Mac McCaughan of Triangle indie-rock veterans Superchunk and co-founder of Durham-based Merge Records (Arcade Fire, Mountain Goats, She & Him) has spent the better part of the last 25 years making records. But his new album “Non-Believers” marks his first under his own name. (He’s previously recorded as Portastatic.)
McCaughan recently spoke to the Observer about the nostalgic direction of the album. He plays Snug Harbor with his band the Non-Believers (aka opening act the Flesh Wounds) Saturday.
Q: The style you tap for “Non-Believers” captures that sense of longing of a John Hughes film soundtrack. What sent you in that direction?
A: I was thinking about these nonorganic and nonhuman – for lack of better word – synthesizers or keyboards, which had a reputation for being cold. How did these artists use these instruments to create emotion? It was fun to create in that kind of musical landscape. It’s a pretty deep well. Obviously, a lot of great records were made with those tools in the past, but it’s not just records that are 30 years old. That’s what I like about Hot Chip or Tanlines. They capture that same thing with some of that same pallet.
Q: What inspired you?
A: I started focusing in on the songs which had a bit of the ’80s feel I was listening to in junior high, high school and college – the Smiths, New Order, Tommy Keene, Let’s Active. For me, it helps to have guidelines. I like perimeters. It makes me more productive.
Q: How does it translate live?
A: Traveling with synths and keyboards is complicated. I had to learn to play the songs on the guitar, both by myself and with a rock band. The songs have been restructured for guitar, bass and drums. The show has a more punk-y vibe than the record does, but the songs are still the songs.
Q: What do you think made that era so different from previous decades?
A: Musically, the early ’80s were a time of transition going from punk to new wave and post-punk and everything else the ’80s would produce with technology at the time. Synthesizers were new and I think that’s what makes those records so great. People didn’t quite know how to use them.
Q: Do you see parallels between the ’80s and today?
A: That same thing could be said today. People recording at home on their computers and how people consume music. There’s always something that’s changing. People feel like they’re living on the edge of some new era.
Q: Socially and politically, do you see any parallels between now and then?
A: Reagan was here, but I think it was much more harshly felt in the U.K. with Thatcher and the depression they were going through. In America you had hardcore bands that were political, but in the U.K. some of the biggest artists in the country were political. That was interesting. Over here “Born in the USA” was a political record, but people didn’t necessarily take it that way.
Q: Superchunk hasn’t played Charlotte in something like 15 years, but you’ve started playing Snug recently. How has the outside perception of Charlotte changed?
A: When I was in college, I went to school in New York and I knew about the Milestone and Fetchin Bones. There were things going on in Winston and Athens. You just didn’t hear a lot about Charlotte. It seems like in the last 10 or 15 years there’s more venues. There’s more bands, a lot more going on in general. We’re excited to be working with (Charlotte’s) Benji Hughes after hearing his records for years (after) never meeting him myself or working with him.
WHEN: 10 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St.
DETAILS: 704-561-1781; www.snugrock.com.