Jon Wurster - 2003

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Jon Wurster isn't just the drummer for Chapel Hill, NC's famed Superchunk band - he's also one of the funniest sons-of-a-gun with whom you're ever going to become acquainted. You MUST buy his most recent collaboration with DJ Tom Scharpling, a collection of fake call-in radio interviews (double-CD) entitled Chain Fights, Beer Busts and Service With A Grin. Their first one, Rock Rot & Rule, is great too. Very biting - very new-fangled - very uproarious! The CHARACTERS! So yeah, buy those. Jon also drums with a ton of other people for grits and shins, as well as writing music articles for a popular weekly down South called The Independent. And other stuff, I mean he's a busy man. Yet he agreed to an email interview! My questions are in bold, his answers are in plain text.


What was your involvement with the Dead Milkmen? Discuss!

I grew up about 10 miles from Dean the drummer in the farmlands of south eastern PA. He was in a band called Narthex (a guitar and drums duo -formed at least 15 years before the White Stripes!) and I was in a band called...are you ready...Hair Club For Men. Dean must have been in art school in Phila at this time and I was about to start high school -this was 1981. Anyway, our bands played together a bunch (VFW halls, etc) and we became friends. He hooked up with Joe and Dave somehow -I'm really not sure where they met.

They made a tape without Rodney (Joe singing) that was really good and I would go to watch them practice every Sunday (Rodney was in by this point) in Dean's basement. They recorded some songs during that time in the basement and a few of them ended up on "Big Lizard." I'm listed as co-producer on those tracks (under the name "Johnny Earthshoe" -misspelled "Earthshore" on the CD) because I turned on the tape machine. I was very fortunate that those guys took me under their wings ( I was about 4 years younger than most of them) and let me come to the studio. That period (83-85) was such a great time in my life. I was beginning to see the light at the end of the school tunnel and got to see a bunch of great bands with those guys (Husker Du, Minutemen, Meatmen, Minor Threat, REM, Let's Active).

I can be heard in a couple spots on that record: at the end of "Rastabilly" ("let's kick some ass") and on the choruses of "The Laundromat Song." To my eternal embarrassment I am the kid in mid-air in the photo adorning the lyric sheet of that record. The show was a party at the home of Rich Kaufman, the singer/guitarist for The Electric Love Muffin (my band Psychotic Norman also played) and somebody let me wear their bandana as a spoof on Suicidal Tendencies -a band we all thought was horrible. The moment lives on!

A weird twist: I got a job at a very MOR chain record store in Greensboro, NC in 1987. The very first item I rang up? "Big Lizard." I was amazed the store even had it-and on CD.

I would sometimes get namechecked in their songs. I was shocked the first time I heard "Stuart" from "Beelzebubba" ("Y'know that Jonny Wurster kid..."). A non-lp song called "Labor Day" has a part where they yell "1-2 -Earthshoe!"

How did you get mixed up with that Superchunk combo?

I moved down to Winston-Salem, NC in 1986 to join a band called The Right Profile (kind of a mix between The Band/Stones) that soon landed a record deal with Arista. (great hair!)

We moved up to New Jersey (a horrible idea) and I would run into Mac at Maxwells in Hoboken when he was at Columbia University.

TRP moved back to NC a couple years later and tried to keep going and I eventually moved to Chapel Hill (my brother lived there) in early 91 and got a job washing windows. One of our clients was Schoolkids Records -where Mac worked. The band the Right Profile evolved into (more Replacements damage) went on a spirit- breaking tour to California in August of '91 (just after a spirit-lifting gig opening for Bob Dylan) and the day I returned my brother told me that Mac had called. It turns out they were having some conflicts with Chuck at the time (it was my impression that Chuck was not enthusiastic about being in the band). My brother was friends with Mac and Jack McCook -the original guitarist for Superchunk and I think he might have suggested me. Mac and I talked a little and he said they were going to see how the upcoming tour with Mudhoney went.

