Q&As with Mike & Tim Kinsella on Cap’n Jazz reunion, American Football, Riot Fest, more
Brothers Mike and Tim Kinsella are constantly busy. They’re always working on something with their respective Owen and Joan of Arc projects, and this year, their ’90s band Cap’n Jazz is playing reunion shows again for the first time since 2010. Mike’s band American Football are also continuing their own reunion, with upcoming tour dates in support of last year’s excellent LP2, their first album since their 1999 debut LP.
Cap’n Jazz are about to play the imminent Riot Fest in Chicago, which also includes another highly anticipated punk/emo reunion, Jawbreaker, who are back for their first shows in 21 years. Cap’n Jazz’s Riot Fest set unfortunately overlaps with Built to Spill, but both of those bands have Riot Fest aftershows, so there’s still a chance you can see both (also, Built to Spill’s aftershow is with Dinosaur Jr).
Both Cap’n Jazz and American Football’s tours make stops at the same NYC venue, Brooklyn Steel. Cap’n Jazz play there on September 23 with another reunited ’90s era emo/indie band, The Van Pelt (tickets). American Football play there on November 19 with dream pop newer-comers Pure Bathing Culture (tickets). For this Cap’n Jazz tour, their lineup also includes Mike and Tim’s cousin Nate Kinsella, who also officially joined American Football for their reunion. Unfortunately, Davey Von Bohlen (later of The Promise Ring and Maritime) wasn’t able to take part in these Cap’n Jazz shows.
Ahead of Riot Fest, the Brooklyn Steel shows, and all the other stuff Mike and Tim have going on, I spoke to them both about the return of Cap’n Jazz, the continued American Football reunion, upcoming Owen and Joan of Arc projects, Tim reviving the Friend/Enemy moniker for an upcoming album, and a shared excitement to see Jawbreaker. Read on for both interviews.
The photos in the gallery above are from Cap’n Jazz’s recent show at Chicago’s House of Vans.
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Q&A WITH MIKE KINSELLA
BV: Since releasing the new album, American Football have been staying active. You went on a trip to Europe, you played your biggest NYC show yet at Terminal 5, and I noticed that you performed the new album start to finish at that show. Is it refreshing to finally play this many new songs after playing 15-plus year old songs for the past few years?
Mike Kinsella: Yeah I mean, as refreshing as it was, it was also just, necessary. You know, it would’ve just kept being a reunion thing if we kept playing the same old songs. And we decided to play all the new songs in a row because, you know, these were the songs we sort of care about currently and are sort of relevant to us now.
Right, and then the old songs in the encore were sort of a treat for the old fans.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, anybody who’s willing to stick around and see us play shows after 17 years, and then willing to see us play an entire new album, then it’s kind of like, okay here’s all your favorite songs.
Has it been surreal at all that on one hand you’re this reunited band with a 17-year long history, and then on another hand you’re kind of this new band. Like you made a new record and you’re kind of doing what new bands do: like you played Pitchfork Festival, the New York Times talked to you about fashion at the show…
Mike: [laughs] Yeah I mean that might be the pinnacle of how ridiculous it kind of is. The fact that somebody cares what these like, 40-year-old dads who are only in a band part time — I mean like, of all the bands I’ve ever known, we’re trying to sell it… the least, you know? Like we don’t look cool, so it’s funny to have someone be like “here are some fashion tips from these dads.” But yeah, the whole thing is very surreal and we feel really lucky. We kind of are a new band. Like we didn’t play together for 15 years, so playing together and writing new songs, it felt like we were a new band. We added a new member, so 45% of us was brand new, you know? So we’re a new band but sort of have this built-in audience which is like, the luckiest thing you can have.
Now that the new record’s been out for almost a year and the songs are getting a chance to sink in with fans, how have the reactions to the new songs been changing at the shows?
Mike: It’s been great! When we started the reunion shows and were playing the old songs, there were certain moments in the set when we sort of knew what the crowd reaction would be, whether it was the same singing-back part or the same sort of clapping at the trumpet every time. But with these new songs, it’s cool to see the moments that we were excited about when we wrote the songs and see how they translate with other people.
What songs from the new album do you most enjoy playing live?
Mike: Hmm… I wanna say “Give Me The Gun,” I think that one’s maybe my favorite off the new album, but I think live, “My Instincts are the Enemy.”
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You’ve got another East Coast tour this fall. What can we expect from these shows compared to the ones from earlier this year when you played the full record?
Mike: We’re mixing up the set a lot more, we’re trying to intertwine songs from both albums, and maybe try to build some sort of vibe, you know? When we played the whole new album, it might’ve been us sort of overanalyzing how we would split up new songs and old songs, but now it’s like, “okay let’s just write a set that feels good from start to finish.”
