The members of Superchunk agree that probably the best thing abouth their perch atop the shitpile of indie rock is that they ear better. They used to have five dollars a day to spend on Taco Bell while touring. Now, when they ask locals for a good restaurant, "Some kid goes, 'Well, there's a really cheap taco place . . .'" says singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan. "And we say no, no, no--where's a gooood restaurant?"
But they work hard for the money. Superchunk has spent the past five years sending whole rock clubs into pogoing frenzies with anthemic but altogether unhokey songs. Its raucous punk-pop is infused with an energy that feels authentically preteen, like kids on their first free day after being grounded for the weekend. The band tours incessantly, and will be on the road again soon, riding the waves sure to be caused by their new album, Foolish. "Like pirates out on the high seas!" says drummer Jon Wurster. "People who enjoy touring desrve it," retorts guitarist Jim Wilbur. They still complain, even though they have less to complain about.
Foolish isn't as speedy as previous releases, it's denser. There's a certain resignation to the way the songs build and ride plateaus, then resolve. As Laura Ballance (who everybody knows is the superfoxy bass player) says, "It's got mood." That mood might have something to do with Ballance and McCaughan's personal relationship going from romantic to platonic in the last year. Ballance confesses to feeling "a little more vulnerable now" onstage, but both she and McCaughn agree that the mood change has more to do with the fans, not the band's performance. "No one's really thinking, 'Too bad she's got a boyfriend,'" says McCaughn. "They're thinking, 'Wow, look at Laura rock out.'"
In these times of major-label co-optation, Foolish comes out on McCaughan and Ballance's own label, Merge Records (P.O Bos 1235, Chapel Hill, NC 27514)--evidence that despite their ascent to indie-rock royalty status, they maintain proletarian taste in the face of the spoon-feeding major-label buffet. They don't feel obligated to stay indie for philosophical reasons, but they do have a vested interest in preserving the structure. McCaughan explains: "It's important that there's some kind of network not involved with the larger network, regardless if, at this point, we could sign to Geffen and make the same record we'd make anyway. There might be a point when we couldn't, and we'd wish there was another system to fall back on." Still, Superchunk won't shudder the indie-rock burden. "People send us letters that say, 'Whatever you do, don't sign to a major,'" says McCaughan. "We're not doing that, but that's no the point." "It's a band," adds Wurster. "It doesn't have anything to do with the scene."