Superchunk came back from the tour and decided to part with Chuck. I have to come clean and say I was not that much of a fan of Chunk/Superchunk the first few times I saw them - I just didn't hear too many memorable songs. I did manage to catch their first show back from the Mudhoney tour and was astounded. They were great -really confident being onstage and rocking. They played mostly songs from the soon-to-be- released "No Pocky." Mac contacted me soon after and gave me a tape of the album. I listened to it on my walkman all day while cleaning windows and really got into it. We practiced soon afterwards in the house Mac and Jack shared and played a benefit show at the Cradle a week or two later as Superduperchunk -with Jack on guitar also .

What sort of role do you play in the songwriting process? Do you ever contribute melodies or lyrics, or do you mainly just come up with a neat drum pattern to accompany what Mac has written? Or what?"

I have only written the music for two Chunk songs over the years: "Cursed Mirror" from CPMU and a song that was a b-side of "Watery Hands" called "With Bells On." I usually come up with the neat drum parts!

As Superchunk continues to change its sound over the years, is there ever any dissent in the ranks about what direction the band should be taking? Or are you all of hive mind in this department?

We really write the songs now from the ground up. Somebody will bring in a riff and we'll build the song around it. We don't always agree on what direction a song is taking.

While I lived in Chapel Hill, I had the fortune of seeing Superchunk live 19 times (more than I've ever seen any other band! Polvo comes in second at... I think... 16?). In fact, the first several times I saw them, Chuck was still drumming and you -- why, you weren't even in the band yet! However, since moving to NYC in January '95, though I've continued to buy the albums, I've fallen out of touch with the fan base. Are college and high school kids still a large part of your audience? Or has your newer, more mature work attracted a different element? What have you observed?

Yeah, I think I've seen Polvo more than any other band too (maybe 35 times). We played with them a lot over the years.

Factoid: Superchunk's first Chapel Hill show was opening for a band I was filling in for called The Accelerators (the guitarist Brad went on to be in Finger and now plays with Ryan Adams).

Fan-wise -hmm. I don't know anymore. We had a pretty rough time on our last major tour. Our record came out on Sept 17 2001 and was obviously lost in the shuffle of world events. We did a full-on world tour and drew small crowds. It was pretty disheartening. We really haven't done any major touring, excepting the Get-Up kids tour last summer, since late 2001. I think at this point the average age is about 26. It was interesting on the Get-Up Kids tour because the average age of the audience was probably 17. I can't say they were that into us. It was tough because the Get-Up Kids often cite us as an influence (I think their first album was named after a lyric from one of our songs) and the kids for the most part couldn't have cared less. We were an unknown quantity to them -not really from their scene.

For a first hand account:

As evidenced by both Rock, Rot & Rule and the hilarious "Music Scholar" character on the second Scharpling/Wurster release, it's pretty clear that you have very strong opinions about certain types of music fans. Would you mind saying a few words about your attitude towards music and those who would suck the fun out of it?

I definitely fall into that "music scholar" kind of mentality sometimes. Not that "know-it- all" sort of thing but the "seen-it-all" thing. I must be one of the only people on earth who was not blown away by Nirvana. Saw 'em at the Cat's Cradle in '91 and left halfway through. I think I was too old ( this is laughable, I know) and had seen too many great bands in my formative years (Ramones, Clash, U2, the DC punk bands) to be bowled over. Like today -I have seen all the "latest/greatest things" (White Stripes/Strokes/QOTSA, Bright Eyes, etc) and have come away thinking, "well, if I was 16 and had never heard The Velvets, Wailers, Flat Duo Jets, Black Sabbath, Television etc, I'd probably be impressed by that." It makes me feel like a dick! I think someone once said "everything's borrowed/everything's used," right? There's a song on that last Wilco album where he says "I miss that innocence I've known" --I can relate to that. I wish I still had that wide-eyed (eared) way of hearing music.

Are the characters on your comedy CDs based on actual real people you've met? Or are they a conglomeration of different stereotypes? What is the process for creating a character for the radio show?

The "Music Scholar" is a combination of several people -some you probably know! Jeff Cooper, the Radio Hut guy, is based on a guy who actually works at the Radio Shack across the street from me. I asked Casey (the guy who did the artwork) to check him out and cross him with Paul Gleason from "The Breakfast Club." I think Radio Shack has stopped asking people for their addresses. My brother thinks Tom and I are responsible for this. The Gorch is completely made up. I hope to God there is nobody like that on the planet!

