Tim Kinsella - 03.18.09

Interviewed by
Tim Kinsella - 03.18.09"It feels good to take a break because Iíve never done it before."

Sandwiched between two North Chicago shops, Tim Kinsellaís apartment is a bit more like a secret hideout for his bands Joan of Arc and Make Believe; or, at least, thatís the impression I got. I entertained the image of the man zoning out the sounds of the city streets and putting together his complicated tunes right there in his half-library-half-living-room, where shelves upon shelves of literature made for the kind of scholarly environment not often associated with rock stars. But then, if youíve ever heard the infamous Kinsella sound (in Capín Jazz, Joan of Arc, Make Believe, and whichever other bands heís fronting on any given day), you already know heís not like all those other rock stars.

As the man greeted me into his humble abode, I became aware of the fact that he was actually interviewing me. He asked whether Iíd written for Absolute Punk for a very long time (I usually write reviews, but Iím branching out) and whether I played music myself (I dabble.) He offered me coffee at an average of once every 5 minutes, and twice asked if I wanted an apple. Could this really be the same angry rock persona whoíd blatantly asked for the breakups of all those Alternative Press bands a few years ago? It was him, but as my interview revealed, Timís life has been focusing in new, calmer directions. We discussed the past, the future, and the new album Flowers, which comes out June 9th on Polyvinyl Records.

Iím going to start all the way at the beginning. Was there anything before your first popular group, Capín Jazz? Well, it was everyone that was in Capín Jazz, but we had a different name. Toe Jam. It was maybe a bit more hardcore. My brother [Mike Kinsella] played the second guitar, and, you know, it was two-chord hardcore. Really fast.

Thatís a far stretch from Joan of Arcís sprawling, experimental style Ė even the name ĎToe Jamí just sounds like some young kids jamming. How did you guys come up with the name ĎJoan of Arcí, and how do you feel that represents the music of the group? Itís been so long now that I donít really know. I donít really like the name. I guess I donít dislike it, I just donít think about it now. We needed a name, and I remember listening to this Leonard Cohen record Songs of Love and Hate which has a couple songs about Joan of Arc on it, and really I just knew I needed a band name by that morningÖ

Kind of on-the-spot. Was Make Believe pretty much the same story? No, Make Believe was very much conceptualized from the beginning to be a certain way. We had, like, the manifesto from the beginning of how we wanted to be a band. At first we were Make / Believe, the two words with the divide in betweenÖ It was the same people as Joan of Arc at that time [in 2003]. But now just me and [bassist] Bobby [Burg] are still touring with Joan of Arc. [My cousin, drummer] Nate [Kinsella] moved to Champaign, and [guitarist] Sam Zurick got a job at The Onion Ė delivery organizer. So neither of them wanted to tour, even though we arenít really touring much at all now anyways.

How collaborative is Joan of Arc? Do you write most of the music yourself? Oh, well, no; it goes through phases. Like for the last record [2008ís] Boo! Human, I had everything written for guitar and vocals, and then everyone showed up and we would arrange them together. This new record [Flowers] has a lot more songs that different people started. Itís very collaborative. I probably wrote half of it and everybody else wrote the other half. Certain songs would be like Ė this new album, youíd definitely see Bobby bring in a riff to start a song, like everyone each had their own song that we used.

Okay, well, common myth says that for Boo! Human, you had a sign-up sheet outside the studio for instrument spots, backing band. YeahÖ It wasnít like just anyone walking by couldÖ

Right. Yeah, I knew that all of these friends of mine I wanted to be a part of it but there was no way that everyone could be available all the time. We couldnít organize it, we tried for months, but nobody was available at the same time. So we had like 8 days, and we had a day shift and a night shift, and everyone just told me when theyíd be around. And then I figured out according to who would be there when which songs would be good for which lineup. So yeah, it made for some really interesting combinations.

Itís weird, to me, how focused Boo! Human sounded considering all of the different lineups. It sounds like one solid thing all the way through rather than a bunch of pieces put together. Well, yeah, you know, Iíve got some really talented friends that can fall in pretty easily. And certain songs we would end up with crazy lineups with two synthesizers, a piano, and three guitars; it was mostly like I would play the main riff, and the vocal melody, and then people would [add their part], and that was sort of a way to keep things more fresh and spontaneous; whereas like Iíd already worked these songs to death, these different people were really hearing them for the first time as we recorded. Plus the people who record our albums now know the studio really well.

So then the new album is more of a solid lineup for the whole thing then? No, the new record isÖthereís three or four songs from the Boo! Human session Ė they werenít any better or worse, but they just sounded different and we couldnít fit them in to make a unified record. Then thereís three or four songs that are home recordings that I just did here and then brought in, and we layered them. Then the touring band, we all came in with one song each, andÖ Except for one song, none of us actually ended up playing the instruments we play live. Everyone was doing different things.

