Published May 06, 2014Even in the relatively open-minded world of indie rock, it's rare to find artists as willing to follow their respective artistic muses as Tim and Mike Kinsella. For 25 years, the brothers have blazed their own trails, be it the frenetic energy of Cap'n Jazz, the arty post-rock of Joan of Arc or the dozen other projects the brothers have been involved in. Their unique career paths have made them neither rich, nor famous and not everything they've done has found favour with critics and fans. But their imprint on guitar-driven punk and indie rock is unparalleled, making the Kinsella name synonymous with underground music in America's Midwest.
1974 to 1991
Tim Kinsella is born Oct 22, 1974; brother Michael follows three years later on March 4. They grow up in Buffalo Grove, a Chicago suburb. Tim meets 14-year-old Sam Zurick on the first day of school. Their lockers are next to one another and they bond over a shared love of "alternative music," like Jane's Addiction and Dinosaur Jr. In his freshman year he and Mike, who is only 12, form a band with friends. Tim plays guitar. He knows the drummer, Jim, from his job working at a local grocery store while their neighbour, Jeff, rounds out the trio. Zurick becomes the band's "chief roadie and onstage dancer." They christen themselves Toe Jam.
Tim meets 15-year old Victor Villarreal while the two are skateboarding at a local high school. Tim is wearing a homemade Toe Jam t-shirt. "I thought it was hilarious that he was in a band and he was wearing the shirt," Villarreal tells Alternative Press for the publication's "Oral History of Cap'n Jazz" in 2010. The two go back Tim's house to jam. Villarreal plays classical guitar and impresses Tim enough to ask him to join Toe Jam. "The songs [Toe Jam wrote] back then were about homework," Mike tells Alternative Press. "Literally, that was the name of one song. There was another song called 'Coffee.' It was just mundane stuff. Musically it was sort of like whatever would have been playing in a skate video."
Tim, Mike and Villarreal want to take Toe Jam more seriously, causing Jeff and Jim, who wants to pursue football, to leave. By this point Tim has abandoned the guitar and is now the group's lead singer. Zurick joins on bass. With the drum seat open, Mike buys a kit and the group re-name themselves Cap'n Jazz. Zurick gives the band their awkward name. "I was really into the whole jazz/beatnik era when I started playing music," he tells the band Johnny Jet in an interview for their website in April, 2013. "So I was adamant on having the word 'jazz' somewhere in the name of the band. One day at the breakfast table we were eating a cereal called Cap'n Crunch and I blurted out Cap'n Jazz. For whatever reason we all agreed it would be the name of the band."
The first Cap'n Jazz practice happens the same day Mike gets his first drum set, Tim tells Alternative Press. "All the drums were coated in black velvet. There were two bass drums, four rack toms, three rototoms and then, like some chimes. It took up our whole basement."
"Every practice ended with our friends coming over and our Mom making a big bowl of pasta for everybody," says Mike. "Our first shows were just basement shows in our basement. Mom loved it. Selfishly I think she liked knowing where we were and knowing we were safe." Mrs. Kinsella is also appreciative of the DIY ethics her boys absorb from the DC punk bands they were listening to. "At some point I'm sure she thought we were straight-edge, even though we weren't. She's happy that we found this outlet that's a positive, intelligent expression of our interests." Their father is more introverted and where his wife embraces her boys' newfound hobby, he remains mostly ambivalent. "I think he was just like, 'Why the heck do all you kids have half your heads shaved?' I think he was just confused by the whole thing."
Buoyed by DIY punk shows they see at local community halls, Cap'n Jazz start thinking outside the confines of the Kinsellas' basement. They jump into the Chicago's suburban underground scene where bands like Gauge and Friction (featuring future Braid and Hey Mercedes member Bob Nanna) are cutting their teeth. Tim and his friend Erik Bocek start booking shows. "Nobody ever thought any of the bands would get popular and make money. There was no intention to," Mike will tell the Washed Up Emo podcast in August, 2013. "It kind of followed the Washington DC mould," Bocek says in Alternative Press. "'If I can get $250 together I can rent this hall, then I can get 300 kids here and pay all the bands.'"
Influenced by their local scene and Shudder to Think's off-kilter rhythms and unique chord structures, from the get go, Cap'n Jazz show signs that they aren't interested in following the underground pack. "It sounded like everyone in the band was playing a different song," future Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath will tell Alternative Press. "Even for kids that were sort of used to seeing crazy stuff, it was a little out there," says Nanna in the same article.
