The L Magazine: First off, can you give us a name for the record and if available, a release date?
Mac McCaughan: The album is going to be called Bright Ideas, which makes sense because it’s the first song on the album and kind of sets the tone, but on the bad side leaves me open to lots of "he should have had the bright idea not to put this album out in the first place!" type reviews, so we’ll see. It’ll be out in August.
The L: Each Portastatic record seems to change its focus a little, from acoustic to rock music, Brazilian themes, the inclusion of jazz players... how does this record differ from your previous recorded output and are there any standout additions that really make the sound?
MM: You’re right, I do like to change it up — the big difference this time out is that it’s the first Portastatic album that’s recorded as "a band" — that is, on most tracks we recorded the songs live in the line-up we’ve been using for awhile now, with my brother Matthew on drums and Jim Wilbur (also of Superchunk) playing the bass. We still had some great guest musicians — a woman named Genevieve Gagon plays a mean violin, plus Danny and Tim (who also produced the album) and Jason from American Music Club also play on a couple songs each. But overall, it’s much more of a "rock band" vibe than in the past, but still with some new textures and stuff.
The L: Could you tell us a little bit about how you decided to work at Tiny Telephone (a San Francisco-based studio) for this disc? It’s certainly a long way from home, but it has also been churning out some great sounding records lately. Was there anything specific you heard come out of there that inspired you to go there?
MM: Well, one of my favorite things about making records is getting to go to different studios and work with different people... normally this happens with Superchunk (since Portastatic is often recorded at home) but we have a young daughter whose room is next to my studio, so not a lot of recording has been going on at home recently! So in order to get the album done in a reasonable amount of time, and to be able to do the live band thing, I decided that a studio was the way to go. John Vanderslice’s last album was great, and I’ve heard other things recorded at Tiny that sounded really good, so when we got offered a show at the NoisePop festival, it made sense to go out there and do both.
The L: To what extent did you have a specific sound in mind when you went into the studio to record? How willing are you to stray from that sound once the actual recording process begins?
MM: Well I had demos for all the songs, and in some cases those demos really informed the final version, even though the demos were just made by me. For the most part, I just wanted to make a record that was pretty full-on most of the time, and I think even the "quiet" numbers are pretty full-on in their own way. I wanted more of an impact than maybe I’ve made in the past with lots of songs that kind of sound all over the place on one album — I may go back to that approach because I like that, too, but I was more into doing a band thing on this one.
The L: What are your plans in terms of promoting the record when it’s released? Will there be a good deal of touring? Does the Superchunk schedule interfere with that at all and what is next on their schedule?
MM: There will definitely be some touring — how much, I’m not sure — to support the album. Hopefully much of it will be with the full band, but I still like doing solo stuff as well. Superchunk’s schedule is still pretty light, so hopefully those folks won’t try to hold me back on this one... actually there’s been talk of Superchunk activity in the near future but we haven’t figured it all out yet. Until then I’ll be working on supporting Bright Ideas, as well as working on songs for the NEXT Portastatic album already! I’m sick of this two years between records thing.Originating as bits of solo acoustic work, progressing into the lands of subtle computer manipulation, jazz and movie scores, and these days sounding not unlike the band McCaughan created a side-project to work outside of. Portastatic, the ever-expanding side-project of Superchunk frontman and Merge Records founder Mac McCaughan.