Long before Supergrass and Super Furry Animals made it big, North Carolina's Superchunk were leading the way, says Tim Perry
It has been six years since Nirvana's Nevermind exploded and the slow- LOUD-slow Seattle formula signalled the end of 1980s pomp rock. At the same time, some 3,000 miles east in a North Carolina college town, an even fresher, hook-laden punk sound was happening. Superchunk on the back of the anthemic "Slack Motherf**ker" single and the No Pocky for Kitty album pumped out an energy and enthusiasm that still stands up today. It's not that inconceivable that if some A&R executive had read their map differently then Superchunk and others of their ilk would have been household names.
When that point is put to Laura Ballance, Superchunk's bass-player, she pauses before saying, "I kinda thought about it but it really could never have happened to us because of the way we go about doing things. To get that big needs exposure and a lot of money. We've never had that behind us, and I don't know that I'd have wanted it."
The Superchunk way of doing things is self-reliance and perseverance. Their story is very much intermingled with that of the Merge indie label that Ballance and vocalist/guitarist "Mac" McCaughan started in spring 1989. The label, the early Superchunk recordings, and their frenetic live shows helped to build a scene around their home base of Chapel Hill (population 40,000). Archers of Loaf, among others, also come from here, while Sonic Youth gave a nod to the place with a track called "Chapel Hill". "Yeah, maybe we helped to draw attention to Chapel Hill initially, though it takes more than one band to do that and Polvo were doing some good stuff." Another influence Ballance and company seem to have had is the number of bands around these days with the prefix Super (-grass, -Furry Animals etc).
While Superchunk maintained credibility and audiences in the US, this nation's press turned on them in the "Brit-pap" days. Once again with their sixth studio album, Indoor Living, and a cracking video starring cult actress Janeane Garafolo from the Larry Sanders Show, the band are very much back in vogue.
Indoor Living maintains the same fine melt of punk, hardcore and extreme pop, but possesses a more melodic edge with singer Mac McCaughan admitting, "I've actually been trying to sing," meaning that some of the abrasion from his wild scream has been toned down. Piano, organ vibes and other "new" instruments help broaden the sound.
"Ha, we've come a long way from No Pocky," laughs Ballance. "It's going down well live, even though it's not as hyper and people are not jumping around as much. But I don't mind as I get nervous when kids get really physical in case people get hurt." It's still a cert though that their only UK gig will be more lively than most this week.
Superchunk: The Garage, Highbury Corner, N5 (0171-344 0044) 4 Dec
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