Mark Pearsall, founder of Man with Gun Records and Basil Shadid, who runs Further Beyond Records, see the band's "second or third show" together. Liking what they hear, Shadid offers to put out a seven-inch. In March, 1993 the band head to Old Plank Studios in nearby Naperville with producer Neal Jensen. They record the tracks "AOK," "Geheim" "Sergio Valente" and "Easy Driver," all of which appear on the Born 16-18 Years… Age of Action seven-inch, released on Further Beyond. "That was our first formal recording," Villarreal tells Alternative Press. "We all took it seriously and wanted it to sound great. But really we didn't know what we were looking for." "I just remember being very nervous," says Mike in the same article. "I was literally 14 at the time. I learned to play drums the year before."
1993 to 1994
Tim starts booking shows for the band around the Midwest. Their first out-of-town gig is in Janesville, WI. Gauge guitarist Kevin Frank, who is in college, accompanies them, acting as something of a chaperone to placate the Kinsellas' worried mother. As adventurous as their music is, band members still lead relatively sheltered lives, rarely straying outside of the Chicago suburbs. Now they were out in the world. "We went as far as Sioux Falls, South Dakota and I remember thinking we were on the West coast," Tim tells Alternative Press. "We just had no conception."
In June, the band head back to Old Plank. Once again working with Jensen, they lay down five tracks. "In the Clear" and "No Need For a Piano Player When You've Got A Piano Player" appear on the How the Midwest Was Won compilation on Subfuse Records. Shadid releases "Soira" on his double seven-inch compilation Picking More Daisies. "Bluegrass" is released by Mark Pearsall's Slave Cut Records via the Ghost Dance double seven-inch compilation and "Scary Kids Scaring Kids," appears on It's a Punk Thing, You Wouldn't Understand comp in October on Shakefork Records, a label that at the time is run by Friction's Scott Broadhurst. "Four different labels, one medium sized suburb" read the Analphabetapolothology liner notes.
The tracks "We Are Scientists," "Sea Tea" and "Troubled by Insects," are recorded in October. They later appear on the Sometimes If You Stand Further Away from Something, It Does Not Seem as Big. Sometimes You Can Stand So Close to Something You Can Not Tell What You Are Looking At seven-inch. The same sessions produce "Rocky Rococo" which finds its way onto the Nothing Dies with Blues Skies split with Friction, which is released on Shakefork. Frank co-produces the sessions as well as playing some guitar on "Sea Tea." "That's when [I realized] there is a lot of brilliant things happening here. Musically and lyrically it was coming together," he'll tell Alternative Press. The band record a bizarre keyboard-driven cover of "Winter Wonderland" in a basement. It appears on the Christmas compilation A Very Punk Christmas. The Analphabetapolothology liner notes credit "the Kinsella mother on keys and a chorus of cousins."
The Sometimes… seven-inch comes out on Chicago punk label Underdog Records before the end of the year but fractures in the band are beginning to appear. Zurick and Villarreal are drinking heavily, affecting live performances. Onstage fights aren't uncommon. "I had a big falling out with my dad before Cap'n Jazz even started," Villarreal will tell Alternative Press. "I just started to search for ways to numb the pain. There was a moment when that wasn't a painful thing [anymore]. It was more a way of life."
"That was the great divide," Zurick will tell Alternative Press. "The Kinsella Brothers were straight in the sense that they weren't doing anything they could get their hands on." The band split up, playing their final show in Bocek's basement. In the aftermath, Villarreal disappears to California with his friend Andy, taking up residence in an abandoned house with his friend's mother's mysterious new boyfriend. He doesn't tell any of his former band members. "We got there and the [guy who promised to put us up] told us 'You can sleep in the attic.'" he tells Alternative Press. "So I went up there and — I'll never forget this — there was no wall. It was just this attic with a blanket flapping in the wind."
Meanwhile, the Kinsellas and Zurick continue to play together, at one point adding Shadid to the mix. Tim invites Ten Boy Summer's Davey von Bohlen to join on second guitar, but the Kinsellas and Zurick aren't satisfied with the new group. When Villarreal returns, Cap'n Jazz reunites, now with von Bohlen as their fifth member. "I just went to practice one day and there was just this guy there," Villarreal will tell Alternative Press. "That's really emblematic of how the band were," von Bohlen will add. "[But] on that first day, as the five of us, we were writing songs. We were forging ahead."