How scripted are those pieces? Is it ALL scripted? Or mostly ad libbed with just a start point, a topic and an ending? Like surely you must have had all those stupid "Music Scholar" facts on notecards in front of you while you did that piece, right?

They're pretty worked out. Tom or I will come up with an idea -which usually emerges from one of our daily phone conversations. He will usually call me at least once a day as some idiot ("Jon Wurster please...My name is Brian Lembrattica ...I represent Mike Score from Flock of Seagulls...Mike's a big fan of your drumming.") and something will come out of that. We'll come up with the basic idea and then I'll flesh it out on my end and send him notes and then he'll call and we'll work it out more the day of the show. The hardest part is editing the stuff we choose to release down (the average bit goes for about 40 minutes and we try to trim them to a more listenable 25-30).

I did have all those names in front of me. Pete -a guy from the book store and proved helpful on that!

When is the next Scharpling/Wurster release coming out and what might we expect from it?

Hopefully by late Spring. The next one might be even more music-oriented. The main track is a bit we did where I play a kid in a major label band that is in Clear Channel's pocket and only plays product-sponsored events ("We just did the Heinekin/Chips Ahoy Fun Rally in Cleveland"). It was inspired by some of the bands we played with when I was on the road with Caitlin Cary last year. Another is about a guy who's 4' 11", bald, and has a handlebar mustache. He is trying to put together the ultimate band (he is beyond specific about what each player has to bring to the table -right down to string gauges and percentage of body fat) to play the ultimate song: "Rock 'n' Roll Dreams'll Come Through."

A sample verse:

Roddy's daddy Denny saved every penny to buy a new guitar for Rod Three jobs a day, he took all his pay and went down to Dawn's pawn shop Dawn said, "Denny if you buy this guitar your son will be a rock and roll star" Roddy tried his best, he couldn't pass the test but he knew that he would someday

Roddy's baby Betty, she's got a baby that she had with Rod's friend Rog Suckin' on a jelly donut at the deli, Betty's baby cries for Rod Denny called Betty said, "Betty get ready to stay away from my son" Bettty said, "Denny, Rog and I are finished and Rod is my number one" Betty's dad Kenny talked to Betty's mom Jenny and said, "What can we do?" Betty's dad Kenny, he called back Denny and said "betty and Rod are true" Betty too knows that it's true that it's gonna come true that rock `n' roll dreams'll come through

At the risk of being topical, things are looking a little scary in the world right now. What are your thoughts about the current situation? Bush, Iraq, all of it. You're not just a drummer or funnyman! Let's talk the real deal here.

People are just so afraid of each other. That's what this all comes down to. Do I support or respect our president? No. I think he --like his dad-- has no idea what it's like to be a normal person. Remember when Bush Sr. went shopping to help bolster the economy and was perplexed by the UPC scanner? Come to think of it, that was the inspiration for Maurice Kern ("Citizens For A True Democracy" on Chain Fights). They just don't know about the reality of the average person. Politicians are actors -they have to be. I was sitting next to a guy at a restaurant a few years ago and it turned out he was running for Governor (he was out of the race pretty quickly). He asked me what I thought about things and I told him that I didn't think politicians really cared about the average person. He seemed genuinely surprised. My take was that he was a rich lawyer and had probably been running with other rich lawyers for so long that he had no contact with that kind of viewpoint. Am I coming off like I hate the rich?

Politics is too tame a topic. Let's move on to religion. You were once quoted as saying, "David Cross is funny, but boy does he hate religion!" Is this a clue that you are religious in some manner, or was it just an observation?

First let me say that I would list David as one of the funniest men to ever walk the planet and Mr Show as the funniest program of all time (just edging out Get A Life, Larry Sanders and the first two seasons of SCTV).

Spirituality is a very important part of my life. I think spirit is what we are. I do not subscribe to any one particular religion/philosophy but Buddhism and Taoism speak to me more than any of the major religions. I am in agreement with David on organized religion. I think organized religion has done way more damage than good and has caused people to live in absolute fear. People are brought up fearing God and I think that's completely wrong.

