Interview: Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan on New LP, ‘Wild Loneliness’

Superchunk’s latest, Wild Loneliness, seems like a pretty accurate snapshot of life during the global pandemic. Songs like the first single, “Endless Summer,” appear to be spot-on descriptions of 2020, when you could go days without leaving your house. But that’s not really case here.   

Well, now it sounds like it’s about being stuck at home all the time, or remote school or something,” says Mac McCaughan, singer, guitarist, and band co-founder.  “But it’s about the disorienting feeling of waking up on New Year’s Day, and it’s 70 degrees outside, and instead of having a bonfire or something, everyone is wearing short sleeve t-shirts.” 

Like many of Superchunk’s songs over the past three decades, the lyrics may be coming from a personal perspective but still have a remarkably relatable quality about them. 

I started writing a couple months before everything shut down in early 2020,” McCaughan says. “After What A Time To Be Alive touring, we had released Acoustic Foolish and done a few acoustic shows playing that album. Those shows were really fun, and recording that acoustic album live in the studio was cool, so I started writing songs that would lend themselves to that treatment. But I assumed we would record in a studio when the time came, not the studio in my basement!” 

Wild Loneliness comes out on the band’s own label, Merge Records, on February 25. 

Aside from “Endless Summer,” there are a couple of other songs, “City Of The Dead” and “Wild Loneliness” in particular, that seem to have obvious references to life during the pandemic… even if that’s not the case. 

We don’t want to make records that are too attached to the date they came out, and the intention was definitely not to make a record that’s about the pandemic, but yeah, even some of the songs that seem pandemic-related were written before anyone had heard of COVID-19—including “City Of the Dead.” The ‘cover your face’ line is referring to the Hong Kong protests.” 

Song themes aside, COVID did have an affect on the way this album was recorded, with each member recording their parts separately for the most part.  

“It was actually fun because I got to see Jim (Wilbur) and Jon (Wurster) when they came over to record their parts in my basement,” McCaughan says. “I sent everyone demos to hear in advance and then Jim would come over. I’d have an amp mic’d up, and he’d stand across the room, or Jon would sit behind his drums, and I’d sit ten feet away. We’d both be wearing masks, I was running the Pro Tools, and he was doing his takes, and then we’d decide as we went what takes we liked best. Laura (Balance) and I went over songs via Zoom occasionally, but mostly she would randomly email to say there was a new bass track in the Dropbox.” 

McCaughan would then put it all together and make mixes. Wally Gagel would them make the final mixes for the record. “(He’d) work his magic and make it sound not like we recorded it in my basement.” 

Along with the band’s traditional line-up, they brought in a lot of guests to help out on the record, including Sharon Van Etten, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Franklin Bruno, and Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura. 

“Most of those things were decisions made during the process of recording,” McCaughan says. “Like, a song gets to a certain point, and you think, ‘It’s missing something,’ and then I just listen over and over to the rough mixes trying to figure out what that thing might be. We are lucky to have been able to rope so many incredibly talented peers into adding their magic to this record!” 

Aside from working on the latest Superchunk record, McCaughan still found plenty of time to work on other music projects during his time in quarantine. 

“In addition to working on Merge releases, I recorded a film score (Moxie on Netflix), edited and self-released a live album (AVL) that Mary Lattimore and I recorded on a tour we did the year before, and made my solo album (The Sound of Yourself) which came out in September. So, keeping busy!” 

Watch the lyric video for “This Night” here:

For more from Superchunk, find them on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Superchunk and Greg Jacobs

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