LOS ANGELES, November 23, 2013 — Chris McCaughan is best known for playing guitar and singing for the Chicago punk band, The Lawrence Arms. Since 2007, he also has an acoustic based solo endeavor, called SUNDOWNER. In September, SUNDOWNER released its third album, Neon Fiction, on Fat Wreck Chords. Chris McCaughan took some time before leaving for a short east coast stint with SUNDOWNER to talk about embarking on his solo career, touring, the new Lawrence Arms record, and being a Chicago Cubs fan.
Kevin Wells: Prior to your first SUNDOWNER release, how long had you been thinking about doing a solo project?
Chris McCaughan: The first SUNDOWNER record came out in 2007, just kind of right on the heels of the last Lawrence Arms [record], which came out in 2006. I guess I had been gathering songs for a long time. I always had a collection of material on the home four-track thing and it kind of started to evolve. So, I guess I had been thinking about it for a while over the years. Between records, things accumulate and I guess it feels right to get stuff out there that I’m working on in a different way. I’m always trying to write and collect songs and, when it makes sense, make records.
KW: There have been more than a few people from punk bands who have embarked on more mellow or acoustic projects. Why do you think there is such a large interest in doing more mellow solo projects?
CM: I don’t know, man. I know over the last years it has become a little more en vogue to start doing that stuff. Going back to the first SUNDOWNER record, I don’t know if I really thought about it in such a clear kind of way, you know? Just being somebody who writes a lot, it seemed to make sense to make a record outside of The Lawrence Arms because I had stuff. Certainly there is something a little more streamlined and easy about travelling and playing on your own. I think when you’re in a band for a long time and you tour all the time, those things can be hard logistically. There’s something really nice about just getting out on your own with a guitar and playing. Maybe that’s it? [laughs] I don’t know if I have an answer for why it’s become popular to do, but it’s an easy way to get stuff you’re writing out there in a different kind of way, I guess. [laughs] Maybe it a bubble that’s about to pop. [laughs]
KW: Do you find that you have a preference for one style over the other?
CM: No, man. I’m trying to write good songs. I mean, that’s my main goal out of everything. It’s just to write a high level and share the stuff when it feels appropriate. You know, we’re finishing up this new Lawrence Arms album and I’m really excited about that. I feel like, I don’t know, they’re really different experiences; being in a band for a long time and playing loud and being on stage by yourself are very, very contrasting experiences. I kind of feel like they both speak to part of what I’ve done over time here, you know what I’m saying? But, yeah, I don’t know if I have a preference. They’re both a part of what I do. I guess I think of them as linked, but also very separate experiences, but still hopefully authentic and genuine both ways.
KW: Would you ever have SUNDWONER open for The Lawrence Arms?
CM: [laughs] Actually, that happened once a long time ago. The Lawrence Arms had a crazy six-week tour and SUNDOWNER was the opening act [laughs], which is totally ridiculous and completely self-involved. I’m not sure these days it would quite fly as much. I guess I will stick to just getting out on my own.
KW: The new album is on Fat Wreck Chords. How did you decide to go with Fat?
CM: I funded the SUNDOWNER record myself because I was ready to make it. I didn’t want to have to make a lot of hard decisions on the front end about who would put it out. There’s a lot of people that I’ve worked with for a long time, like Mike Park at Asian Man [Records]. So, I made the record first and then I was just sharing it with, you know, people here and there and I gave it to Bart over at Fat Wreck and it kind of made the rounds at the office and, you know, Erin’s emailing me and I’m talking to Mike and they really dig the record. Honestly, I was pretty surprised because it’s obviously not a typical Fat Wreck Chords release in terms of the vibe and the sound. It seemed like a really cool opportunity to work with them in this way. I was stoked Mike liked the record. [It] was just an intersection of good fortune for me. It’s given a little more life to the project.
KW: You are doing a couple of short runs coming up in the northeast and northwest. Do you have plans to do a more extensive SUNDOWNER tour or more two or three show runs to other parts of the country?
