like? It’s like, if you’re influenced by somebody, you shouldn’t sound like them. But it’s flattering to hear that.
Jim Ruland: Well, maybe I should put it this way. I don’t know if they’re influenced by you. I’ll change that to when I write a review. I’ll make the comparison to Superchunk. There are definite differences. There’s a lot more time changes.
Jim: And I think that we sound like ourselves. I don’t think that we sound like other bands. There are some bands that are so specific-sounding that you could see if someone was copying them pretty easily.
Jim Ruland: A line of the LA Weekly writeup was about how only a fool would mistake one of your songs for another band’s song... But anyhow, it’s pretty good.
Mac: It comes with playing with professional songwriters.
Jim: Ghost writers. Speedo hooked us up with those. I heard that Jeff Lynne (ELO) wrote all the songs on their new record.
Todd: How weird.
Jim Ruland: It’s such a hit or miss band for me.
Jim Ruland: They’re a hit or miss band for me.
Jon: Rocket From The Crypt?
Mac: Rocket From The Crypt.
Todd: Does the process of maturation—musical maturation—always mean you have to slow down?
Jon: What’s maturation?
Mac: Maturation, it’s like when you’re away from your girlfriend?
Todd: It’s porno.
Jon: Oh shit.
Mac: I’ve got to go maturate now. Do you have any tissue? I’ve got to maturate.
Todd: Any lotion?
Mac: I think it only means slowing down if you’re comfortable or you start out too fast. I don’t know. What if you were slow already? Then how would you maturate?
Jim: It’s true that when we were writing the songs, it’s always mid-tempo. There are no fast songs.
Mac: But then what do we do? We try to write fast songs and they suck.
Jim: When you start out, you’re so anxious to just...
Mac: Well, what about the E song? I think the easiest influences to incorporate are the easiest to imitate, even when you first start out. It is the most hyper, straight-ahead, aggro. Emotionally, that’s definitely the easiest thing to get in touch with in terms of bands that are all angry, you know what I mean? Maybe you wanna explore some different things and you have to slow down in order to do it. It makes the live set more interesting.
Mac: You can just hear more of what’s going on with songs than if it’s all happening at a hundred miles an hour. I still like bands that play at a hundred miles an hour and it’s fun to see them live. It’s fun to play that kind of music, but it’s also more interesting to mix it up.
Jim Ruland: Do you get this question a lot, by the way?
Mac: Yeah, but I think we got this question a lot a few years ago when Foolish came out. That was the most obvious slowdown. The longer we’ve been around, I think the more and more the role of instruments has become three lead instruments, basically—both guitars and the bass. There are a lot of times when they’d be playing melody lines and no one’s playing rhythm. Jon’s a very melodic drummer. If there’s all that going on at once, you wouldn’t be able to hear what was going on if it was twice as fast. Then, plus vocals on top of that. That’s a lot. To make it fit together and work without getting too busy or too fast or just messy, you know?
Todd: So you guys aren’t gonna put out a blurspeed hardcore record next?
Mac: Probably not.
Todd: Can you name any band that got faster and faster?
Jim: Yes... No. I can name a band that got crazy and that’s Ministry. They began wimpy and became dumb.
Jon: Butthole Surfers...
Todd: Yeah, Ministry—they were like OMD the first couple of albums—With Sympathy. But did get a lot faster.
Mac: I don’t like Ministry. They turned into a big band doing, “Rhhaarrgg.”
Jon: There was a band that was on a Flipside compilation called Flag Of Democracy in Philadelphia who has retained their original sound completely. They’ve been around for eighteen years.
Jon: FOD. I saw them for the first time in ten years this summer and they sound exactly the same—same thrash.
Jim Ruland: It’s like static.
Laura: Are they still writing new songs?
Jon: Yeah, but they sound exactly the same.
Jim: There must have been punk bands that have become speed metal bands.
Jim Ruland: And vise versa.
Jim: English Dogs.
Jim Ruland: The English Dogs.
Todd: English Dogs. There, that’s a good one.
Laura: I am not in any of your guys’ leagues. I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.
