MAC McCAUGHAN is living the indie rock dream. His band Superchunk has just released its 10th full-length, I Hate Music. He's curator and co-owner—along with Laura Ballance, Superchunk's bassist—of Merge Records, a label that began as a vanity imprint and has since transformed into a formidable indie enterprise and home to some of the most successful and critically lauded rock bands of the last decade, including Spoon and Arcade Fire. Subsequently, McCaughan can comfortably bankroll his own musical exploits without doing what any music enthusiast might consider "work."
Apparently, it's taken a toll.
"There are times now when I actually feel like I do hate music," says McCaughan, with a laugh. "I think there are moments when, even if music is central to your life, or maybe especially if music is central to your life, you just can't do it anymore, or you're burnt out by the constant input. When you're young, you have a set of records that can solve, or augment, any mood you're in, but you get to a point where that just doesn't work anymore. The main solution to all of your problems has stopped working, so then what?"
I Hate Music grapples with the concept of disenchantment—musical and otherwise—consistently throughout. "I hate music, what is it worth?/Can't bring anyone back to this earth," bemoans McCaughan in the catchiest song on the record and probably the closest thing there is to a title track, the Cheap Trick-ish "Me & You & Jackie Mittoo." Elsewhere, as in the quintessentially Superchunky "FOH," McCaughan alludes to the banality of the rock-band routine, and album closer "What Can We Do" seems like a reckoning with getting older and the countless insecurities it brings.
All in all, I Hate Music might be Superchunk's darkest album yet, especially when contrasted with 2010's Majesty Shredding, a record that oozed dewy-eyed ebullience from every note. The more subdued approach to production—McCaughan's vocals are at the front of the mix, and the amps have gone down from an 11 to at the very most a 6—reflects its thematic essence perfectly. If Shredding was a sonic distillation of everything fans loved about early, frenetic Superchunk, then I Hate Music references the group's more temperate, but equally brilliant, late '90s records like Indoor Living and Come Pick Me Up.
As with Shredding, the writing and recording process for I Hate Music was more leisurely and less concentrated than the intensely democratic, sleepover-in-a-studio method the group employed in the early days. (Fan favorite On the Mouth was allegedly recorded in less than a week's time.)
"Nobody wants to go camp out in Boston, or Bloomington, or Chicago, and make a record anymore," says McCaughan. "We don't have the time or inclination to write songs the way we used to, which was getting together for 20 hours a week in a practice space and hashing things out democratically. So really, now the process is: I write songs and send demos to other people, and we learn a few songs before going into the studio, and then record the basic tracks live, and I later finish them on my own."
In spite of the group's less unified approach to recording, I Hate Music—like every Superchunk record that precedes it—feels effortless and live, and suggests a tenacious chemistry between four people who possess a profound musical familiarity with one another.
But what about all that "hating music" stuff? I ask McCaughan how he's able to stay inspired in spite of his admitted musical malaise. "It's a passing feeling," he says. "I don't think it's a jaded perspective as much as it is an evolving relationship with music."
As I Hate Music indicates, McCaughan has managed to convert these feelings into an interesting premise for songwriting. "Music is still a huge part of my life and career, and I can't change that," he says. "I still put on a record when I get home." Probably whether he likes it or not.