Hey all, I will be the first to admit I have neglected the hell out of this site.
I am going through some life changes currently and have every intention of rebooting this blog very soon. I promise y’all, I am ok. Been a rough start to the year, but the future is looking to be just fine.
Aiming to cover this summer’s Punk in Drublic festival at Nautica (it will always be Nautica). I also have a handful of albums I need to review so stick around and see if I hold myself to this.
Growing up in Canton, Ohio in the pre-internet 1990’s wasn’t exactly a bustling hub of counter-culture for a young kid. Sure, I had cool parents and an older brother who passed down the foundations of my musical interests- The Ramones, The Replacements, Dead Milkmen, and so on- but I had yet to find “my thing”.
Then, I found Beavis and Butthead. Suddenly the world opened up in front of me. Archers of Loaf, Seaweed, and Sonic Youth all hit me like a ton of bricks. All of these bands were rooted in the world that I knew, but they were decidedly original and a bit more unpredictable. I was hooked. Superchunk’s song and video for Package Thief was what rattled me, though. It was my lightbulb moment for what I wanted out of music- frantic energy, bright fuzzy chords, catchy melodies, and weird lyrics. I knew instantly that they were my band.
They became a frequent presence on my annual Christmas lists, but I don’t think their records were the easiest to find where I lived. I wouldn’t really find “my band” until 2004 or so, when I walked into what was then known as The Record Exchange in Canton and bought almost their entire discography in one go- minus Here’s Where the Strings Come In and Indoor Living.
It wasn’t an entirely joyous outing, though- even though I loved every album I picked up. On The Mouth was everything I hoped for after being hooked by Package Thief. Foolish was a classic that laid a blueprint that younger bands had followed for the last decade. Come Pick Me Up was off-the-wall and intoxicating. And then there was Here’s to Shutting Up– slower, somber, and ominously titled. Based on its name, I assumed the worst about the band’s fate- and their lack of internet presence in that era all but confirmed it for me. Scattershot shows would pop up in major markets once or twice a year, and front man Mac McCaughan would pop in on the now-defunct Superchunk/Merge message boards from time to time but it seemed like the title of their 2001 full-length said it all. I missed the window of my favorite band’s full-time existence.
Fast-forward just a few years after that and the band would thankfully reemerge, comfortably settled into their classic sound, more frequently releasing music and heading back out for brief clusters of shows. But the interim time would also reveal that even though the title of the record was unintentional, or subconscious at worst, the writing was on the wall for Superchunk as they were in 2001. It was a tough time for the band in 2001- the indie rock scene favored up-and-coming bands rather than those who had been at it for a decade-plus. Superchunk was caught in the middle of a fanbase that didn’t particularly want them to change their formula and critics who would drag them for staying the same. On top of that- thanks to inner turmoil and exhaustive tours with a steep decline in attendance post-9/11, the band did ultimately shut up for nine years or so. (To hear it from the band in their own words, check out the book Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, and the Peyton Reed-directed documentary DVD Crowding Up Your Visual Field)
Twenty years later, Here’s to Shutting Up has been rereleased along with a CD of acoustic demos from the writing sessions. It’s a record that went largely unheard at the time of it’s release due to unavoidable bad timing- the album came out on September 18th, 2001- along with a refrain in the pedal-steel guitar-led acoustic ballad Phone Sex that includes the lyrics “Plane crash footage on TV- I know that could be me.” Unfortunate timing and coincidences aside, it’s a beautiful, haunting record that finds Superchunk engaging in some of their most ambitous songwriting- from the eerie, meandering What Do You Look Forward To, to the more-upbeat entries such as Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama) and Rainy Streets– the album is more than worth a look back or an introduction if you missed it the first time around.
Last week, I caught up with drummer Jon Wurster via email to see how he feels looking back at the album:
JU: Here’s to Shutting Up caps off a trio of Superchunk’s most experimental records. Do you recall any discussions the band was having leading up to the writing of this record? Any interesting stories worth sharing from the writing/demo sessions at your house?