Mac: You were wasting your time in high school smoking pot. You should have been out there.
Jim: Discharge is a metal band that got slower.
Todd: Yeah, let’s not talk about Discharge.
Jim: Saw them on their tour.
Todd: Ay, yi, yi.
Jim Ruland: The Butthole Surfers got a lot faster.
Jim Ruland: Yeah.
Jim: Not faster than some of that early stuff though.
Jim Ruland: Yeah, well, a lot of their stuff is bobbing and...
Jim: But that was like the first record that had an actual drumset on it, wasn’t it? Like where he was actually playing a kit, I think.
Todd: Yeah, you are correct—two drummers in there somewhere, too.
Jim Ruland: Yeah, it was the first record where you could play every song twice.
Todd: What household appliance makes the most Superchunk sound? Here’s my two cents worth. You have a frozen turkey—you put it in the clothes dryer and after about a half an hour when it’s not really frozen and it’s not really soft and it’s on the spin cycle, slappin’ around—it’s hittin’ but it’s soft and mushy but still kinda hard at the same time.
Jim: Maybe my alarm clock.
Todd: What’s it set too? Is it set to an alarm?
Jim: It’s horribly annoying.
Laura: Whenever I hear anyone starting to ask some household appliance question in an interview, immediately my dishwasher comes to mind.
Todd: Quality time with a dishwasher?
Mac: I like your dishwasher.
Laura: I don’t know...
Mac: You’ve got a nice one.
[Long pause while Todd draws a blank.]
Jim: So, what makes you think that you are good for this job?
Todd: Well, yeah, because I don’t get paid for it and I love it.
Jon: Who was your worst interview?
Todd: I’ve been very fortunate.
Jon: You don’t wanna say, huh?
Todd: No. Actually everyone has been very good—very good to excellent. No one has shined me. That’s the great thing about it.
Mac: No one’s what you?
Todd: Shined me. Like, “Oh, ah, Flipside, uh, no.” It’s actually the inverse. I’ll talk to the managers and they’re like, “Who?” and I’ll just say, “Just say it to the band,” and so far when the band hears it—“Oh, Flipside. Great.”
Jim Ruland: That’s what has really surprised us both is that Flipside has an enormous cache. More than we realized.
Jim: It’s been around for so long, though, and Maximumrocknroll won’t interview anyone that’s not a hardcore band and you’ve got to get interviewed somewhere.
Jon: If you don’t play that many beats per minute, you’re just not that good.
Laura: How do you define a hardcore band? That’s what I want to know.
Todd: Tim Yohannon created his own definition. Like Babyland—if you’re industrial you can’t be punk. If you are distributed by a major in Japan, you can’t be punk.
Jon: These are rules he set there?
Todd: These are his rules.
Jon: It’s his magazine.
Todd: That’s right. It’s his magazine.
Mac: I think he has integrity, if nothing else.
Jon: It’s strange for someone of his age to be that hardline, you know? I’m sure he didn’t start listening to that stuff until he had already established—you’d think that because he came before punk he’d be a lot more open to other things.
Todd: I think he is.
Jon: I think his readership is so narrow.
Todd: Well, to go against Rolling Stone where the first eighteen pages are color ads... Here’s something. Guess how much a full size color ad is in Rolling Stone?
Jon: Full page?
Todd: Full page.
Jim: Probably like 15,000 dollars or something.
Jon: You’re kidding me?
Todd: I shit you not.
Jim Ruland: Wow. That is incredible.
Todd: And the first eighteen pages out of the first twenty-one are full page color ads having nothing to do with music.
Mac: We contemplated putting out ads in magazines like that.
Jim: Tommy Hilfiger.
Mac: And in Spin, but it’s just so expensive. A quarter page was like $3,000 and that was the indie rate.
Todd: So, no household appliance sounds yet?
Jon: The vaporizer.
Todd: Okay, what keys do you have on your key chain right now? What are they to?
Jon: My house and the van.
Mac: I’ve got something totally different than that. The van and my house.
Laura: I have way too many keys.
Jim: Show them your key chain.