With all the musical activity going on in the suburbs, a number of people start launching record labels in an attempt to document what's going on. One such individual is Mark Corley, a high school student moonlighting at a pizzeria. He convinces Tim to let him release Cap'n Jazz's debut full-length on his own Man With Gun Records, mostly through bribing him with pineapple pizzas. In December the band record their debut with Casey Rice at Idful Music Corporation in Chicago's Wicker Park. The album is recorded and mixed in five days. "It was like 'Holy shit,''' Mike will tell Alternative Press. "'I'm currently in love with this Sunny Day Real Estate record and they did that here.'" "It didn't necessarily feel like we were 'making it,'" von Bohlen will say to Alternative Press. "It was probably one of those things where we thought 'Hey, maybe people are starting to accept us.'"
In March, the band once again enter the studio where they record the songs "Tokyo," "Ooh Do I Love You" and "Hey Ma, Do I Hafta Choke on These" the latter of which appears on the We've Lost Beauty compilation released by File 13 Records. Their debut full-length, Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We've Slipped On and Egg Shells We've Tippy Toed Over, usually simply referred to as Shmap'n Shmazz is released in the spring. By the summer it has sold over 3,000 copies, mostly from the band's merch table at shows and through small record distros. Cap'n Jazz book a 28-date tour, heading out in July with Bocek along as roadie. A week in, on the way Little Rock, Arkansas to get von Bohlen's amp fixed, Villarreal overdoses. He'd ingested a mixture of Ritalin, lithium and Vicodin without telling anyone else. Villarreal is taken to the emergency room where his bandmates wait for ten hours while he's treated. "They released him and we decided that we couldn't go on. So we just drove home," says Zurich in Alternative Press. With Villarreal passed out in the van, the remaining four members hold a band meeting at a rest stop around dawn, halfway between St. Louis and Little Rock. Tim and von Bohlen want to soldier on but Zurich and Mike vote to pack it in. With the group allegiances split, they decide to break-up and begin the long, silent 17-hour drive home. They rarely discuss the incident, even with close friends.
"Looking back, I don't think the band could have lasted even if we'd kept it together for that day and moved on," von Bohlen will tell Prefix in 2010. "Mike was talking about leaving to go to college; we were gonna convince him to stay in the band and still go to college, and he didn't want to do that. And then the events leading up to the breakup sort of convinced him. [Staying together] would have been interesting, obviously for the band's sake outside of the individuals. I think we were beginning to write way better music than we had written for the album, and I think had we been able to keep ourselves out of our own way, it would have probably been a really good thing."
After the demise of Cap'n Jazz Tim finds himself playing in two different projects: an ambient, experimental duo with keyboardist Jeremy Boyle and a power pop band with Zurich and Bocek. Jade Tree approaches Tim about putting out a record. Rather than choosing one band over the other, the groups merge and Joan of Arc are born. Mike, now attending the University of Illinois two hours away, takes part in whatever the band are up to during his summer breaks, touring or recording. Their first show is at the Autonomous Zone in Chicago with Rye Coalition. By August, Joan of Arc are already heading out on tour. They play Canada and the eastern U.S., opening for von Bohlen's new band, the Promise Ring, which he'd started the previous year as a Cap'n Jazz side-project. JOA record two seven-inches; the three-song Method and Sentiment single, released on Jade Tree before the end of 1996, becomes their debut release. The second seven-inch, "Busy Bus, Sunny Sun," comes out the following year on Southern Records. Their debut album is recorded in two parts; the more rock-oriented tracks are laid down at Idful with Rice, while Elliot Dicks tracks the more ambient pieces at his home studio.
Jade Tree releases A Portable Model of… in June of 1997 and the band set out on a six-week U.S. tour, with multi-instrumentalist Paul Koob along to help flesh out their sound. By October they're hard at work on their follow-up.
While at school, Mike begins playing with drummer Steve Lamos (formerly of Braid offshoot the Firebird Band), and David and Allen Johnson as the One Up Downstairs. Mike plays guitar and sings. The quartet record three tracks for a seven-inch, to be released by Polyvinyl, but the group split before the records are pressed and the seven-inch is shelved. Mike and Lamos soldier on, hooking up with Steve Holmes to form American Football. Mixing indie and math rock, their twinkling guitar lines are complemented by Mike's plaintive, high-pitched vocals. Their first gig is at a house party.
