Inexhaustible songwriter releases two albums in two months from a pair of his many bands
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For nearly two decades, Chicago musician Tim Kinsella has been a member of countless influential local bands, from short-lived emo outfit Cap’n Jazz to supergroup side project Everyoned. Most recently though, two of his bands have new albums, released both this month and last: experimental indie band Joan Of Arc with Boo!Human, out May 20, and the ever-prolific Make Believe with April’s Going To The Bone Church. Before Joan Of Arc dropped its new album, The A.V. Club spoke to Kinsella about his creative process, his distance from his reputation, and why he doesn’t care if he ever puts out another album.
A.V. Club: When writing an album, do you focus on how it will fit within your catalog?
Tim Kinsella: There are administrative decisions. On the last Joan Of Arc record [2006’s Eventually, All At Once], it was like, “We’re going to set up the 8-track at my mom’s house and we’re all going to live there for a week. We’re never going to play together as a live band. I’m going to record the guitars and vocals, and then everyone layers their parts on top of each other.” It just became this pile of things. This new record, I had about 25 songs that I was ready to play at any moment. Depending on who showed up that afternoon or that evening [to record], I would look around and think, “This group would be good for this [song] or that song,” and I would play them a couple songs and people would say, “We can do this with that!” Then we’d play it together as a group and refine it and play it live. The technical decisions help shape it. With something like The Gap, we were like, “Let’s smoke a ton of pot and not leave this apartment.” We each had a computer set up, and we tweaked every measure of every instrument in a different way.
AVC: If you have such a vast backlog of material, how do you decide which is a Joan of Arc idea, and which is a Make Believe idea?
TK: Make Believe starts with a guitar riff that Sam [Zurick] writes. Then, we very democratically put it together. I’m not the spark that ignites Make Believe songs.
AVC: Is that because you left and then rejoined Make Believe?
TK: No, I love working with those guys. Being just the frontman got exhausting. There was no sonic space for me to contribute anything except vocals to Make Believe. I’m fine with that as a small component of what I do, but when that becomes the primary focus of things, I get restless. My natural bias isn’t toward getting people psyched to party.
AVC: You seem more refined than that.
TK: I don’t know about refined as much as it is withdrawn.
AVC: Is your withdrawn behavior a reaction to being a Kinsella?
TK: Do you mean I’m withdrawn because of expectations that people have of us? The burden of my name? There’s definitely an awareness of that, but I can’t think about that performance-wise. I’ll meet people who have responded deeply to something I’ve done eight or 12 years ago that’s totally foreign to me now. I don’t know if they want me to high-five them or if they want me to grab them by their ears and sing Cap’n Jazz lyrics into their eyes. When actually writing and working on records, it’s great to have the knowledge that this thing we’re making fits in this context of this bulk of work, and needs to stand on its own while also being a part of it. The new Joan Of Arc record is very different than all the rest of them in a few ways.
TK: It’s very direct, lyrically. I don’t know if there’s a single metaphor on the record, and I’ve often been very shaded in my lyric writing. I’m very consciously trying to leave things more open and abstract. I got so attached to [lyrics like that] as a younger guy. I was making my whole output those misheard moments.
AVC: Given your prolific output, are you inspired by the chance you might run out of ideas?
TK: I think I’ve always known that if one day the ideas just stopped coming it wouldn’t bother me. I have very little attachment to myself as a guy who makes records. I don’t care if it ever happens again. That may sound like an affectation, but I couldn’t be more sincere about that. If I never made another record, I’m sure I’d find something to do.
AVC: So why do you keep making them?
TK: In the simplest way, I’m happiest when I’m involved in putting something together with my friends.