Published Aug 20, 2013As Superchunk celebrate today's release of I Hate Music, their 10th studio album, drummer Jon Wurster reveals that the band seriously considered breaking up after co-founder/bassist Laura Ballance developed a hearing issue that's precluding her from touring with the band indefinitely.
When asked if he thought Superchunk should stop without Ballance, Wurster replies, "Oh yeah, probably more on my end than the other guys. I like seeing the four people you like to see, know what I mean? But that doesn't mean it has to be the end of the band."
In mid-May, Ballance announced that she was suffering from hyperacusis, a debilitating form of hearing loss that has taken her off the road but keeps her in the band as a writing/recording member. For Superchunk's upcoming tour dates, Jason Narducy, a Wurster crony from their time in Bob Mould's band, is on bass.
Before their upcoming tour, Superchunk only played one show in their new live configuration. It happened to be in Calgary this past June, at one of the last Sled Island sets before the fest was shut down due to flooding. Wurster says the band got in and out of town relatively unscathed (their show was moved to a different venue at the last minute) and that things felt good onstage.
"It's interesting because I'm so much more used to seeing Jason onstage to my right than Laura at this point," Wurster explains. "For me, it's not unusual at all but I'm sure for [singer/guitarist] Mac [McCaughan] and [guitar player] Jim [Wilbur] it is. Of course, it is for me in that I've been playing these songs that I've played with Laura for 20 years and someone else is playing them. That part is unusual for me, but musically, I think it's great.
"I don't think any of us have any worries about that end of things at all. I know it's gonna be weird for people who have followed the band forever to see it from out front but that's how it is."
Wurster adds that once Narducy settled in, the band felt compelled to tour behind I Hate Music because they were so proud of the record.
"I think sonically and performance-wise, these last two are our best records just because we had more time to do them."
Plus, Wurster adds, "Scott Solter, who produced all of Majesty Shredding and most of the new one, would ride us a little more than previous producers in getting the best takes we could do and I think it shows.
"All throughout those first eight records, you didn't have any money and so you just did them as fast as you could and it was just a race to get 'em done. There's a record in particular, [1999's Jim O'Rourke-produced] Come Pick Me Up, which I think is one of our best records in terms of songs, but I think got lost in the race to get it done. I would love to hear a remix of that record. But now, we're able to spend more time on the records and get better performances, and I think that leads to a much better record."
As supercharged as most of I Hate Music is, there's an edgy tension to a lot of the songs that Wurster says stems from sadness within the band's camp.
"What I know of the impetus for the songs is the loss of a good friend of the band, David Doernberg," he says. "He was one of our first T-shirt sellers in the early '90s, and he was such a good friend. He went on to become a successful set designer on movies and he passed on about a year and a half ago. That informs a lot of the songs and maybe accounts for the darker side of the album."
"But," adds Wurster, "musically, it's what we're best at: the melodic, yet raging cacophonous rock."
Listen to the rest of this conversation with Jon Wurster on the Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna podcast.
I Hate Music is out now on Merge Records.