Wild Loneliness

Wild Loneliness

Over the course of a career spanning more than three decades, Superchunk has served as a model for how to age and rage gracefully in punk, as they’ve continued to expand their musical palette and deliver sage-like lyrical wisdom without ever losing their agitated, pogo-ready essence. That latter quality resurfaced with a vengeance on 2018’s raucous Trump-era address What a Time to Be Alive, but Wild Loneliness channels its climate-change and pandemic anxieties into more meditative, cautiously optimistic modes of expression. Not that this shift should come as a huge shock: In between the two albums, the North Carolina veterans (and Merge Records founders) recorded an unplugged version of their 1994 indie-rock classic Foolish, and its relaxed feel and earthy tones illuminated the path to Wild Loneliness’ congenial jangle. “All the things that were driving What a Time to Be Alive are still terrible,” singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan tells Apple Music, “but it's hard to sustain that kind of negative energy for too long without it becoming a psychic drain. I wanted to make a record with a different feel to it.” While writing for Wild Loneliness began before COVID lockdowns, its creation was inevitably affected by them, with members cutting their parts in isolation. And yet the album radiates a warm communal spirit, thanks to a guest list—including Sharon Van Etten, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, and Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley—that speaks to Superchunk’s enduring cross-generational relevance. “Even though we couldn't be together in person, it was very gratifying to be able to still collaborate with people that we admire,” McCaughan says. “That independent community is something that's super important to us, and it’s still there, even though so much else in the music industry changes all the time.” Here, McCaughan guides us through Wild Loneliness’ rustic terrain, track by track. “City of the Dead” “The vibe that a lot of people have these days is: Everything is terrible, and there doesn't seem to be any good news on the horizon, but at the same time, here we are making coffee in the morning and going about our day. The kids are going to school, we're working, because what else are we supposed to do? The song isn't trying to necessarily reconcile those things, it's just talking about what it's like living in that world of oscillating between being super depressed and terrified, and then also still having the normal day-to-day things that make you happy or at least keep you going. Even though the title makes it sound like it's some grim pandemic thing, this was actually written before that, at the end of 2019.” “Endless Summer” “This was inspired by waking up on New Year's Day 2020, and it was, like, 75 degrees outside. We always go to a New Year's Day party that friends of ours have, and usually there's a bonfire, but there wasn't going to be one that year because it was so hot outside. You want there to be seasons, because seasons are a thing that allow your brain to organize the passing of time, and when there aren't any, it's a strange, discombobulating feeling. In the song, I reference Spanish Town in Jamaica and Lake Louise in Canada—these places that are so incredible, but who knows what they'll be like after all this is done. Glaciers will be melted, islands will be underwater—it's super sad. But if the music is sad, and the lyrics are sad—no one wants to listen to that. And because this song is such a power-pop song, it really called out for harmonies. I've known Teenage Fanclub for a long time. And when I think of harmonies, they're one of the first groups I think of.” “On the Floor” “This was written during lockdown, and it's about just being here in the studio in the basement, plugging away, even though it’s like, who knows what's happening in the outside world. R.E.M. are a band I grew up listening to and I still love listening to them, and I wanted this song to feel like 'Pretty Persuasion'—like an upbeat R.E.M. song. There are some people who are not lead vocalists but still bring so much to the song because you recognize their harmonies immediately, and Mike Mills is one of those singers.” “Highly Suspect” “This is about the pitfalls of not being honest with yourself and with other people about how you're feeling. Keeping up a facade of cheerfulness when everything is terrible is not only unrealistic, it's probably not healthy. This is a song where I knew when I sent it to [guitarist] Jim Wilbur, he'd be like, ‘This part's too complicated!’ There's a couple of weird, syncopated chord-changey parts that are maybe a little different from what we normally do. But it reminded me of the horn section that you’d hear on an Attractions record, like Punch the Clock.” “Set It Aside” “Since I was already playing acoustic guitar, I decided to do something that had a little bit more fingerpicking than would normally work on a Superchunk record. But I figured as long as we're going down this road anyway, we might as well take advantage of it and have a genuinely quiet song. It turned out really well—I think [drummer] Jon [Wurster] playing with brushes really makes it a nice middle-of-the-record pause. You can tell from listening to it that it was written during lockdown—again, it's about acknowledging that everyone is in a fragile place and everyone needs to give everyone a break.” “This Night” “We wanted to move away from the anger and frustration of the last record, and I feel like one good way to do that is to look around and acknowledge the things that are good around you—relationships and people that you really value. The battle is always to do that without just becoming strictly nostalgic or sentimental. The title is a Destroyer reference [to their 2002 album This Night]. Dan [Bejar] is always referencing other bands and song titles and lyrics in his songs, so I figured turnabout is fair play. But then, of course, the first and the last line in the song are taken from The Smiths.” “Wild Loneliness” “This is about being trapped in your head, being trapped in your house, and having some kind of energy but no way to really let it out. We're super lucky: We have woods behind our house, so we can take a walk in this park—it's really a pretty good situation. But at the same time, if you're still walking that same loop every day, it does start to feel like Groundhog Day, which I think everyone was kind of going through. We got Andy Stack [from Wye Oak] to play sax on this. When I first asked him, he was like, 'I don’t know, it's not really my main instrument,' but I was like, 'Dude, I've heard you play it, I think it'll be a cool surprising thing.'” “Refracting” “This is a slight throwback in feeling to the last record, because everything that was happening in 2018 is still happening now. So it's hard to avoid thinking about people that are trying to ruin the world for everyone else, but even the song itself is about trying to not just be thinking about that all the time. I'm still playing acoustic guitar on it, but I was thinking about the flow of the album and I felt that if everything is midtempo, I still want a rocker in there somewhere.” “Connection” “'Connection'—kind of like 'This Night'—is about thinking of what you do have, as opposed to what you're missing, or what's driving you crazy, or what you wish you could do. It's more about what's great about your family or your relationships or whatever you have around you, and not wanting to lose that because of your own psycho tendencies.” “If You’re Not Dark” “Because it starts so sparse, I couldn't really envision what it was going to be until Jon put his drum parts on it. I was loving the way it was sounding, but I still felt like it needed something. I had known Sharon [Van Etten] for a long time, and her partner Zeke [Hutchins] used to used to play drums in [McCaughan’s side project] Portastatic for a while, and I knew they were in North Carolina. So I got in touch with her about singing on this track, and I was really relieved that she was able to do it, because she really elevates the whole thing. Her voice is so distinctive—it doesn't just blend in as a harmony in a good way. It feels like a whole other presence on the song, which I feel like gives the song a broader reach.”

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