How did it come about that the upcoming tour would be with Pure Bathing Culture? Are you guys fans?
Mike: We are fans, we have similar management, so they’ve been on our radar and we’ve actually seen them live a few times in different cities. I’m literally nervous that they’re gonna blow us out of the water ’cause they’re so good live. I almost was like “maybe this isn’t a good idea” — the idea of getting on stage after her singing sort of scares me [laughs].
The next NYC show is at Brooklyn Steel, and you’re playing that venue even sooner with Cap’n Jazz. When we spoke last fall, you were saying Cap’n Jazz is further away from what you’re interested in doing musically these days, and you seemed less interested in the more physical aspect of Cap’n Jazz shows. Now that you’ve been playing with them again too, has that feeling changed at all?
Mike: You know, I’m enjoying playing with Cap’n Jazz and I look forward to the shows we have left, but my feeling hasn’t changed. It’s more physically demanding than I’m maybe even able to keep up with. In the moment I’m able to get there, you know like, watching my brother get so into it helps me get into it… but after maybe three or four shows in a row, I come home and sort of feel like I got ran over. But it’s cool, we’re doing it perfect — a few shows here and there and a couple festivals.
How has this reunion been comparing to the 2010 reunion?
MIke: Great! We’re all kind of surprised that there’s interest still… And yeah, so 2010 was seven years ago? So we’re all seven years older [laughs], and I really think this will be it for Cap’n Jazz. These shows are sort of the last chance for people to see us. I mean seven years from now I’m pushing 50.
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I’m looking forward to seeing the Cap’n Jazz tour — I haven’t seen it yet — but if I’m correct, this one doesn’t include Davey… and Nate’s in the band, right?
Mike: Yeah, Davey couldn’t commit with his schedule. But it’s so fun having Nate because he was — I mean he’s a little bit younger than me and Tim and he was just sort of a fan of the band. So every night I can just sort of look over and see him screaming along — like as a fan — and then that gets me all amped up, so it’s sort of necessary at this point.
I bet seeing all those kids in the audience screaming the words too is like…
Mike: Oh yeah, I mean it’s such a different kind of release than American Football or Joan of Arc or pretty much any of our other bands. It really brings us right back to where we were. Like I said, in the moment I can get there and it’s super fun and it’s a release, and I just pay for it later in a way I didn’t used to [laughs].
So you’ve got some big festivals on this run too. You did FYF Fest last month, you have Riot Fest coming up. Considering that these songs were all written when you were only playing small rooms, does anything different go into playing them on these big festival stages?
Mike: Kind of. I mean Cap’n Jazz was always in basements and it was always sweaty and you were very often physically like — there was no barrier between the crowd and the band and people were on stage with you and jumping into your drums. You kind of have to not get sucked out and not let the distance between the audience and the band sort of take you out of the moment. But like you said, you see people singing along — they’re just further away but they’re still pushing their friends and they’re into it, so, it’s cool.
At Riot Fest, in addition to you guys coming back, there’s also the long-awaited Jawbreaker reunion after 21 years. I’ve seen a video of you covering “Chesterfield King” with Bob Nanna, so I take it you’re a Jawbreaker fan.
Mike: Oh yeah.
Are you excited that they’re back, excited to be playing with them?
Mike: Yes and yes. When we got asked to play that, I was sort of bouncing off the walls. I mean, it was announced months ago and I already figured out I need babysitters on that weekend so I can see Jawbreaker anyway [laughs], so when we got asked to play we were like “hell yeah!” So yeah, I can’t wait. I mean I’ll be singing along to them with everybody else.
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On a similar note, Cap’n Jazz’s Brooklyn show is with another reunited ’90s band, The Van Pelt. Just from googling some old show flyers, I found at least one Joan of Arc and Van Pelt show from ’96. Do you go back with those guys at all?
Mike: Yeah, I haven’t really kept up with them but we definitely — back in the day we were on the same sort of circuit, playing a lot of the same shows, we crossed paths a bunch of times. Yeah, they’re great, I mean I can’t wait. I used to be a big fan of the drummer [Neil O’Brien], I used to love him. At the time I was young and a lot sloppier, so he was an inspiration for sure. And I think they’re kind of like a rock band, but a little angular — you know they weren’t just straightforward, definitely not vocally or structurally. So I feel like them and Joan of Arc were similar because we were both a little bit different than the other bands playing those shows.
Yeah, I definitely feel like there are some spiritual similarities between Joan of Arc, American Football, Van Pelt… kind of maybe a jazzier vibe than some of the other bands.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. It wasn’t just like straightforward rock, SGs through Marshalls or whatever. We were kindred spirits maybe.
So what’s next? Is there a new Owen record in the works?