I read a lot of spiritual/metaphysical books and I get a lot of great insights from them. I would recommend any of the Eckhart Tolle, Tich Nacht Hahn, and Jack Kornfield books. I'm also a big fan of the "Conversations With God" book series. Whether you believe the messages that the author "received" are from God/the Source is not really the point. I think the message itself is what's most important: We are all a part of the same energy and need to live together and support each other. I know it's hard to subscribe to this when the world is in such a sorry state. But I think that's why it's in such a state.

I've really been pursuing this direction over the last 3 years and it's hard to stick to it when you're playing in bars every night. Don't get me wrong, I like to tipple every now and then but that is not the most conducive environment, y'know?

Were you mad about my Superchunk reviews ( I really love all the albums except the last couple, and even those are pretty good! I meant no offense - I was just being silly like I always do. For "the kids." Or, more in general -- do negative reviews upset you at all? Or have you been in the biz for so long that it doesn't mean anything anymore? (From experience, I still get upset when I get hatemail. Even after 7 years of doing this stupid site).

I don't know if I ever saw that review. Did I respond to it? No, I actually agree with you on several of those points. "What Do You Look Forward To/Drool Collection" were not favorites of mine either -they were even longer live! I do think that might be our best sounding album though and I really like "Art Class" and "Rainy Streets." Negative reviews only bug me if the person is really uninformed regarding our oeuvre. For so long we got those "this record sounds exactly like the last one" kind of reviews. I think our latest even got that! Makes you wonder if people are listening.

I know you've met a large amount of famous music industry folk through both your band(s) and your music journalism. From your Glenn Danzig to your Blue Oyster Cult to your Bob Mould and all points in between! Throughout your career, have you had any encounters that just screamed out "classic" that you could share with us? After reading your Glenn Danzig review (, I'd have to assume that conversation would have to be up there! And if you don't like that assessment, you know what? Go fuck yourself.

Yeah, Danzig was definitely one of the best. It was all downhill from when he sighed, "How ya doin'." If I was him I'd hate doing interviews too. I've been so lucky to get to interview my heroes for The Indy: (Eric Bloom, Gina Schock, Earl Hudson, Bob Mould etc). I never had any dreams of being a journalist -my girlfriend was the music editor. Joey Ramone had just passed on and she needed something written that day about the importance of the band and she asked me. I barely got through high school but I can (sometimes) string a couple interesting sentences together. I did a very enjoyable interview with one of the guys in Flickerstick -the band that won VH1's Bands On The Run contest. My most rewarding moment was when I received a very nice "thank you" post card from Emo Phillips for an interview I did with him.

What the heck is all that silliness on your StereoLaffs page? ( Rave On? Velndonet? Where did you come up with this bizarre nature of satire?!?

That is just a whole world we created. It may not be funny to anyone else but some of the best times of my life have been writing that stuff. "What if there was a thriving music scene in western Maine ( a region I know nothing about -I don't think it's even inhabited)?" "And what if there was this millionaire asshole who ran the whole area?" "And what if they were having a cold war with eastern Maine?" "And what if western Maine was voted "Bass (the instrument) Capital of America?" The possibilities for insanity are endless. I don't know where it comes from. I was very lucky to meet Tom because he and I share very similar senses of humor. I like very subtle slow-building things. That should be evident if you listen to our CDs. These things are on average 30 minutes long!

You do an All-Music Guide search and you're like on every album in America! Rocket from the Crypt, the Connells, Caitlin Cary, The Pinetops, Hazeldine, Jay Farrar, George Huntley, Alejandro Escovedo -- what is up with this? Are you a session musician, or do you just have a lot of friends who ask for your help? And what other bands have you played with that AMG maybe hasn't found out about yet?

I love playing with other people. As I've gotten older I find I like doing that more than being in a band. It's all who you know. Chris Stamey has gotten me a lot of work (Caitlin, Alejandro, Hazeldine, his own record) as has my friend, tech extraordinaire Dewitt Burton (Jay Farrar, Minus Five, REM -I played on their most recent Christmas single and a track on an upcoming NRBQ tribute). I did a bunch of songs with Ryan Adams a few years ago too. I'm not sure if they'll ever see the light of day though.

