After nearly a decade-long hiatus leading up to 2010’s “Majesty Shredding,” indie rock stalwarts Superchunk have bounced back much more quickly with their 10th release, “I Hate Music.”
“We’ve never broken up,” notes bassist and founding member Laura Ballance from the Merge Record headquarters in Chapel Hill. “We knew we wanted to keep playing. We knew once we had a break that we’d probably want to make records again. When we did ‘Majesty Shredding’ it was very much of a ‘we’ll do this and see how it goes’ situation. Who knows? Maybe it would be another 10 years before we made a record — and maybe not. It depends on how much fun we have.”
But along with the fun came sadness. The new album’s ominous title, “I Hate Music,” doesn’t reflect any aging angst or irony. Music has long been an all-encompassing part of the band’s life. Besides playing in Superchunk, Ballance, and lead singer Mac McCaughan, own Merge records, one of the most influential and successful independent record labels of all time. Instead, the title reflects the inability of music to stop life’s tragedies. The record is a tip of the hat and bowing of the head to friend and film production designer David Doernberg, who passed away last year.
“This record is very much about our friend Dave,” says Ballance solemnly. “If you listen to the lyrics in that song [‘Me & You & Jackie Mattoo’], it’s interpreting this frustration. Music has been this huge part of our lives and it’s so important to us, but really, what is it worth? People need music and music does have a lot of value, but it can’t change the physical reality of somebody dying.”
With a lyrical focus more mellowed and mature, McCaughan’s nasally nostalgic songs are often travelogues and reverent references to shows and people along the way. And while the subject matter may be heavy, the instrumentation is even heftier with towering guitars, searing solos and the powerful punishment of the drum kit that have long defined the Superchunk sound.
There is one thing that will be noticeably different on this tour, however. After nearly 25 years, Ballance will be sitting out her first ever shows due to hyperacusis, an oversensitivity of the eardrum related to hearing loss. Joining the band on the road will be bassist Jason Narducy.
“I started to notice my ears ringing ages ago,” Ballance notes. “Probably as soon as we started playing together. But I have noticed that my hearing is getting progressively worse. I realized that I was having an increasingly difficult time hearing people who are talking to me. I realized that I want to be able to hear my daughter and hear my grandchildren. I was not doing the right things to make that happen. I love playing for people, but I’ve done it and I’ve done it for 25 years. I think I’ve fulfilled my promise. I don’t want to limit what [the band] can do because I need to limit what I can do. I have been really worried that I was going to be really upset and sad about them playing without me. But I didn’ get upset. I felt liberated. I felt like I had done the right thing.”