Superchunk's Mac McCaughan Plays Not My Job As founding frontman of the rock band Superchunk and a co-founder of North Carolina's Merge Records, Mac McCaughan is as close as indie rock gets to having a mogul. We've invited Mac to play a game called "You're smooth ... real smooth." Three questions about Kenny G.
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Superchunk's Mac McCaughan Plays Not My Job

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Superchunk's Mac McCaughan Plays Not My Job

Superchunk's Mac McCaughan Plays Not My Job

Superchunk's Mac McCaughan Plays Not My Job

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/130276961/130276944" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Merge Records
Mac McCaughan
Merge Records

As founding frontman of the rock band Superchunk and a co-founder of North Carolina's Merge Records, Mac McCaughan is as close as indie rock gets to having a mogul.

We've invited Mac to play a game called "You're smooth ... real smooth." Three questions about Kenny G.

PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now, the game where we invite on interesting people and try to keep them interested. It's called Not My Job. As founding front man of the rock band Superchunk and a co-founder of North Carolina's Merge Records, Mac McCaughan is as close as indie rock gets to having a mogul.

For 20 years, Merge has been launching the careers of bands like Arcade Fire, the Magnetic Fields, and Spoon. Superchunk's new record "Majesty Shredding," is out now. Mac McCaughan, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

MAC MCCAUGHAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Great to have you here. So I got to ask you, you've had this remarkable career in music with your band Superchunk and with Merge Records, and the first thing I got to ask you is what kind of name for a band is Superchunk?

MCCAUGHAN: Well, we were originally named Chunk after our first drummer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: His name was Chuck, but the phone book had him listed as Chunk and so we thought that was kind of a good name. And it turns out there actually was already a Chunk. And when it came time to put out our first record, they denied us use of the name. So my mom suggested that we add the superlative to the beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Right. You're not just a chunk, you're a Superchunk.

AMY DICKINSON: Be super.

MCCAUGHAN: Exactly.

ROY BLOUNT JR: Well, that puts Chunk in their place doesn't it?

MCCAUGHAN: It did.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: In addition to being a musician, you're a record executive, of course. Do you have any feelings about what makes a good band name?

MCCAUGHAN: It's really difficult. Believe me, we didn't just go straight to Superchunk from Chunk.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: We tried to come up with something altogether different and you're trying to find something that doesn't imply too much to people so they don't get an idea about what you sound like ahead of time.

SAGAL: Right.

MCCAUGHAN: But as not so vague that they just don't care to ever find out.

SAGAL: Right. It's like The Bland would be bad.

MCCAUGHAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: Well you've actually been an indie band for 20 years.

MCCAUGHAN: We started in 1989 and we were Chunk until, I guess, early 1990.

SAGAL: How do you keep it fresh if you're an indie band 20 years on? I mean, how do you still be youthful and rebellious when you're neither?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: You're right, we are neither. I guess, in our case, we take nine years off in between records.

SAGAL: Yeah, well that will help.

MCCAUGHAN: So that keeps it pretty fresh.

SAGAL: Now one of things, of course, you did in your time off is you founded Merge Records and you made it into one of the biggest labels in the indie world, in the whole music world. Arcade Fire, a huge band, one of your bands.

MCCAUGHAN: We actually started the label at the same time as we started the band. But luckily, around the time that we were all getting tired of being on tour, the label started to grow at a pretty great rate and we ended up working, like you said, with Arcade Fire and Spoon and a ton of great bands. So the label has really kind of accelerated as Superchunk has been taking time off.

SAGAL: How is it possible, though, to be both the artist and a suit? Do you ever like get upset with yourself because you don't understand what you're trying to do?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: We've come close to dropping ourselves.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You're touring now with a new record, 20 years after you started. You're a family man now, right?

MCCAUGHAN: Yes.

SAGAL: Is that weird, having young kids and touring as a rock musician?

MCCAUGHAN: It is weird. I mean it certainly makes it harder to be away from home. And it's hard to tell just how interested they are in the whole thing. My wife brought the two kids to New York when we played a couple of shows there recently. We played in a record store during the daytime, and my wife brought them to the record store which was an acoustic event. And out of the corner of my eye I can see my three-year-old son and my seven-year-old daughter kind of hanging on my wife.

In the pauses between songs, I just hear, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy. I want to pay attention, but I don't want to pay too much attention, you know, and forget the words to the song I'm trying to sing.

SAGAL: Sure, I understand. Did they shout out requests like, do "Old MacDonald"?

MCCAUGHAN: They do have their favorites.

SAGAL: I'm sure they do.

MCCAUGHAN: They do have their favorites.

SAGAL: Some music fans, especially indie fans, can be a little snobby about music. Do you have any like musical guilty pleasures though? You know, like Katy Perry, early Michael Bolton?

MCCAUGHAN: I'll reserve comment on Michael Bolton, but I don't - I mean I feel pretty good about all the stuff that I like. I feel like if I like it, then I shouldn't feel guilty about it, I guess is what I'm saying.

SAGAL: Right.

MCCAUGHAN: You know, frankly, in the car I tend to listen to the oldies station.

SAGAL: Sure.

MCCAUGHAN: But oldies now, just to make me feel old, include songs from when I was, you know, 20 years old.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Arguably, oldies could include Superchunk at this point.

MCCAUGHAN: Exactly, exactly.

ALONZO BODEN: I think they'd include Chunk, but not Superchunk.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Superchunk actually covered a Destiny's Child song, "Say My Name."

