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Indie vets show theory of evolution



Since forming in 1989, Superchunk have toured and recorded relentlessly, weathered personnel changes, formed their own successful indie label and evolved from a decent punk-rock outfit into one of the indie world's most assured purveyors of sunny guitar-pop. Frontman Mac McCaughan is refreshingly matter-of-fact regarding the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based band's progress.

"When we first started out as a band we were still learning how to write songs," he says. "Naturally, we gravitated to what was easiest, and frankly a three-chord punk-rock song is easier to write and perform than, say, a Beach Boys-y pop song."

McCaughan says that as the band members -- bassist and co-founder Laura Ballance, guitarist James Wilbur and drummer Jon Wurster -- have become more experienced songwriters, they've grown more willing to take risks. As proof, McCaughan cites the prominence of synthesizer, organ and Mellotron on their current album, "Indoor Living." "We had used all those instruments on other albums but chickened out and put them pretty low in the final mixes," he says. "On "Indoor Living," we felt like they worked incredibly well with the songs and made a conscious decision to mix them in loud."

They're currently touring in preparation for their next album. "We've written new songs and we want to tweak them, road-test 'em a little bit," says McCaughan. But he assures that their live set won't be filled with unfamiliar material: "I absolutely promise we're not going to do sets of new stuff and nothing else. We all hate when bands do that. It's so selfish."

This down-to-earth attitude extends to the label they created, Merge Records. Founded as a home for Superchunk's first singles, Merge's roster now consists of such indie stars as Neutral Milk Hotel, Lambchop and Magnetic Fields. In choosing which bands to sign, McCaughan and Ballance have always focused on one quality: "Do we like it? That's pretty much how we make our decisions. Laura and I really, really like all our bands. I guess if Merge has an identity, that's it: bands we like. It's worked so far."

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