JW: This whole conversation is tough because this is the Superchunk album I have the most difficult relationship with. I honestly can’t recall the names of most of the songs on the album and we only play one of them live at this point (“Art Class”). We worked very diligently for months on “HTSU” in Jim’s garage. I still have the snare drum head I used for the rehearsals/writing and it’s got about 30 funny working titles for the songs, like, “There’s Something About Marvin” and “New Asics” (I’d just bought a pair) scrawled on it. Just speaking for myself, I didn’t really love the direction we were going for this record.
We were really good at the punky, catchy, slightly weird music we’d been doing for over ten years and it was only natural that we branch out and try new things. I just didn’t feel like we were particularly suited for the Yo La Tengo-inspired music we were coming up with for HTSU. I WILL say that it’s one of our best-sounding records. I’d finally gotten a snare drum I liked (a Ludwig Black Beauty) and used it on that and just about everything I’ve played on since. So, sonically, I think it’s really good.
JU: Was there ever any talk or possibility of working with Jim O’Rourke again after Come Pick Me Up? I’ve always been a big fan of the string and horn arrangements he brought to that record. I could be wrong, but I feel like the production on that record isn’t given its due.
JW: CPMU is difficult too. I thought the songs were really good but we lost it in the mix. The drums are too buried for my tastes on “Indoor Living” and CPMU in particular. Jim was so much fun to work with, but I don’t think he was really a drum guy. We had to overdub cymbals on a few songs because they weren’t really mic’d for some of the basic tracks. He wrote the horn arrangements and did a fantastic job all around. The problem was he was running on fumes and going home each night to finish work on another record he was producing. He was really burning the candle at both ends, not with substances, just work and lack of sleep. But Jim was really great to work with.
JU: It’s pretty well documented that 2000-2002 was a stressful time for the band- and many touring bands in the wake of 9/11. Did any of those circumstances alter your opinion of the album at the time?
JW: That was such a difficult time. I’m really painting an uplifting picture of the band in the late-’90s and early 2000s, aren’t I? The record was released on September 18th and we immediately hit the road, going to Japan, Europe and then doing a full US tour. Attendances were down, I didn’t feel like the new songs were connecting with people, I didn’t really enjoy playing them, and it felt like other bands were passing us by. Like, we’d hit the glass ceiling. I just wasn’t excited about Superchunk anymore. The final show of the HTSU tour was at the Black Cat in D.C. and I remember thinking that was the end of the line for me.
JU: How do you feel looking back on it now?
JW: I honestly never think about HTSU. That said, I was in a coffee shop in NYC about four years after it came out and one of the songs from it came on the in-house playlist. I knew it was us but I didn’t recognize the song. I thought, “wow, this sounds really good, surprisingly tight for us.” Then I realized it was the last song we recorded for the album and the only one where we played to a click track: “Out On The Wing.”
JU: Brian Paulson co-produced Here’s to Shutting Up with the band. This is the first (maybe only, as far as I can tell?) time you used the same producer for a full-length record since 1994’s Foolish. What went into that decision?
JW: I honestly don’t recall. We were still very friendly with Brian and we’d see him all the time because he also lived in Chapel Hill. I think it just felt right.
JU: Art Class has remained a steady presence in live sets ever since the album’s release. Revisiting it now, and barring any logistical/additional personnel challenges, are there any songs from HTSU you think would be fun to bring back into live rotation?
JW: One song we recorded for HTSU that I really liked, but didn’t make it on the album is “Becoming a Speck.” I think that song would have given the album a little more of what we were really good at, but someone must’ve decided it didn’t fit. It’s on the “Cup of Sand” comp. That would be a fun one to play, as would “Rainy Streets.” I’m now looking at the track listing and remembering that we ended the shows with “What Do You Look Forward To” and “Drool Collection.” Let’s just say I didn’t look forward to playing those songs every night.
JU: Here’s to Shutting Up holds the distinction of having some of Superchunk’s longest songs- namely with What Do You Look Forward To? coming in at 7:42. Was it strange to play outside of (generally speaking) standard pop-rock parameters Superchunk had typically held to or did it feel like a natural progression for everyone?
JW: To me it felt a little false. Maybe not false, because we WANTED to play this new music well, but to my ears it sounds like us trying to be another band, specifically Yo La Tengo. I don’t want to hear a seven-minute song by anyone, so, as I said above, that particular tune was not a favorite to play.
