By Sean Titone
April 13, 2017
Mac McCaughan and Mary Lattimore are coming to Charlotte to perform in the next installment of the New Frequencies series at McColl Center and their collaboration is a match made in indie rock heaven. McCaughan is the long-time leader of Durham, North Carolina rock legends Superchunk and the co-founder of Merge Records, while Lattimore (originally from Asheville) is a harpist who utilizes electronic flourishes and effects to create a singularly unique sound. Just in the past year, Lattimore, who plays a Lyon and Healy Concert Grand harp, has toured with some of indie music’s finest such as Parquet Courts, Kevin Morby, Waxahatchee and Real Estate, while she has also recorded and performed with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Sharon Van Etten. Their collaborative performance, entitled New Rain Duets, is a world premiere of all new, original compositions. In fact, their music will be improvised live on the spot, although they will be coming in with some pre-conceived ideas about song structure. We had a chance to catch up with McCaughan to discuss the origins of his relationship with Lattimore and why the music of New Rain Duets is so inspiring to him.
“I’ve actually known Mary for a long time. She used to work at Merge a long time ago in the late 90’s. She was a musician then, but I didn’t know what she was working on at the time. I’m a fan of her records and her music. I did a performance, I wrote originally for Moogfest in Durham last year called POMS. We performed it again last summer in Carrboro and Mary opened the show. Seeing her play then and listening to her records got me thinking it would be fun to do something together,” McCaughan says.
Live, improvised music demands a significant amount of trust between artists. A deep understanding of a musical language, intuition, visual cues and a mutual appreciation for a shared art form all come into play. The tools in McCaughan and Lattimore’s toolbox on this particular night will include Lattimore’s harp and effect pedals, and McCaughan’s analog synths, guitar and his own set of looping pedals. And while the night will definitely venture off the beaten path into the wild, unknown beyond, they won’t be coming in completely blind.
“We had one rehearsal at my house where we just set stuff up and played for about an hour and it was really fun and sounded cool. That’s all we’ve got under our belts so it should be really interesting. It was easier than I thought it would be as far as things coming together and sounding great. Mary has collaborated with a lot of people on the harp so I think she’s pretty comfortable in that space. Stuff just sounds good when she’s playing on it, so that makes my job easier because she’s such a pro. Also, the bonus is that there’s no singing, so I don’t have to remember any words,” he says with a laugh.
McCaughan has been playing punchy, upbeat rock music with Superchunk and other projects for nearly 30 years, but he seems to cherish this opportunity to step outside his comfort zone and find a new, challenging outlet for creative fulfillment.
“It’s just so different from what I’m normally doing that it’s interesting in that way. I’m really looking forward to it. Mary has played with a much wider range of people than I have. I’ve seen her play with punk bands and she’s played with Kurt Vile and she’s done completely free improv things. I’ve done some film scores, but in terms of playing live, I’ve done a little bit of improv stuff like this, but not as much as Mary. So, she’s kind of the seasoned veteran of that world which has given me some comfort and I’m just going to try to hold up my end.”
He continues, “one reason why I thought of her for this collaboration is because she’s so open-minded about what she’s doing and so willing to kind of get together and work on something without even knowing what it’s going to be in the end.”
The only other scheduled performance of New Rain Duets will take place the night before in Asheville, so whatever happens on Thursday night in uptown Charlotte will be a special event. It’s a rare opportunity to see two musicians in their prime flex their improvisational muscles in the intimate and welcoming confines of New Frequencies at McColl Center.