MCCAUGHAN: We did.

SAGAL: Yes.

MCCAUGHAN: See, you know, I actually did take umbrage to the name of that album that that song appeared on because it referred to these songs that these bands were covering, like us, as being guilty pleasures, which to me, like I said, you know, they had great songs. I actually got to meet Beyonce one time and I told her that we covered a Destiny's Child song.

SAGAL: And what did she say?

MCCAUGHAN: She said, really? And went back to talking to Jay-Z.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Mac McCaughan, we're delighted to have you with us. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

CARL KASELL, Host:

You're smooth, real smooth.

SAGAL: Since you are in the band Superchunk, we decided to ask you about something that's not chunky at all, but smooth. And who is smoother than smooth jazz saxophone player Kenny G.?

MCCAUGHAN: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yes.

DICKINSON: Oh, no.

SAGAL: We've got three questions about the musician born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home voicemail. Carl, who is Mac McCaughan playing for?

KASELL: Mac is playing for Joseph Becker of Appleton, Wisconsin.

SAGAL: Ready to play?

MCCAUGHAN: I'm ready.

SAGAL: Kenny G., are you a fan?

MCCAUGHAN: I don't know anything about Kenny G., so you picked a great subject.

SAGAL: All right. Kenny G., in addition to his millions of albums sold, has another distinction in the music world. What is it? A, he is the inventor of a new version of a saxophone, called a Kennyphone? B, he holds the world record for longest continuous note ever played without passing out? C, he created the only record clinically proven by medical testing to be an effective treatment for anxiety disorder?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: I've got to go with the Kennyphone on this one.

SAGAL: The Kennyphone, he invented the Kennyphone. You play it, you sound just like him.

MCCAUGHAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: No, it's actually B. Using circular breathing...

MCCAUGHAN: Wow.

SAGAL: He held an E-flat for 45 minutes.

MCCAUGHAN: Oh, my God.

SAGAL: He did. He set the world record.

BODEN: I saw that. It's amazing.

DICKINSON: Are you breathing through you nose and as you blow?

SAGAL: You breathe in with your nose as you blow out.

BODEN: Yeah, it's circular breathing and he could for a long...

DICKINSON: You watched that for 45 minutes?

BODEN: No, I watched it 30 seconds.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: I would really only want to see the last few seconds of that. You know? Honestly.

BODEN: Well I just saw the first few seconds and said I'll trust him on the other 44 minutes.

SAGAL: Yeah.

MCCAUGHAN: That may be 45 minutes better passed than listening to an actual Kenny G. record.

SAGAL: There you go. Whoa.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

DICKINSON: Uh-oh.

SAGAL: Somewhere in one of his mansions, he just felt a twinge.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: Smackdown.

BODEN: I think he just bought a small independent record label in North Carolina...

SAGAL: I think he did.

BODEN: ...and shut it down.

SAGAL: All right, here's your next question. Kenny G is very popular in China. In fact, he has a particular place in Chinese culture. What is it? A, a breed of cattle is called the Kenny-shioaw, because its mooing sounds like his saxophone? B, buses, trains systems and stores play his music to tell everybody to go home? Or, C, something really, really sweet, like an over-sugared candy, is called Kenny-sah.

MCCAUGHAN: Oh, my gosh. All so ridiculous.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: I'm going to go with the candy.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the candy? Kenny-sah. Oh that's so sweet, it's like Kenny G. We'll call it Kenny-sah. That's your choice?

MCCAUGHAN: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: The cow is so much worse, I'll go with the cow.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the cow?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: This cow went moo and some Chinese guy said that's just like Kenny G.

MCCAUGHAN: Huh. I guess they play the music to send people home.

SAGAL: That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: I like a man who can take a hint. I really do. In China, especially in Shanghai, stores, buses and other public facilities play his beloved song "Going Home" when they want people to go home.

DICKINSON: Isn't that?

SAGAL: I don't know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCAUGHAN: Wow.

SAGAL: I've never heard Kenny G. in my life. I have no idea.

DICKINSON: Oh.

SAGAL: All right. But he's very popular. Last question, back in 2005, Kenny G. had a particularly prestigious command performance. What was it? A, he was hired to serenade a flock of endangered whooping cranes? B, he was hired to play lullabies to help the children of the King of Sweden to get to sleep? Or, C, he played background music for the diners at a 10 million dollar Bat Mitzvah?

MCCAUGHAN: Wow, the Bat Mitzvah sounds pretty good.

SAGAL: It does?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yes, it's the Bat Mitzvah. Yes, very good.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Kenny G was actually just the opening act at the infamous $10 million Bat Mitzvah, which also included entertainment from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and 50 Cent. The military contractor who arranged that Bat Mitzvah for his daughter, David Brooks, was just convicted of gross financial fraud, by the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Mac McCaughan do on our quiz?

KASELL: Mac had two correct answers, Peter. That's good enough to win for Joseph Becker.

SAGAL: Well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Before we let you go, Mac, last question when it comes to peanut butter, are you a chunky or a creamy guy?

MCCAUGHAN: I go with the chunky.

SAGAL: There you are, as you should.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Mac McCaughan is lead singer and the guitarist for the band Superchunk. He's also co-owner of Merge Records. Mac, thank you so much for joining us.

MCCAUGHAN: Thank you so much for having me.

SAGAL: Mac McCaughan, everybody. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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