JU: Since the band got back into semi-regular output in the 2010’s, the sound has returned to what some would say is Superchunk’s more traditional hyper-energetic output (What a Time to Be Alive is arguably the band’s hardest-hitting record at times), give or take a few slower numbers. Are there ever any band discussions about revisiting any of the more experimental, long-form ideas from this era, or do you think those concepts are mostly content to live on in the bands’ various other projects?
JW: I think we got the “writing as a band” thing out of our system. Sometimes that yields some great results, but often you end up with music that’s a little unfocused. The first four or five albums were pretty much written by Mac. We’d all throw our two cents in but he pretty much wrote the songs. He was incredibly generous to make the publishing a four-way split. “Indoor Living,” “Come Pick Me Up” and “HTSU” were all written, musically, by committee and Mac would go off and write the lyrics. There’s a lot of good stuff on those records, for sure, but since we regrouped, it’s gone back to Mac writing and doing rough demos of the songs and then presenting them to us. I really like it this way because the songs just sound more focused and concise. He’s written so many great songs for these last few albums.
JU I recently saw an interview with Mac where he discussed the band working on an album during quarantine, written and recorded remotely. Are you able to give any details on the process behind that or any upcoming plans?
JW: Not yet 😉
JU: Finally- followers of your Instagram account are treated to regular doses of Rock ‘n Roll Weirdness. Outside of the band supposedly surviving largely off of Long John Silver’s, do you have any tales of Rock ‘n Roll Weirdness to share as relates to the writing/recording/release of Here’s to Shutting Up?
JW: The only thing that comes to mind is that there was nowhere to sit in the studio! I don’t know why that was. There WAS a row of very uncomfortable wooden seats from a classroom or something, but nobody wanted to sit on them. Maybe we should’ve called it “Here’s to Standing Up.”
It’s been a hot minute since I have been to a show, so when I learned that Brenden Kelly‘s Here Goes Nothing Tour was making a stop in Cleveland, I knew I had to be there.
The fact the “venue” was a mere 1.3 miles away from BHP HQ sealed the deal for me. The quotes, by the way, were purposely put there as he played at a BBQ joint called Hatfield’s Goode Grub in a strip mall in the Cleveland suburb West Park.
I may have questioned the choice, but honestly, it was perfect for an acoustic set as well as a ton of hangs with some great folk.
For a Sunday night show, it was pretty packed and I have zero complaints. I got to see Brenden play a slightly extended set and even hung out with Sir Toby of Red Scare as well as some of the Heart & Lung crew.
Where I could have done a full review of the show and probably taken much better photos, I honestly went as a fan. I slammed some beers, sang along, and didn’t worry about taking notes or building a set list.
Honestly, I really needed that night. I missed live music and the interaction so much. I had fun and I know I was not the only one. That is what mattered most.
Still, when I got home that night, I couldn’t help but tell myself how I should at least do something where I could talk about the show or maybe do more.
I decided maybe an interview was in order.
I caught up with Brenden exactly one day after the tour ended just to mostly talk about the month-long series of shows and whatnot. I guess the timing was right.
Check it out:
BHP: You just finished up your Here Goes Nothing Tour with your homeboy Toby from Red Scare. For those who may have missed out on seeing you play, can you tell me about some of the highlights other than the Four Seasons Total Landscaping show everyone is still talking about?
BK: Well, the big highlights for me mostly involved seeing friends and just getting to be out there with everyone doing what I’ve (for better or for worse) dedicated my life to doing, ya know?
A real highlight was at a brewery in Green Bay where Jack from Arms Aloft and I were just sitting there listening to the sounds of the brewery but we thought we were listening to a super ambient Godspeed! track. After about a minute and a half (an embarrassingly long time) I was like, “Did you put that record on?” to the promoter who was just hanging out and he said “No, couldn’t get it to work.” We had a good chuckle at that shit.
We got a bag full of Krystal, Southern White Castle, but they also serve chili cheese “pups”…fifty bucks worth in Georgia, and Tane called his girlfriend and said, “I just got fifty bucks worth of Krystal!” and she replied, “Tane, I thought you weren’t into hard drugs?” and we had a chuckle at that shit too.
