For devotees of the veteran North Carolina band, any word of a Superchunk show is reason enough to brave festival crowds: 'Chunk shows are beyond rare these days, and their trademark explosive superawesomeness has not wilted one iota through the years.
Bassist Laura Ballance is a mom now; she still paints (much of Superchunk's album artwork? Hers). Mac McCaughan is insanely busy heading indie label Merge Records and records as Portastatic along with bassist Jim Wilbur.
Inspiring and amazing humans, all—particularly Jon Wurster, who in the past decade-plus has done much more than drum with Superchunk, the Mountain Goats, Bob Mould, Marah, Bob Pollard/Guided by Voices, the New Pornographers, Jay Farrar, and others. He's created, alongside writer and radio god Tom Scharpling, a sprawling universe of interrelated characters on the smartest (only?) long-form radio comedy show out there today, The Best Show on WFMU. Scharpling is the straight man; Wurster plays outrageously self-unaware characters ranging from faux-hippie Hippy Johnny (who sells "farm-fresh" drain cleaner) to evil pharmaceutical CEO Maurice Kern (maker of "Chocolageddon," a weight-loss product which may or may not cause one to spontaneously erupt with worms) to hopeless stoner Brice (who lives in a lean-to against fictional Newbridge, New Jersey's fictional Radio Hut). The saga is breathtakingly complex and brilliantly silly. The Stranger got a few minutes to chat with Wurster as he took a much-needed break from his training (he's gearing up for a semiprofessional eating contest, no joke).
You once said, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." Why would you need two? Were you thinking of getting revenge on two people?
No. It's one for that person and one for yourself.
Why would you need one for yourself?
If you're out for revenge, you're also hurting yourself... revenge is always a bad idea, and I didn't say that, actually. It's a famous quote from—
From you! You said that.
No, I don't think so.
Hmm. Anyway, you and Tom Scharpling have been working on a new show?
Yeah, we had this show that we sold, but unfortunately it was literally two weeks before the writers strike happened, which was pretty unexpected and kind of killed that. We've regrouped and are back on track now.
You've written for Adult Swim's Squidbillies, Tom Goes to the Mayor, and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, as well as USA's Monk, where Scharpling also writes. Have you been working on any episodes lately?
With Squidbillies, I assume they're doing another season, but I'm not sure if it's been finalized. Tom and I are working on a book idea, as well as some visual stuff—we're maybe not doing a CD for a while. [Ed. Note: Scharpling and Wurster have released five albums of comedy culled from the Best Show on their label Stereolaffs.]
Visual stuff, like you paint your body and then jump on a canvas?
Like visual versions of the bits, animated. It's two guys—have you seen Rambocky? The guys who made that are working with us. [Again, Ed. Note: Rambocky is an animated short involving another of Wurster's characters, Philly Boy Roy, here playing a bizarre combination of Rambo and Rocky, coached by Patton Oswalt.]
I saw that Mountain Goats are on the road this fall [in Seattle on October 20 at Showbox at the Market], and you're going to be at a place called the Tequila Jungle in Lubbock, Texas, for your birthday, which is on Halloween. Yikes!
Ohhh, awww, eesh, I didn't know it was that. Wow. Well, hopefully it'll be as good as the last time I was in Lubbock, which was about five months before I joined Superchunk. I was playing in a band from Winston-Salem, and we were driving across the country to play in L.A. It was early 1991, and our first show was in Atlanta, and, of course, the next show was in Lubbock.
Right? So we drove—it must've taken at least two days. Odd fact: The guitar player in the band has now become the lead guitar player in John Cougar Mellencamp's band for the last probably 12 or 13 years. So, we pull up to Lubbock, to the venue, which is like an outdoor patio, and [the promoter] goes, "Guys, sorry, it's going to rain, so we've canceled the show, but I've got some good news—we've got you all on the guest list for the Dread Zeppelin show I'm putting on across town!" Ughhh. Weirdly, I think this'll be the third or fourth or fifth time the Mountain Goats have played there.
I remember the "tuna potato" [which was exactly what it sounds like] from the excellent Superchunk documentary Crowding Up Your Visual Field. Aside from that, what was the worst tour food in the band's history?
Luckily, I didn't have to eat that. That was Mac's. It was the only vegetarian fare, which... it isn't vegetarian. It was at a place called King Tut's in Glasgow—haven't seen anything like it since. That place was also where Oasis were discovered by Alan McGee. Can you believe it?
I had no idea.
Yes. It's where rock music began. The beginnings of rock music. I believe it was nineteen-ninety... two.
Have you ever had Dick's?
Have I ever what?
Dick's cheeseburgers! You know, as immortalized by Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Posse on Broadway," wherein Mix and his crew are cruising Broadway here in Seattle, and they stop at Dick's, and one of the dudes in his crew is so rich that he drops a $20 in front of the place and doesn't even stop to pick it up?
Oh my god, I don't think that I've ever, ever been there.
Has Superchunk played Bumbershoot before?
No. I've only ever played it once, and it was actually my first-ever show playing drums in the Minus Five. We opened for Wilco. It was my first show with them, in this huge football stadium, which was frightening.
You're playing that same football stadium this Bumbershoot. Are you frightened?
Well, I know these songs, so things will be better. We actually haven't played Seattle since October of 2001—that's a little tidbit. It was a tour for our last record. It was at the Crocodile, with one of the many bands that opened for us who've gone on to dwarf us in popularity, Rilo Kiley. I think they did the hell drive from Seattle to Minneapolis, too—it was their last show with us. Then they went to Omaha, which is where it all went down for them. I'm just riffing, actually, I don't know what happened to them in Omaha.
Only they know.
We are actually doing a warm-up show in Chapel Hill. A friend of ours got diagnosed with a brain tumor, super young, 33... but, he's very healthy and if anyone can beat it, he can. So, a bunch of people are playing benefits. We're doing one. Polvo's doing one. Ours is on the 29th. I do have some songs to learn for that—we're taking requests at $100 each, so we're learning songs we never really played, like stuff that barely made it on albums. It will be our first show since the Obama thing.
Do you think you'll be playing at any more Obama rallies as the year goes on?
You know, not really. Just speaking for myself, I'm pretty booked up between these things—the Mould dates, the Mountain Goats dates, the show....