Mike: There’s always a new Owen record in the works. Just wandering around my house, I just pick up guitars and that’s sort of just always what I’m sort of working on passively. I think American Football is gonna actively start writing another record soon too.
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Q&A WITH TIM KINSELLA
BV: So you’ve been playing shows with Cap’n Jazz again this year. How have they been going so far?
Tim Kinsella: Great! Super fun. A different kind of energy than we’re used to tapping into, but we’re all having a great time.
How are these shows comparing for you to the 2010 reunion?
Tim: You know? They’re actually way easier now. It’s probably easier just because we did it once before, and those went well so we know it was possible, whereas before those we might’ve been intimidated, like, “oh we’re such different people now, could we do that still?” And we’re just all in better shape than we were seven years ago, you know, like, physically, mentally, spiritually. It really wrecked us the first time — Cap’n Jazz shows are so tiring — but yeah, we’re better at it than we were before.
What made you come back a second time?
Tim: Money, man! [laughs] I have this bad Joan of Arc habit that doesn’t totally support itself, so yeah, you know, if there’s an invitation and the money’s enough, we’re happy to do it.
Speaking of Joan of Arc, especially since you write such different music today than what Cap’n Jazz plays, do you find it strange at all to revisit these songs that you wrote as a teenager?
Tim: Yeah. I probably find it less strange than other people do than if someone else had to look at something… you know I’m 42 years old and I was 20 when Cap’n Jazz broke up, and I’m sure any 42 year old would think it was strange if for whatever reason they had to revisit something they made more than half their life ago. So I probably have a little more experience at it than most people at this point so it doesn’t quite phase me much. And it’s a lot of fun! It moves me in a certain way, the energy of the crowd moves me. I feel very lucky to be able to do this.
It must be such a rush to get up there and see these kids screaming every word.
Tim: Yeah, pretty weird man. [laughs] But yeah it’s the coolest thing ever, it’s like having some little buried treasure we left for ourselves when we were kids that we’re just able to dig up, literally twice as much life later.
At what point did you realize the band had become such a big deal to this generation of kids who were like, babies, when Cap’n Jazz was a band?
Tim: You know man, it’s still not like a thing I can really wrap my head around. There was definitely an upswing in momentum in the last six months we were a band. We were aware that the shows were getting bigger and people were more excited about it. Even at the time there was a little bit of awareness of “oh this is cool” but… I don’t know, you ever like, see behind the scenes of something and then you’re like, “oh that’s all it is?” You know, like that thing you think is a big deal, and then it’s that Groucho Marx rule of “I wouldn’t wanna be a member of any club that would have me.” Like, we just opened American Football’s record release show here last fall, and it was at this place The Vic, where like when I was a teenager, you know that’s where I saw My Bloody Valentine on the Loveless tour, and… you know, like, huge things to me when I was a teenager. And I had since opened for people a couple times before but it was still shocking to be like — backstage at an American Football show is kind of the most normal thing in the world for me, you know? Like, I don’t see the two Steves very often, but like, Mike and Nate, it’s the most normal thing in the world for me to be sitting around with them. So there’s some weirdness of like, “oh, The Vic!” in my mind as a kid is this big thing, and now it’s like, “oh this is all The Vic is? Just like, where American Football plays?” Everything seems normal by the time you’re there, you know?
And like, Joan of Arc did this thing last week at the Art Institute where we performed a live score to the silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. We’re really proud of it and we hope to do it more, and it’s really exciting when there’s like 400 people outside at the Art Institute like projecting onto a museum. Coolest situation ever. And it wasn’t that weird to us because we’ve done different projects with the curator there before, and it wasn’t that weird to us because we had done a version of the soundtrack before a few years ago. We only stopped and thought about it when we were driving over there and we were like, “man, we are the luckiest people in the world. This is so cool.” Like, when we started Joan of Arc… I was saying to Jeremy [Boyle], ourselves as 20 year olds would’ve thought, like, this is the coolest thing in the world. Like, to be playing in this sort of context, doing this sort of thing. We’re just so grateful for it and so lucky to be able to do what we’ve always wanted to do, but it’s also like, easy to forget that when it’s just the next thing that’s happening and it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
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Was it that same sort of thing when Cap’n Jazz broke up, like it just felt normal while you were doing it, or was there any amount of like, “we’re gonna cement a legacy and break up now”?
Tim: Yeah it was like, extreme sort of circumstances that we broke up on tour. It was a bad situation, two of the people quit and were like “I can’t deal with this.” So yeah there was no self-awareness of cementing a legacy or anything. We had no sense of legacy, we just wanted to finish the tour. And you know, like, I’ve been obsessive with playing in bands since I was two years old. I was just born knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and I spent every waking minute working on it ever since, so that momentum was a really intense crash at the time. So yeah, there was no self-awareness or business savvy in breaking up. It was strictly self-preservation.