The shows were all fun. Some were sold out and some were barely attended at all and some were private backyard situations. In every instance it was really just great to be back out there again.
I was lucky enough to hit the final show in Cleveland and it was packed and even a couple of alcoholic Browns fans who were looking to keep damaging their liver some more after a pre-season win showed up.
Was the turnout about the same at all the other places you hit up?
If you looked at the routing, you could almost certainly guess within 10 people how many people were there just based on location and whether it was a private party or not.
There was one that was weird because I got the distinct feeling that the guy who booked the show (this was a private party) didn’t like my music. He left while I was on stage. He was perfectly nice and accommodating, but it seemed like a weird move to pay to have me come to your house and not watch. Right? But the shows in places where I tend to do well, big cities in the north (also Tampa) were jammed for sure. It was great.
Your initial special guest did not quite pan out as planned. I saw there were a handful of openers who took that slot including Tane Graves who played about half of the shows. Who were some of your favs?
Well at first we had Seth from Arms Aloft, then Tane, who rode with us and did most of the tour, and at the end we had Steveo from the Crippling Addiction, formerly of The Holy Mess, so there were only 3 guests. I would say those three were probably my faves.
You forgot to mention Heart & Lung playing as Munford & Lungs! Seriously I hope you’re as excited for this Cleveland band’s Red Scare debut as I am. I love those dudes.
Oh yeah. They’re awesome and the ability those three have to not only be a great punk band but also an amazing bluegrass band is pretty astounding. I have heard the record and can confirm it’s radical. What do you kids say these days? It fucks? It slaps? It does all that stuff.
I have to admit, I was curious about how you playing at Hatfield’s Goode Grub was going to pan out, but it worked out well. What did you think?
That dude is a trip and the place is awesome and the food is amazing. I had a great time and I can’t say enough good things about it. Was it a little odd? Sure. All shows right now are a little odd but that place was probably the coolest BBQ bar in a strip mall run by a real live member of a blood feud family that I’ve ever been to.
Your retort to the “fan” who screamed “Free Bird” when you were asking for requests was classic. Were there any other folk throughout the tour that made comments where you just took a moment to educate?
Oh, I dunno. I kind of have stage brain, which is to say that no matter what is going on in my life, if I’m sad or angry or whatever, I can get up there and think with an entirely different part of my mind and do the show the way it’s supposed to be done.
The other side of this is that I don’t tend to remember the shows particularly well. I know what you’re all thinking but NO, mother, it’s not from boozing. Even when I’m stone sober this happens. Also, even when I’m stone sober everyone thinks I’m wasted so whatever. Throw your stones.
The fact you proved to the crowd playing “Shitty Margarita” was not a good idea by playing some of it was probably one of my favorite moments of the night. Did you get any other requests throughout tour that you just had to skip the idea on?
That one came up a lot. So did some of the faster or just generally screamier TLA songs, like “Cut it Up”, for example. Some things just aren’t that good acoustic. People think they don’t care, but then they have to sit through it and it really sucks for everyone, especially me. So I try to take requests but I know what works and what doesn’t and I try to be a good steward in that regard for everyone involved.
Toby told me to ask you about the new Guardians logo and how you loved it. I love the team name, but if I am thinking of the same logo as you are, it is rough. What do you like about it so much? I can tell you the ‘G’ that obstructs the baseball just looks off.
Oh, I was referring to the Guardians fastball (I think that’s what it’s called) and I think it’s just dope looking. It’s totally got being a tattoo first and foremost in its design and I just think they nailed it. The G evokes a super classic rust belt factory industry logo which is very, very cool to me.
That’s what I was talking about! I’m not really sure why it bugs me. Maybe I’ll tattoo it on me and replace the “G” with “Beex” and while I’m at it change the baseball into a garbage pail lid. Cool?
I think this is an excellent idea.
Tour’s over, now what? We were lucky to have you play an extended set of sorts on the last night of tour, thanks for that. I could tell you were not really looking forward to it to end.