Laura: I don’t have it with me right now.
Mac: It’s like a janitor’s key chain.
Laura: I have the keys to the office, my house, the car keys—the ignition and the lock...
Jim: You’re way too anal.
Laura: The van key, the key to my mom’s house, the key to my laptop....
Jon: Why didn’t you bring them all with you?
Jim: I would lose it.
Laura: I know there’s more than that. One of them’s to my bike lock, which I never ride.
Jon: Why do you carry it around?
Mac: It’s gonna rip your belt loose from your pants.
Jim: I didn’t know what they were all for, but now I know.
Todd: I just took six keys off of this thing and it’s still... That’s like living’ in L.A. You have to lock everything down and have a guard dog.
Jon: You’ve gotta lock your guard dog?
Laura: Oh yeah, I also have a bottle opener on my key chain.
Todd: That’s essential.
Laura: Any self-respecting person in a rock band has to have a bottle opener.
Jim Ruland: I have four keys and I don’t know what they are for, but I’m afraid of throwing out keys.
Mac: You’ll realize when you need it.
Jim Ruland: Yeah, this is the key to the suitcase that’s locked inside the other suitcase that...
Todd: Have you ever stolen anything?
Mac: Yes. You mean today?
Todd: What was the most expensive thing you’ve ever stolen?
Mac: How about a van?
Jim: When I was in third grade I was part of the thieves club.
Jon: That’s a great story.
Jim: I’m not making this up. With Christopher Anderson, who is now in the army. He and I and a couple of other guys—we were in like the third grade—we’d stay after school and steal things from the library store room. Spools of wire. We got caught one day and I turned... .
Jon: And he turned schools evidence.
Jim: There was this guy, JefferyPark, who was this wimpy little guy who wore these thick glasses. Even in the third grade, we thought he was gay. So we stole someone’s watch. We volunteered to sweep the floor after school and we planted the watch in his desk.
Mac: Oh my god, that’s like something out of a movie.
Jim: So then, while we were sweeping—Jeff had claimed earlier in the day that his watch was missing—no, it wasn’t Jeff’s watch, it was this other kids’ watch that we stole. I can’t remember his name. There were all those desks, you know?
Todd: The kind that pop up?
Todd: Oh, the cubby holes?
Jim: Yes. And it was sitting right there. And, of course, at the time we thought we were real slick, but any adult: “We looked everywhere and it wasn’t there. Why would the kids steal it and just leave it right there?” So we got taken to the office.
Mac: Wait, how did they find out it was you?
Jim: It was so obvious that it was a bunch of kids picking on Jeff. I felt so guilty that I told.
Mac: You cracked. You told.
Jim: I had a similar situation at summer camp where we threw wet toilet paper in a kid’s face and we got caught. I admitted that I had been part of it. I didn’t know. I thought we were there for something else. And we’re all sitting there on a picnic table in the woods and my minister’s—who was my counselor—adopted son had gotten caught chasing two other campers, so he was getting yelled at by the counselors who caught us.
Jim Ruland: And you were part of this?
Jim: Yeah, but I didn’t know. I was just going along. Billy Pratt. The gutless wonder speaks. It’ll never happen again. I stole a candy bar one time. I was in a convenient store at night and I was kind of drunk and I was dying for some chocolate so I went in there and I picked it up and was like, “Ah, I left my money in the car.” And I went to the car and I was like, “I’m at the car but I still have the candy bar—okay.” I put it in my car and went and bought something else. My life’s crime.
Jim Ruland: For years I would steel Visine. Outrageous prices—that’s what it was. This was when I was a teacher. I’d get out of the shower and I’d be like, “Oh my God, there’s like two meteors in my eye sockets. I’ve got to do something about this.” I’d go to the convenient store and maybe I have a dollar and it’s like seven dollars.
Jim: So where’d you put it? In your pants pockets? How’d you steal it?
Jim Ruland: Oh yeah.
Mac: I think it’d be too easy. I think I’d be too scared. I did take a copy of Walk Among Us from a radio station one time because I played it and then someone who worked at the radio station complained that I was playing it. This was probably 1986 or something like that.