CM: What works really well for me is this long weekend, short run type of thing. Having been someone who has toured really hard in my life, right now, it just seems to work so much better if I kind of organize these in mini tours, mini runs. I’m heading out to New York gonna do three shows out there. We have some northwest stuff. I actually live in the northwest now, but I’m from Chicago. Then, hopefully make it down to southern California. When it’s all said and done, I will have kind of hit a lot of the spots in the U.S. that were important for me to play. I kind of take it a week at a time here and see what kind of opportunities arise and things like that. Going out for four weeks doesn’t really sound awesome to me. I want to do this in a way that works best for my life and, you know, we’ll see what happens.
KW: Which label will release the Lawrence Arms record?
CM: It actually just got announced last week and we put out the first song [on Monday]. It’s going to be on Epitaph and it’s called, Metropole. It’s coming out at the end of January. Things are kind of rolling along with that and ramping up right now, which has been a really cool experience. The switch from Fat to Epitaph just kind of made sense. Obviously, I’m really thankful to have worked with Fat the way the Lawrence Arms had for so long, but also to be in the position where it’s like, wow, man, I put out the SUNDOWNER record on Fat and now the Lawrence Arms have this record coming out on Epitaph. It’s been a pretty good six months for me, I guess. We’re excited about it. It’s gonna be cool. It’s exciting stuff, man.
KW: When will The Lawrence Arms be touring?
CM: Yeah, we’re gonna do some touring, but again, you know, I guess I’m one of these guys, I just don’t believe we have to play a lot of roles. I feel like we should be able to do it however we want. I think The Lawrence Arms will be kind of doing I guess what I’ve been doing with SUNDOWNER, although on a little bit bigger of a scale. You know, like these short tours where we will hit the west coast. We’ll do it right and then we’ll take a break and we’ll go to the east coast and do it. As opposed to these expansive six-week, month long U.S. tours.
KW: It also gives you the advantage of always playing cities on a weekend, which is good for fans.
CM: Yeah, totally. I don’t know. I just more and more believe in this whole idea that’s like, you know, you don’t have to tour harder as you get older, you just have to tour smarter. Hopefully, that’s something we can do effectively.
KW: I hear you’re a Chicago Cubs fan.
CM: I grew up five blocks north of Wrigley, so that makes me, yes, a Cubs fan, but also it’s hard being a Cubs fan, you know? [laughs]
KW: I think Theo [Epstein] has them headed in the right direction.
CM: Yeah, I think organizationally they are in a much better place than they have been in a long time. That’s certainly a positive. [laughs]
KW: Being in Portland, have you adopted the Mariners or is that more like adding salt to an open wound?
CM: You know, I haven’t as much, man. I like baseball. I’m a sports man. I follow sports like really, you know, solidly, but I’m really more of an NBA fan. That’s my biggest thing. I grew up in Chicago. I was playing basketball and was young in the 90s when the Bulls were great. I’m becoming a Blazers fan here, slowly. [laughs] They’ve got a good looking team. But hopefully, the Cubs at some point here can make a push and turn it around. I guess it’s one of those things where it is hard to believe that something big would ever happen until you really start to see it with an organization like that. You kind of get used to the disappointment of it. [laughs]
KW: Is there anything else you would like people to know about yourself or anything you are working on?
CM: I don’t know, man. The main thing, I guess, is just it was exciting working on the SUNDOWNER record. My friend, Ben Peter, who is a photographer living in New York City, shot a video for Cemetery West. It’s one of the main tracks we’ve kind of been focusing on with this record, which got a real cool spot up on Esquire the other day. We’re proud of that video and, I don’t know. There will be new Lawrence Arms tracks kind of in the pipeline here. There’s definitely a lot of stuff to check out right now as far as that goes. Hopefully I will make it down to L.A. before too long. I’m working on that right now, so look for some weekend shows down there.
Catch SUNDOWNER November 23 at Middle East in Boston, Mass. and November 24 in Brooklyn, N.Y. at the Knitting Factory. Also, SUNDOWNER is playing Portland, Oregon on December 9 and Seattle, Wash. on December 10. The new album, Neon Fiction, is available now on Fat Wreck Chords.
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