Is Flowers a departure musically from Boo! Human? Yeah, itís a departure in that the first recordings were from the last album and then the last recordings were from a few months ago. There were long breaks in between. So where Boo! Human was like one contained week, this was about recording some stuff, not listening to it for a couple months, and then coming back and seeing what it was. There was a lot more rearranging of things this time, and also this time we were more aware of the music as a collection of songs [than only as an album]. You know, because records are such an antiquated form now. People just listen to iTunes on shuffles, so we wanted to sort of respond to that.

Is Joan of Arc going to tour in support of the album? No, weíre all just focusing on different things right now, sort of burnt out on too much band stuff. Iím getting my masterís degree in creative writing. MusicísÖsort of not the priority these days for any of us.

[Editorís note: Joan of Arc is on tour right now in the UK supporting the album.]

You talked about albums being outdated, which is a feeling I think a lot of musicians share right now. Do you make very much money from record sales? Because Iíve seen Make Believe live for free, and Joan of Arc for free multiple timesÖ so youíre obviously not banking on those. No, that would be where all the money would beÖ Yeah, I dunno. Obviously on tour, we have to get paid, but in Chicago we end up playing a lot of benefits, free showsÖ We all have jobs, you know. Iím a bartender, and like I said, Iím a full-time student.

Yeah, not a lot of free time then obviously. No, none at all. Really, itís a great relief to not be thinking about music all the time after [so long]. I mean, itís weird, itís been the center of my life for so long. It feels good to take a break because Iíve never done it before. [Laughs.]

When you look back on all that music, do you have a favorite Joan of Arc album? I donít think soÖ I donít listen to any of them, so I donít know. I have memories of the experiences of recording them, and I always have a sense of what the differences were between them, like in the approach. The first couple albums were very much [about] learning how far out we could go in these different directions.

Youíd just picked up guitar when you started Joan of Arc. Yeah. Yeah, I took some lessons as a kid but it never really caught on.

Okay then this is sort of the opposite questions: Do you have anything from any of your bands that you look back and really wish you hadnít done it that way? Mmhmm, yeah, most of the stuff! [Laughs.] I guess thatís why I wouldnít listen to them. Because sometimes Iíll have to hear a song so we can play it on tour if we havenít played it in a long time, and Iíve got to re-learn it; Iím always shocked by how it sounds. Again, itís more the approach that defines them to me, more than how they actually sound. Sometimes we write them together, sometimes alone, sometimes weíre just sitting at computers trading files.

Alright, so we know what you donít like to listen to: yourself. And most Alternative Press groups. What are you interested in, and who influences your sound? I donít follow new music at all. I just donít have the energy or the money. My favorite bands have always been Bauhaus, Can, and Lungfish. I think all the Joan of Arc albums are just trying to [interpret] The Skyís Gone Out by Bauhaus; I was listening to that when I was like 10. It had a huge effect.
Itís weird, you know, I always have these ideas of like, ďOh, I need to make this record of all pianos and vocals, nothing else,Ē or, ďOh, I need to make one thatís all just super loud riffs.Ē But it never seems interesting to me to make a record thatís like, parts of each of these Ė each of these as a component. I never actually do it. It takes too much discipline, I guess. But then, like I said before, Iím not even really thinking about music anymore these days, soÖ

Unfortunately, thatís all I got. [Laughs.] Whatever, Iím being interviewed for the new record.

So you wonít be touring much but you will be supporting the record, right? Weíll play a few shows. At this point I donít think Joan of Arc is going to win over any new fans, and weíre all grown men with our own lives so itís not exciting for us just to be on tour now. We used to tour so much. Constantly, four or five months a year Ė Make Believe more so than Joan of Arc, but Joan of Arc in the beginning too. But weíve sort of had to figure out in the last few years how to make the bands fit around our lives rather than having our lives fit around the bands. Polyvinyl Records has been very cool and supportive of whatever weíve wanted to do. So yeah, thereíll be some shows, just not a ton.

For a guy talking about how music is not the central focus of his life...based on your output, you hardly give off the impression of somebody slowing down. But youíre about ten albums in to Joan of Arc. What can you say about the future of the band? Itís like if you really love doing something, youíre going to be doing it everyday. And thatís what we were doing for years. The cycles of how to sell and promote a record donít really have much in common with the impulse to be playing music all the time, you know? So, it may still seem like records keep coming out, butÖ And also, weíve made a lot of mistakes that we have to figure out. I guess I shouldnít call them mistakesÖ because they were very enjoyable. But I think weíve all sharpened our senses of what weíre trying to do so we can execute it more quickly and donít have to fool around so much when we start working on something. Weíve figured out what weíre responding to, and it doesnít require as much time. I donít feel like thatís us getting lazy about it; itís us having more control.

Iíve always wondered, what do you think of bands like We Are Scientists and Scary Kids Scaring Kids, both named after Capn Jazz tracks? Yeah, itís super weird!