Jim: Why didn’t he want you playing it?
Mac: Because it was punk rock or something. So I was like, “I can’t buy this record anywhere and I’m not allowed to play it at the radio station so I’ll just take it home and play it there.” So I didn’t feel so bad when it came out on CD five years later. I bought a copy of Huckleberry Finn the first time I went to Disney World when I lived in Florida and I left it on a pinball machine. It was still in the bag and everything. Then I realized I had left it there and I went back to get it. Somebody else had already taken it. After that I was like, “Those assholes who take stuff when you leave it there.”
Laura: Actually, I stole some half and half just the other day. I went and got some coffee at the Taco Bell. We were parked at the gas station and they only had that powdered shit at the Taco Bell, so I walked over to the gas station.
Jim: Why’re you drinking coffee from a Taco Bell in the first place?
Laura: Because I’m in a band and I’m traveling. So I was walking out the door going, “Hmm, I didn’t buy this coffee here. I’m stealing this.”
Jim: Oh, you didn’t steel like a whole carton. That’s like steeling a napkin.
Jon: I think I stole a pack of chewing tobacco when I was eight.
Jim: When you were eight?
Todd: Was it flavored?
Jon: Red Man.
Todd: A taste of old America.
Jon: I just wanted to see what the fuss was all about.
Jim Ruland: My sister got caught shoplifting and she had to spend an entire Christmas at a mall wrapping presents.
Jim: Community service. I thought you were gonna say she spent an entire Christmas at the mall cleaning restrooms.
Jim Ruland: It was pretty funny because we were like, “Let’s do our Christmas shopping at this mall. Then our sister can wrap our presents.”
Jim: She’ll love it.
Jon: She can wrap her own presents.
Jim Ruland: Actually, that year she stole my present for her.
Jon: So what’s up with Stalag 13? Are they still around?
Todd: Yeah, they dropped the 13. They’re on Edge Records.
Jim: What’s that band we played with in Carmody?
Jim: No, no, no. We played with a metal band. It was the Mudhoney tour.
Jon: Lethal Weapon?
Todd: Legal Weapon.
Jim: Yeah, Legal Weapon. That’s Steve’s band. Steve, from firehose was the sound guy and was in that band. He was the sound guy. He was in it at the very end.
Laura: He was in that band?
Jon: His girlfriend was in that band.
Jim: The singer? What was her name?
Jon: It was like a stage name. Like Lucy Lawless.
Todd: Kat Arthur.
Mac: Is there any L.A. punk that hasn’t been re-issued that you think should be re-issued? A lot of Dangerhouse stuff got re-issued, right?
Todd: I wouldn’t mind seeing the Weasels get re-issued.
Mac: “Beat Me with a Rake?”
Todd: You got it—that’s the one.
Jon: The Mau Maus?
Todd: They’re still around. The Mau Maus have kind of like—this is weird—fractured into the Homebillies and their main feature instrument is the ukulele. I shit you not.
Jim: Who’s the best band from L.A. now? It doesn’t have to be a punk band—whatever.
Todd: Fuck. That’s a tough one.
Jim: There is none. There is no L.A. It’s a West Coast musical with the same old drive.
Jim Ruland: We saw the Descendents in the middle of this summer and that rocked.
Jim: I think they’re great. The best bands in L.A. are the ones that have been around that long.
Jim Ruland: Have you seen Sugar Ray? They are awful.
Jim: We played with Sugar Ray. We played with them in Toulouse, France.
Jon: They opened with “Sergeant Hulka.”
Jim: I don’t like them at all but I got a kick out of the fact that they would just come off stage and go back on for an encore and be like, “You have no idea who we are.” And it was true.
Jim Ruland: Probably the Fixtures. Wouldn’t you say Todd?
Todd: The Fixtures. They’ve been around for ten years. My favorite L.A. band.
Jim: I’m surprised to see that the Geraldine Fibbers are playing a huge place. Are they really big?
Todd: No, but they’re being pushed.
Jim Ruland: What’s the best Flipside band?
Jim: I like the Red Aunts.