Yeah. I don’t know what to do now. My family has passed down this uh…I guess it’s our family motto (even though that sounds weird to say) which is you need 3 things: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. Right now I am 1 for 3, so maybe I’ll just get a beer and see how that works out. For real though, I just wrote a page of lyrics I don’t hate. This tour reignited my love for everything from my family to playing to exercising and on and on so I’m optimistic. Also, Toby is talking about doing more runs, and I’d be into that for sure. But for now I’m gonna call the insurance company and then go get my car washed. The dizzying highs of rock and roll, am I right?
Hate to hear about the 33% family motto standing, but I’m stoked to see what those lyrics pan out into. Was most of the writing done when traveling from place to place or just when it hit ya?
No, I just wrote one page this morning when I woke up in my bed for the first time in a month. It’s time to dust off my dick and start working again, as the old maxim goes.
Thanks for giving me some of your time today, enjoy that phoner with the insurance company!
Now check out a video I found on my phone from that night:
[This is a seriously delayed review. Life caught up with me as well as I struggled with trying to find the right words. It has been a while where I strived with placing my thoughts together.
There’s no time like the present, so here we go. Thanks for taking a few moments to read through!]
I can honestly say when The Roots first started releasing albums, I did not appreciate them for their full worth. I was a suburban, white teen when they began picking up steam.
Perhaps being stuck in specific scenes and favoring punk/hardcore in the 90s could be to blame, but clearly there was more. Don’t get me wrong, I was all about tons of hip-hop acts at that time. Truth is, I was too young, naïve, and just lacked understanding to the genus behind this amazing hip-hop act.
I do not need to get into their history for they’ve gained plenty of ground since their early days. As I eluded to earlier though, I knew of them, but it was years later until I actually listenedto them. Man was I missing out…
I have tried to word this out as best as I could, but their lyrical craftmanship was just top notch and add to some amazing musical ability, it was impossible for me not to adore them.
How did this punk rocker become a fan of the Roots? Glad you asked that.
When I managed a record store in my hometown in the 00s, the pompous owners had this rule with playing music on the 5-disc carousal CD changer: 1 hip-hop, 1 jazz, classical, or blues, and 3 anything else. On most days it was a drag because if I was going to be stuck in a small store for 8-14 hours a day, I wanted to pick my own soundtrack to help speed the day along.
Honestly, it made sense to not have a bunch of punk/screamo music clogging the speakers and gave a chance to carry a range of genres for all to hear. This essentially was for the customers who walked through the front door and not the horde of tired workers who helped make their shopping experience a good one.
This rule resulted in many a day where The Roots were rotated into the mix. I could not tell you who or when the band started being played frequently, but I can tell you I always approved anyone who asked to play them. It was poetry layered on jazzy beats that followed its own refined path. Even though the songs were on shuffle I would always know exactly when The Roots were on and adored their music and flowing that carried over.
I remember when “Proceed” first came on and Black Thought dished out the line “and I can Metallica and Guns ‘N Roses crash.” I paused as the two band names caught my ear, but I was not fully paying attention to what they were saying and realized I needed to change that. For someone stuck in their own lane for so long, it was at the time I realized their music and lyrics were far more than just quick wins.
Recently, the band released a deluxe 25th anniversary edition of Do You Want More?, the band’s quintessential release in my opinion. Drawn from original recordings and featuring eighteen bonus tracks curated by Questlove, The Roots are back to remind you of their pure excellence and have tossed in some bonus treats.
Why is this a big deal you ask? Well, some of the tracks included on this edition have never been released and there are others that never were previously available digitally.
The 3LP deluxe vinyl edition features five bonus tracks plus a 24-page booklet featuring images taken by Mpozi Tolbert, essays by Questlove and Black Thought as well as track-by-track commentary which all was well-received by this Roots fan. I especially appreciated what Questlove had to say. It was a great read throughout.
The LPs are pressed on black vinyl and are ever so sharp to look at. The trifold gatefold sleeve houses said albums and the booklet, which I wish was hardbound instead of material slightly stronger than the insert paper we are all so used to. Still, it is a great boxset to hold and dig into.
Not good enough? The 4LP edition, which I in time would prefer to have, features all of the aforementioned plus additional eight bonus tracks. Do not worry if you can not swing either LP edition as it will be available digitally and the new content is outstanding and worth your time.