To your point about being born to play in a band, you do seem to be active with one band or another pretty constantly. At this point, what would you say is the project that you’re most proud of?
Tim: Oh definitely Joan of Arc. I can’t even say I’m most proud of it anymore than I can say I’m the most ashamed of it. It’s just the most me, you know? Like, I don’t think any one Joan of Arc song in itself reveals much about me, but in terms of the scope of the whole project and all its different dimensions and forms, there’s like, very little distance between who I am and Joan of Arc, what we do and how we operate. All the other bands — Cap’n Jazz, Owls, Make Believe, various side projects — always had some sort of built-in, conceptual framework, whereas Joan of Arc is just like a constantly evolving thing.
That makes sense. I think if someone asked me to quickly describe Cap’n Jazz, I could do that. If they said “quickly describe Joan of Arc” I’d be like “I have no idea…”
Tim: Right and that’s like how I’m saying there’s very little distance between Joan of Arc and my life because like, if anyone asked you to quickly describe your life, you couldn’t be like, “Well, sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m sad, sometimes I’m hungry, sometimes I’m sleepy, sometimes I’m a dick to people, sometimes I’m very friendly.” Joan of Arc just became this more multi-dimensional, deeper thing that can contain any aspect of who we are as people.
So obviously when you play shows with Joan of Arc, it’s such a different type of performance than Cap’n Jazz. Can you talk a bit about what goes into mentally preparing yourself for a Cap’n Jazz vs what you might normally do otherwise in 2017?
Tim: Um… you know honestly it doesn’t feel that different? My mind goes blank the moment we start, and then it’s like, I wake up when its over. And that’s true of Joan of Arc and Cap’n Jazz. If that doesn’t happen for any reason that means there’s some sort of problem. There was this Joan of Arc show in Portland on our last tour, where after the show, my bandmates were all like “that was crazy that you changed that string and you didn’t even stop the song while you were changing the string.” And I was like, “that happened?!” And they were like, “remember you broke a string and changed it while were playing?” And I was like, “oh! yeah, right, I did!” And that’s a weird thing! I’m not like, some master guitar string changer — I still think that’s a clumsy process for me — but when I’m like, in the show, I am just on autopilot and can change a string while still playing and not notice.
So one of the shows Cap’n Jazz is playing is Riot Fest, which has a pretty amazing lineup, especially with the Jawbreaker reunion. Is there anyone in particular that you’re looking forward to seeing?
Tim: Jawbreaker for sure. I was a huge fan as a kid. And actually the stage we’re playing, the lineup goes us then Dinosaur Jr then Jawbreaker on that stage. I was sitting with Mike when we got the schedule and he got like, weepy. He was like, “is this real?!” He seriously teared up and he was like “I feel like we’ve made it.” Like those were the biggest bands in the world to us when we were in high school, when Cap’n Jazz actually existed. So yeah, I’m excited for Dinosaur Jr though I’ve seen them 100,000 times at this point. Jawbreaker I’m excited about, I know I have some friends who are playing that I’m excited to see, I like the Downtown Boys a lot.
What’s next for you after the Cap’n Jazz reunion ends? Back to Joan of Arc?
Tim: Yeah, we have a new Joan of Arc record that we recorded last spring and early summer that we’re working on editing and mixing over the next couple of months. That’ll probably be out next fall. We’re hoping to tour a little bit — like at least do New York and LA, a couple museums — with that live soundtrack thing I was talking about. And I did this side project 15 years ago called Friend/Enemy and so… I made what feels like my first guitar-rock record of my songs — I know there was a second Owls record a couple years ago but I haven’t made a guitar-rock record of my songs in a lot of years — so I named that Friend/Enemy even though it’s mostly a different group of people. So that comes out in like February, I’m really excited about that.
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Cap’n Jazz — 2017 Tour Dates
Sep 15 Bottom Lounge Chicago, IL
Sep 17 Riot Fest Chicago, IL
Sep 23 Brooklyn Steel Brooklyn, NY w/ The Van Pelt
Nov 07 Moth Club London, United Kingdom
Nov 08 Electric Ballroom London, United Kingdom
American Football — 2017 Tour Dates
Nov 18 Howard Theatre Washington, DC*
Nov 19 Brooklyn Steel Brooklyn, N*
Nov 20 Union Transfer Philadelphia, PA*
Nov 21 Royale Boston, MA*
* – w/ Pure Bathing Culture
Related Miscellaneous Tour Date
Nov 09 Oslo London, UK – Owen (Mike Kinsella), Birthmark (Nate Kinsella), Tim Kinsella, Victor Villarreal