Todd: Mine would be Sluts For Hire or The Crowd. It’s a tie.
Jim: Bulimia Banquet?
Todd: They’ve broken up and become Bobsled.
Jim: Who is the Germs drummer. Is he in that band?
Jon: This isn’t an interview.
Todd: Okay, here’s an interview question. What’s your favorite type of shoes?
Jim: Talk to the shoe lady.
Laura: Blundstones. They’re Australian. I’ve had these for probably six years and I wear them every day. They’ve never been re-soled.
Jim: Crocodile Dundee-wear.
Laura: They’re really great.
Todd: Red Wings are very good shoes.
Jim: I like canvas shoes. I don’t know what I get. None of them last very long.
Laura: I like new shoes. I don’t care what they are.
Jim: As long as they’re new.
Laura: I have a lot of shoes.
Todd: How many shoes do you have?
Laura: I don’t know. I have never counted.
Todd: Is your middle name Amelda?
Laura: Yes, it is.
Jim: How many shoes did you bring on tour?
Laura: Five. And I bought another pair on tour.
Todd: Do you have any lime ones? Any purple-colored ones?
Laura: I have sort of reddish/wine sort of ones. The thing is, this is the first time that I’ve brought this many on tour. Usually, I bring two pairs.
Todd: Why so many shoes?
Laura: There’s room in the van. I have all these shoes and I never get to wear them. I’m gonna bring them, so maybe I’ll wear ‘em.
Todd: Is there any element that you can trace down to Superchunk—if that element was taken out, it would no longer be that? Do you need four members?
Jon: I think so.
Laura: At this point, I feel like we do.
Jim: Except for the drums.
Jim Ruland: I think that should be the title for your next album. Except the Drums.
Laura: Jim has all the crucial hooks. Jim is the MC. I just like to look and laugh, watching you guys in sync and playing. You guys just make fun of me ‘cause I’m not into rock and roll.
Jim Ruland: Plus, you’re the anti-heckler.
Jon: He is.
Jim: Oh, I’m a heckler. I heckle the crowd when I’m on stage and I heckle the band when I’m in the crowd and it’s all the beer. It’s all the beer talking. I’m usually a very shy person—except in those times. I’m what they call Too Shy, High—Hush Hush Bye Bye.
Todd: Eye To Eye.
Jon: Hush Hush Goo Goo is me.
Jim Ruland: I know this is like your only night off in five weeks. That’s a pretty grueling schedule, so thanks for hanging out with us. That’s cool.
Jim: Sure. You just brought all of this alcohol.
Todd: We would have drunk it without you.
Jon: Fourteen years ago, I was sitting in my house in Philadelphia eating frozen pizza and reading about Decry in Flipside.
Todd: It comes full circle.
Jon: I worked in a record store in ‘87 or ‘88 and this woman called up one day and said, “Do you have any information on a band called The Vandals?” and I said, “Well, I know they’re from Los Angeles.” and she said, “Well, they played here last night and my daughter ran off with them.”
Todd: So Laura, what can you go on at length that we can zone out to?
Todd: No hobbies?
Jim: Laura is a very interesting person, but she’s very shy.
Jon: Benicio Del Toro.
Jim: She can go on about any film.
Laura: No, I don’t go on in any length.
Jim Ruland: Did you see the film with Richard Silverstone?
Laura: Yeah. I didn’t realize I liked him so much until I saw him in that.
Jim: She’s seen it twice and it’s only been out for three weeks.
Jim Ruland: I thought he was pretty slick in Usual Suspects.
Laura: He kicked ass.
Jim Ruland: He’s the first guy to die and you kind of wish it was the comedian.
Laura: In most of that movie, I had no idea of what he was saying.
Jim Ruland: It was the gangster who dies first, so he fucks up everything he says on purpose to distinguish himself. He kind of endures himself to the audience.
Jim: He does that in Basquiat, too.
Jim Ruland: I didn’t know he was in that.
Laura: After I saw that, I went and had my own little weekend film festival.
Jim: The first annual.
