An Interview with Superchunk Guitarist Jim Wilbur
by John Noyd
Jim Wilbur of Superchunk
Formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1989, Superchunk has maintained the same line-up since 1991, releasing heartfelt high-velocity indie-rock over the course of eight albums before taking a hiatus in 2001. Returning from their various side-projects in 2010, the band currently finds itself promoting their tenth full-length, “I Hate Music,” without their original bassist Laura Ballance, whose hearing issues has made her participation in their volcanic live shows untenable. In anticipation of playing Madison’s 2014 FRZN Fest January 19th, Superchunk’s Jim Wilbur was kind enough to answer a few questions via email.
MAXIMUM INK: Superchunk’s guitar sound has been an influential force for years, what guitarists do you admire and are there any guitarists/bands playing today you find particularly interesting?
Jim Wilbur: Thanks for the compliment. Let me say first of all that I am a completely un-trained guitarist, never had a lesson. I bought my first guitar (a crappy off-brand acoustic) when I was a senior in high school after listening to the Minutemen’s “Double Nickels on the Dime”. I had a little pamphlet with some basic chord diagrams and that was that. I usually tell people I perform with a guitar - rather than say I play a guitar. So… basically I admire anyone who can ACTUALLY play the damn things, especially people who seem to play intuitively.
MI: After so many years together Superchunk seems more like a family than a band, how would you describe the group dynamics and what do you feel are your responsibilities in the band?
JW: You’re right. I think we are more like a family at this point, that, or maybe a gang. We all know how to deal with one another, where each other’s toes are and ways to avoid stepping on them. As far as my responsibilities go, hmmm… back in the 90’s I did most of the driving, but I don’t suppose that is what you mean. I think the most important thing for each of us is to be respectful of one another and allow each other the space to live inside the group. That may sound a little New Agey. When we are arranging/writing songs we all have to figure out how to complement one another and not step on each other’s parts. I’m talking musically here - but the same goes for the personal relationships we share with one another.
MI: The band seems happy to tour, I’ve always wondered, how does it get decided who gets to choose the music in the van?
JW: Back in the day the rule was “Driver picks the tape”. Since I drove about 90% of the time, that meant the band had to sit through my homemade mix-tapes of Def Leppard, Squeeze, The Verlaines and various hardcore punk bands. These days everyone is plugged into their own little worlds. Everyone but me, that is. I don’t really like listening to music in moving vehicles. Mostly I just sit there and ask questions of my band mates that go unanswered because they can’t hear me. Ha.
MI: Obviously there has to be a difference not having Laura touring with you on bass for this tour, what’s the band’s history with her stand-in Jason?
JW: We’ve know Jason for years. Jon has played with him in Bob Pollard’s band as well as Bob Mould’s trio. He’s a smashing fellow and a quick study. I’m reminded of our first practice with him. We ran through “Slack Motherfucker” and after the chorus we stopped because the bass sounded weird. Mac, Jon and I were sure he was playing the wrong notes. So we sent a quick email to Laura who was at her desk in the Merge office asking what she played at that point in the song. While waiting for a reply we listened to the song on YouTube and sure enough, Jason was right. I think we never heard the song properly since we usually play it at the end of a set when some of us might have had a little too much beer!
MI: The energy your guitar provides is enormous. Is there a warm-up routine you employ before a show or do you just plug and play?
JW: Mac and I just plug in and play.. Mac will do vocal warm-ups that sound like he’s making farting noises with his lips. Jon will warm up by playing paradiddles on sofa arms or chair-backs. If I’m sitting too close to him he’ll use my calves and feet
CD: I Hate Music Record Label: Merge
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