Other notable things? I played a one off show a couple summers ago with Guided By Voices in NYC. That was great because it was a ten song set and all hits (we opened for Weezer)! We had a day to rehearse and I was lucky that most of the songs had soaked in from years of hearing them. Um..I may be the only person on earth who has played with both Charlie Daniels and The Buzzcocks. The former in a UPS commercial last year and the latter about 11 years ago when they played the Cradle and Mike Joyce (their then- drummer) didn't show up for soundcheck. I was in the opening band. I've also played on the Conan O'Brien Show a few times in music-related sketches.

Do Superchunk get crazy and party down on the road with sex and beer? How about some crazy stories? Any violence? Interband tension? Remember back when Laura and Mac were dating? I bet THAT's a sore subject!!!

We never got too out of hand. Check out those other diaries for dirt. Our lives on the road were pretty mundane. I did get into a fight with a meth-crazed asshole in Sweden back in the mid-90s. Protecting Laura's honor! It seems so long ago that they dated. I am still amazed they were able to break up and keep it going with so little fanfare. Never saw 'em fight about it. Interband tension does arise at the end of tours. The end of the last big tour in 2001 was the worst for me. I just needed to be away from it by that point.

What's this new CD "Clambake Volume 1" all about?

That was a compilation of acoustic in-store performances we did on the "Shutting Up" tour. Recorded on Discman.

What's next for Superchunk? DVD? New album?

We haven't even played together since July 17th 2002. Laura announced that she really wanted to take a year off after we toured for HTSU. After the tour I was ready for a year off! I was absolutely burned out. Didn't want to be in the band anymore and didn't want to play any of those songs again ...ever. But that changes, of course. I'm just now to the point where I'm starting to think about doing it again. I don't know how Laura feels!

The DVD is a compilation of all of our videos combined with some live stuff. I'm in the middle of doing audio commentary for it right now. Strange seeing yourself so thin.

We all know your feelings about music. Would you mind providing a quick list of your favorite albums of 2002-2003? Plus any that you think may have been a bit overrated?

Man, there really is so little that I've been turned on by. I really like songs. I'm almost never blown away by entire albums.

Things I liked in no particular order:

Most of "Stereo" by Paul Westerberg "The Rising" (the song) -Springsteen "What To Bring" -Marah

Dude, I'm a roots rocker!

I'm ashamed to say I haven't really listened to the new Spoon. I'm sure I will love it like I loved the last two.

Man, this is pathetic -I'm not coming up with anything!

I liked "Bowling For Combine."

I think it's all overrated, I guess! It still astounds me how the critical world will decide en mass that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the album of the year right when it comes out. Nothing at all against them -they're a great band -I could easily use Beck or the Flaming Lips (another great band) as an example. This kind of praise-heaping has just the opposite effect on me. I was so turned off by the lauding The Soft Bulletin got when it came out that I didn't give it a chance for about six months. I finally did and loved it. But maybe this is just my problem. In all honesty, I've never heard a record that does it for me like London Calling...ever. But why is that? Did I hear that record at just the right moment -when I had that wide-eyed view of life and music? Dunno.

Does playing with Superchunk pay the bills? Or is a day job still wearing a hole around your neck like a sick infant?

It used to -we still make some from it though. I do all kinds of things now. That commercial last year brought some dough in. I make a modest living writing (Tom and I got hired to write a movie a couple years ago -horrible experience/ also wrote some commercials for a made-for-MTV movie/music stuff)and playing on records and touring. I work every now and then at a cool used book/record store in town when I'm home. I love it. I hadn't had a "real" job for about 7 years and realized I missed interacting with people on a normal basis -not loading in and out of a club. You definitely lose that when you're in a band for so long.

How long have you been playing drums? DAMMIT! THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST QUESTION!!!

Started at age 10. So that would be 25 years! Oh, my God!

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CDs by Jon's Superchunk Band can be purchased at the end of this link, if clicked appropriately

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