Mac: We have computers at Merge and Laura always complains about people going on the internet. The only time I’ve ever seen Laura on the internet—I walked in today and she was at the Benicio del Toro web site. I’ve never seen her go to any other website ever.
Laura: I haven’t. That’s the only one I’ve ever gone to.
Jim Ruland: Three months from now, she’ll be the main contributor at that website. Laura’s Benicio chat room. I told her yesterday—“You seen him without the make-up?”
Laura: No, there’s something about his whole fucking...
Jim: When he takes those false teeth out he looks totally different. I always thought he looked like Nate Kato (Urge Overkill).
Jim Ruland: I do the same thing with VeronicaLake. I rented This Gun for Hire and kept it for about nine days.
Todd: And you maturated.
Jim Ruland: I maturated. My girlfriend, at the time, was out of town and I just watched it and watched it and watched it and I went to the library and found all of these pictures and hung them up in my room.
Jon: What else you got?
Todd: Can you explain curling to me?
Jon: Yeah, curling on a Saturday night. A very good friend of my girlfriends’ father is a curler. I guess you shoot the thing down the ice and then you—somehow I guess the sweeping—you sweep in front of it to get it going on the ice. It clears the path of all the crud. In the rule book, it is crud—ice crud. It’s like shuffleboard.
Jim: The dumbest sport on the planet, but it’s built into the environment in the north. Like you drink your beer and you curl.
Jim Ruland: I heard Superchunk before—in the last couple of years...
Jon: And were into it!
Jim Ruland: …I was driving across the state, West Virginia, leaving it for the last time. I was moving to California and I haven’t been back since. I knew I was leaving south West Virginia and somewhere around James Madison I picked up an alternative radio station and heard an entire album of Superchunk. It was incredible. It was like that whole leaving one place and going to another. I was like cracked in half with nostalgia but couldn’t wait for the next mile to pass. That, still today, is what I continue to feed off of Superchunk.
Mac: What album was it? Do you know?
Jim Ruland: I have no idea.
Jon: And then you bought the record and it was actually the Supersuckers.
Jim Ruland: I’m not one of these home nerds who’s gonna say, “How come track number three is different on this...?”
Mac: You’ve got a more real appreciation of it.
Jim Ruland: I don’t know about all that stuff, but I can’t listen to you when I’m hungover ‘cause I just feel like something is gonna come loose—like something awful. Something...
Jim Ruland: People ask questions like, “What’s with all the boos and the regret and the awful finger pointing of what might have been that goes on in the music?”
Jim: That just makes it interesting.
Jim Ruland: Exactly.
Mac: We’re just a bunch of drama queens.
Jim Ruland: But it’s like an anti-drama queen thing. If I could pinpoint Superchunk as that feeling—it’s not the really crappy drums… [Laughter]
Jon: It’s the perfect time to break right here.
Jim Ruland: But I still get that. Like the last song on the new album. There’s so many unanswered questions in that song. There’s so much that I want to know. Like what happened?
Laura: But you don’t want to know. If you knew the whole story, it would change the song for you.
Jim: The first time—when he was playing the song, I was weeping because we had written the music and he was singing the lyrics and I knew what it was about.
Jim Ruland: Tell us the story.
Mac: It’s about a friend of ours who died in a car accident a year ago. Not even a year ago.
Jim: On Easter.
Laura: No, it was about three days before.
Jim Ruland: It’s like the April Fools’ dream—like the really bad joke.
Mac: Yeah, because I had a dream that it wasn’t true. I had a dream that it was like an April Fools’ joke. But it was still true when I woke up.
Jim Ruland: Wow.
Mac: Now you know. Now it’s even worse.
Jim Ruland: You guys have been around for so long, it feels like you should be given your props everywhere you go.
Jim: One day we will. Some of it feels like we do and some of it feels like we don’t.
Mac: I just don’t think we signed something.
Jim: We just want to be signed to a major label.
Jon: We just can’t get signed. It’s weird.
Jim Ruland: Well, keep making’ records.
Jim: Thank you. Thanks for the interview.
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This Razorcake ebook is made possible in part by grants from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs and is supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles Arts Commission.
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