Despite their short and insular lifespan, Cap'n Jazz's legend spreads, buoyed by the rising profiles of American Football and Joan of Arc. There are also a number of new bands from around the Midwest, including the Promise Ring and Nanna's Braid, who cite the band as an influence. The music press takes note and starts throwing around the word "emo" to describe these new groups and, retroactively, Cap'n Jazz. "I don't know, when Cap'n Jazz was a band, if it was thrown around," Mike will tell Washed Up Emo. "It was associated with the DC stuff." In October, Rice compiles tracks for a Cap'n Jazz anthology consisting of everything the band ever laid down: their lone full-length, both seven-inches, their split with Friction, compilation tracks, the unfinished recordings of "Ooh Do I Love You," and "Tokyo" and covers of "Take On Me" and "Theme to 90210." It also includes the songs "Forget Who You Are," and "Olerud" the last songs the band would write together; those recordings are from their final Chicago show at the Fireside Bowl on July 7, 1995.
Bocek quits during sessions for Joan of Arc's next album; after skipping out one day, he returns to discover that the rest of the band have messed around with one of his bass lines. Zurick joins him and the two form Ghosts and Vodka. Todd Mattei joins the band shortly after and Jade Tree releases How Memory Works in May. Later that year Cap'n Jazz finally reach a wide audience when the label issues the posthumous compilation Analphabetapolothology. But the recognition proves a double-edged sword when newly minted Cap'n Jazz acolytes flock to see JOA, only to discover that the band's free-form experimental leanings are in stark contrast to the ragged energy of Cap'n Jazz. "People were like, 'Oh, cool. I just got into Cap'n Jazz, I never got to see them and these are the guys from Cap'n Jazz,'" Mike will tell Washed Up Emo. "We'd show up to see how disappointed people were who thought they were going to get a Cap'n Jazz sweaty release. It was these weird, noodle-y little songs. All they'd know is it was these guys who used to be in a rock band and then they show up and it's a bunch of idiots doing something totally different."
Polyvinyl releases American Football's debut self-titled EP. In May, Tim covers the Promise Ring's "A Picture Postcard" for a split seven-inch with Jen Wood on Tree Records, a label run but future the Numero Group co-founder, Ken Shipley.
Although their music bridges the world between emo and post-rock, Joan of Arc can't find the critical favour enjoyed by fellow Chicago groups like Tortoise and the Sea and Cake, who are working from a similar aesthetic. "Those guys are super musicians who can play anything," says Tim. "Early on, we all switched instruments to make a point of undoing any technique we had acquired. We wanted the tension to be playing at the limitation of our ability." After keeping their rock numbers and ambient tracks separate on their first two releases, JOA set out to bridge the gap with their next effort. Tim, Boyle and Mattei record the experimental tracks with Rice in his apartment while Dicks handles the rockers. Recorded the previous October, Jade Tree releases the band's third studio album Live in Chicago, 1999, the title a reference to the fact the band members all lived in Chicago at the time of the record's release. A rotating cast of musicians tour the record.
Polyvinyl releases American Football's debut full length, which, like their EP, is also self-titled. "We recorded that album the last weekend two out of three of us were in school," Mike will tell Washed Up Emo. "[We thought] let's just finish these songs in the studio and put out the record." The band only have nine tracks and not all of them are finished when they enter Private Studio in Urbana, IL with producer Brendan Gamble. "We didn't have a bass player, so we doubled the guitars and that gave it a different sound I guess. I finished writing some sort of lyrics and melodies to the songs and just screeched them out."
Recording sessions for JOA's fourth full-length prove difficult. Working in Rice's apartment and recording with ProTools for the first time, "the band loses control." According to the official history on their website, "the rabbit holes are endless and every possibility is pursued, every measure of every track tweaked." Jade Tree releases The Gap in October. It is widely panned by critics as pretentious and meandering. "The Gap is the record it is specifically because of the shift in technology with recording," says Tim. "There was a shift, a blowing open of the mind. Like, 'Oh my god, you can actually make the songs on this.' And if you can make the songs on this, what isn't possible? So we just went into that record all in agreement that we were going to find our capacity for acknowledging the medium itself. We were going to work that to exhaustion." Their cover of Metroschifter's "Forensic Economics" appears on a tribute album to the Louisville band along with many other Midwest luminaries. The band tour Japan for the first time but no one is happy and the group split.