Would you take it like a compliment? Sure, yeah! Itís super weird that these bands are way more popular than us. Itís very flattering. I saw We Are Scientists on David Letterman or Conan Obrien or something, but other than that Iíd never heard [either of] them.

Itís weird that both bands sound nothing like you. Yup.

Is it weird walking down the street to somewhere like Reckless Records and then seeing your own stuff for sale? I dunno, I donít feel like the recordsÖ.I think we got so many bad reviews when we were first starting, and Promise Ring [whose singer Davey vonBohlen came from Capín Jazz] was getting really popular, so people were paying a lot of attention to us at first. But since we werenít like a lot of those other bands, there was a lot of really harsh criticism. I think it freaked me out a little bit. So maybe I didnít know how to respond to it. I had to figure out that we make the records, and then theyíre ours, but once they get mass produced and surrendered to the world, then I canít be accountable for how people respond to them. Really, theyíre just objects in the world; artifacts. But I do feel very lucky that they exist!
Itís been weirder for me when Iíll walk into a cafť and hear one of my own songs and itíll sound familiar, and Iíll be like, ďWhat is this? It sounds like it was recorded really badly!Ē [Laughs.]

So do you get recognized a lot if youíre just going to a show or something? I definitely remember having seen you around. Well yeah, but thatís because Iíve lived in the same neighborhood for a really long time and I just know everyone. Iíve been bartending just around the corner for nine and a half years.

Whatís your favorite place to play shows? Probably like loft parties.

Hmmm, I donít even know where that is. Is it on Milwaulkee by the Ė [Laughs], no, I mean just like, house parties. But we love Empty Bottle and Hideout; weíve played there a zillion times.

Well Tim, I believe thatís all I got! Thanks for your time. Cool, man! Thanks for your interest.


Read Scott Irvine's 2007 interview with Tim Kinsella here:

Read my review of Flowers here:
Displaying posts 1 - 13 of 13
12:30 PM on 05/30/09
Eurotrash Drock
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good interview!
12:43 PM on 05/30/09
I am your big brother.
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AFSjulian's Avatar
I really enjoyed reading this. Keep branching out man haha!
12:50 PM on 05/30/09
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katieissweet's Avatar
Great read.
01:45 PM on 05/30/09
I make music.
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bradsonemanband's Avatar
this was a good read.
too bad there wasn't a question that said something like, "when the fuck is Mike's new record coming out? or will it EVER come out?"
03:21 PM on 05/30/09
this is success-this is how we feel
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this was a good read.
too bad there wasn't a question that said something like, "when the fuck is Mike's new record coming out? or will it EVER come out?"
yeah. i'll save that for if i interview Mike. haha
11:20 PM on 05/30/09
I am Mick
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Honestly, I usually hate reading the interviews done on AbsolutePunk. A lot of times it seems (probably because it is) that it's just an email list of questions that the band answers. But you asked some really good questions. The intro was also really well done, you should try writing just a feature article, rather then question/answer things, which generally are REALLY boring to read.

But seriously, awesome work dude.
09:02 AM on 05/31/09
Kyle Thrash
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Great read. He seems like an interesting cat.
03:38 PM on 06/01/09
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ByelineCole's Avatar
god i love tim kinsella. pretty decent interview.
03:38 PM on 06/16/09
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It seems to me that he sounded insulted by the questions you asked. As a journalist hired by this site, how do you feel asking the most mediocre questions to a musical genius? It also seems that you did a lot of background a la Scott I.'s '07 review.And that conversation flowed. I guess I'm just upset that you stole the assignment of reviewing the new album AND the interview from Scott I. Would have made for a much more pleasant, educational read.
11:29 PM on 08/06/09
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It seems to me that he sounded insulted by the questions you asked. As a journalist hired by this site, how do you feel asking the most mediocre questions to a musical genius? It also seems that you did a lot of background a la Scott I.'s '07 review.And that conversation flowed. I guess I'm just upset that you stole the assignment of reviewing the new album AND the interview from Scott I. Would have made for a much more pleasant, educational read.
Tim invited the guy into his home, so I doubt he was insulted by anything he was asked. Mediocre questions? His "assignment" was to talk about the new record, possibility of a tour and other similar topics. There was no need to ask Tim if he'd ever had a colonoscopy or what he'll be doing for his next birthday. An interview is only as good as the purpose it fulfills, and this one fulfilled its purpose.

And I don't get how anybody stole anything from anybody. Surely the neither the interviewer nor Scott Irvine are the first to talk to Tim or review one of his records concurrently. And bear in mind an interview is only as good as the questions, and only as good as the answers. You could have mind-bending questions, but if the subject is a cold fish, what then? There's a lot more that goes into creating a simple Q&A than you'd think.
12:41 AM on 09/02/09
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very cool. Joan of Arc is great.
12:44 AM on 09/02/09
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god i love tim kinsella. pretty decent interview.

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