As I have listed to the original album tons of times, I do not really wish to carry on about it more than saying how awesome it sounded on wax. The slight crackles behind each track just kept it more classic for me. The bonus content though is what I was most excited for.
The remixes of “Proceed” were killer. I am not sure which of the three I enjoyed more, but I can tell you they were not carbon-copied. The AJ Shine mix rejuvenated the song while dipping back to the 80s.
The eight bonus tracks on the digital / 4LP release were the true treat of this release. To think The Roots sat on these gems for this long is almost unbelievable.
“In Your Dreams Kid (I’m Every MC)” won me over fully thanks to Black Thought’s masquerading personal influences including ODB, Busta Rhymes, and even Ice Cube. To say this feat was impressive is an understatement.
The original draft of “Swept Away” was better than the original with a raw take that easily could have been recorded from a small club set. I liked how you could hear Black Thought ruminate while spilling out verses to the point of excitement.
I found Do You Want More?!!!??! even a more powerful, poignant listen after taking it in over the past few weeks. These are tunes that certainly have not aged and are as important as ever.
Listening to this album on repeat for the past few months never once went stale. I honestly was reminded on how exceptional and definitive this release was.
As I made mention before, The Roots are not new to the game and chances are anyone who read this knows them one way or another. This celebration of a masterpiece of an album was re-released the right way with the bonus tracks tailored to the fan, both old and new, to cherish equally.
Shitty Neighbors is without a doubt one of my favorite band names. Admit it, you smirked when you heard the name the first time.
Luckily they are pretty damn talented too.
I first got into these guys years ago when a few of my pals told me to check out their EP Better Now. To say I was not disappointed back then is an understatement. That EP is still played to this day.
The four-piece hails from Toledo, OH and just released their first LP in 7 years titled People I Know on Little Elephant a few weeks back. If anyone knows about this label you’ll know it’s a big deal that they are pressing albums and not just sessions now.
Sure, it might have taken them a bit longer to drop it with all of the bullshit preventing a “normal” life, but they did things right, took their time, and released easily one of my favorite albums this year.
Album opener “Lost In Google Translation” really had the band just jumping all in. This track hit hard in terms of life alterations for one’s best self-interest. Shitty Neighbors impressed the shit out of me with this one. It was raw, emotional, and ever so personal.
With heavy nods towards a certain Gainesville punk warm liquid band, “The Creation Of Adam” wasn’t very long, but was poignant as all hell. Then there was “Lock #6” that followed. Man, this track was full of some pent up angst.
“Whole Life Policy” actually was released over a year ago when we were all hermits. This was the track that just got me so excited knowing that they were working on a full-length. The song itself was a total banger about coming to terms with demons. I loved the lyric “I’ve got a way with only concerning myself with the shit that don’t matter at all.”
“Barrel Of Monkeys” was another track that just seemingly spoke about my past. In times of trapped iteration around certain routines of self-denying love and despair, the song carried that questioning of change without missing a beat. I appreciated the line “maybe next time i’m around we can figure something else out.”
“Friend Ender” was just brutal, but probably one of my favorite tracks on the release. There’s something to be said about a punk rock track dedicated to a lying ex-whatever. Tracks like this are why I love the bands I surround myself in.
The breakdowns on “Tonight, My Name Is Trouble” was enough for me on this track to love. Upbeat and even precise to a point, this track proved these boys are not just screwing around.
“Her Name Is Marie” closed down the album with a punk rock grand finale of sorts. The band refused to let up on this one with everyone just giving it their all even if it was tugging at some imperfect heart strings.
The one thing about this album that was a bummer is that it didn’t even clock in at 30 minutes, but I will admit, listening to this album was the best half hour spent. Perhaps I am just being an old, greedy punk, but I wasn’t ready for People I Know to come to an end. Luckily I can just listen to it over and over.
If you are a cool kid who likes young Menzingers, Iron Chic, Lawrence Arms, AK3 (before someone got hair implants), Hot Water Music and so on, make sure you check this band out.
I can only hope to see Shitty Neighbors play some small bar or basement here soon in good ol’ Cleveland. Good, good things are going to happen to these dudes. I know it.