Villarreal reappears on the scene, now addicted to heroin. Nevertheless, the original four members of Cap'n Jazz reform, calling themselves Little Death, and write an album's worth of material in just five days. Their first show is a fundraiser at Chicago's Empty Bottle in August.
With the members of American Football no longer living in the same city, that band is effectively over. Mike wants to start a new band where he retains creative control "over all aspects including songwriting, recording, album artwork, and overall artistic direction." In between playing and touring with Joan of Arc, he strikes a unique deal with Polyvinyl. Rather than front him the money for studio time, they pay for a home studio set-up, which he builds in his childhood bedroom in his mother's house. This includes a computer loaded with ProTools, which he teaches himself to use. Mike tours with Rainer Maria, acting as their roadie. "They were starting to get popular and touring all the time and I was selling merch. Then I was like, 'I'll open up for you guys and play six songs solo.'" Those solo slots lay the groundwork for a new solo project featuring just Mike and his acoustic guitar. He opts to name the project Owen to distance himself from the connotations usually associated with acoustic singer-songwriters. "I wasn't planning on starting my own band. I was just bored of selling merch."
Tim pieces together leftover scraps from The Gap sessions and releases them as How Can Anything So Little Be Anymore? in May. Reviews are not positive, with many critics citing a further descent into the pretension that marked The Gap. He also records the minimalist He Sang His Didn't He Danced His Did. Made with just an acoustic guitar, it features radically reworked versions of songs from How Memory Works and Live in Chicago, 1999 along with a Jacques Brel cover and comes out on Trouble Man Unlimited in February.
The reunited Cap'n Jazz members, now calling themselves Owls, release their self-titled debut and head out on tour. The album is recorded with Steve Albini, with whom Mike butts head in the studio. "I always thought that album could have sounded very different, and it could have benefitted the album." He quits after their first pass through the U.S. and his self-titled debut as Owen is released on Polyvinyl the week after September 11. "I didn't want to tour that much anymore," he says. "I think that's how I remember it." Owls continue on to Europe before splitting up. "It was the same thing that leads to all bands breaking up," says Tim. "We were young and stupid." He and Mattei form Friend/Enemy with Califone's Jim Becker. In response to the precision of Owls and the laboured recording process of The Gap, they record their debut "quickly and loosely," with a revolving cast of musicians, including Zurich, future members of Disappears, Man Man and a young Zach Hill (of Death Grips and Hella).
The Friend/Enemy record, 10 Songs, is released on Perishable Records. Tim, Mike Zurick and Mattei are simultaneously working on a second Friend/Enemy record and Tim's solo debut. Both projects are scrapped and, with Boyle's blessing, they reform Joan of Arc, marking a turning point for the band where, aside from Tim, Joan of Arc's existence is no longer predicated on a particular member's participation at any given time. "A band as it exists as a corporation or business entity is very counter to the spirit of creativity or song or joyousness," Tim says. "We have this name for our gang. That's what it's about, it's about how our gang hangs out, it's not about how we make money." Tim also releases a solo EP of experimental noise music under the pseudonym Gene McDonald/Ronald Simmons called Demands Feminist Critique on BoxMedia with a limited run of 50 copies.
The second Owen LP, No Good for No One Now, is released on Polyvinyl in November. Mike once again records the seven-track album in his childhood bedroom, this time taking Polyvinyl's money and spending it on mics. The album benefits from Mike's growing recording experience and a newfound storytelling approach to songwriting. Like its predecessor, it hues more closely to popular conceptions of "emo" than any other Kinsella project. "People identify with personal things. It's definitely appreciated but it's also very weird," says Mike. "I think the records are good, but I never picture people listening to it or buying it."
In February, Jade Tree releases Joan of Arc's So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness, a far more straightforward record than the much maligned The Gap, although it still showcases the band's unique approach to rhythm and guitars. Made from tracks originally intended for both the next Friend/Enemy record and Kinsella's solo album, there is a plethora of material. The same day, Perishable Records releases In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust, a companion album to So Much… comprised of tracks from the same sessions. Incited by the baiting title, accusations of pretension continue to be levelled against the band and Tim in particular.
"That record was recorded between February and May of 2003. You know what else happened between February and May 2003? The U.S. attacked Iraq," says Tim. "There's no reason to believe that we want to hear a record called In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust anymore than anyone else does. But we aren't going to pretend that the world doesn't exist." The band also issue a split seven-inch with the band Rabbit Rabbit on Record Label Records. Mike switches to bass, leaving the drum stool open. Beat-keeping duties fall to cousin Nate Kinsella, who moves to Chicago to join the family business. "We kind of grew up with him at family parties and stuff, but one day it was like, 'Oh my God, did you know our cousin Nate is an awesome drummer in this math rock band?'" says Mike. "We asked him if he could do this tour with us playing drums so I could play bass." Bobby Burg also joins and the band embark on a three-month U.S. tour, at the end of which Mike quits the band. The remaining four members, Tim, Nate, Zurick and Bobby Burg, form Make Believe and embark on an intensive practice schedule. Nate, playing drums, ditches his cymbals in favour of a Wurlitzer. "We got home and we were like, "Alright let's write new songs,'" says Tim. "But we wanted the process to be different. Joan of Arc songs are often like, 'Here's a guitar pattern and vocal melody' and we all take and twist it apart together. We wanted it to be more of an equal partnership."
Jade Tree drops Joan of Arc who are quickly scooped up by Polyvinyl. The band record Joan Of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain in between two U.S. tours. It's mixed by Tortoise's John McEntire. All four members of Make Believe return, as does Mike and a slew of other contributors. A seven-piece JOA sets out on a 30-date tour. Meanwhile, after releasing a five track EP and a seven-inch on Flameshovel Records, Make Believe manage to play over 100 shows before heading into the studio to record their debut. Record Label Records releases Joan of Arc's Live in Muenster, 2003, an actual live record recorded in Germany the previous year. Meanwhile Sixgunlover releases a JOA split twelve-inch with Chicago musician Bundy K. Brown.
Mike drops a trio of Owen releases. His third full-length, I Do Perceive, is recorded with Nate, who plays on the album and helps with the recording process. The result is a more upbeat outing than previous Owen releases. The Japanese edition of the record features three bonus tracks, including a cover of Extreme's "More than Words." Meanwhile (the ep) finds Mike branching out musically. He enlists vibraphone players Paul Koob and Cale Parks, pedal steel guitarist Bob Hoffnar and Jen Tabor on violin and cello to help flesh out his songs, creating a lusher offering. The expanded sound brings with it rumours that Mike will tour with a full band. Instead he goes out on tour with both Cale Parks' band Aloha and von Bohlen's new group Maritime, with whom Mike plays second guitar. A split EP with the band the Rutabega features an acoustic cover of American Football's "Never Meant," which he recorded while teaching himself ProTools.
Make Believe's Shock of Being is released on Flameshovel Records and they once again play over 100 shows. JOA launches a series of instrumental collaborations under the "Joan of Arc presents" tag. Picking names out of a hat, all ten past and present JOA guitarists are paired up and tasked with performing a duet on guitar, together. The album features the first recorded guitar showdown between Tim and Mike. In contrast to the conceptual Guitar Duets, Tim releases a more pop-oriented solo EP, dedicating the songs to his wife, Amy Cargill. He calls it Crucifix/Swastika.
Never ones to do things the conventional way, or to repeat themselves, for the next JOA record Tim and Mike set up an eight-track in their mom's house. Tim records his guitar and vocals in sequence and then invites each member in individually to do the same. The resulting album, Eventually, All at Once, is packaged with a seven-inch containing two of the album's tracks recorded with the full band in a studio. Polyvinyl compiles the band's various singles and compilation tracks as The Intelligent Design of Joan of Arc. Meanwhile, Make Believe write and record their second album, Of Course, in two weeks. They play an additional 50 shows.
Mike records his next Owen LP, At Home with Owen, at a proper studio with Nate; former Red Red Meat member Brian Deck produces. It's released in November. Almost a decade after they were recorded, Polyvinyl releases the One Up Downstairs seven-inch.
Tim, with wife Amy Cargill and JOA collaborator Chris Strong, make a feature film called Orchard Vale; it premieres at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. "If I'm ashamed of anything I've made it's the film. It's really flawed," says Tim. "It was never an ambition of mine. It was more, there was a group of us that were all very tight and we thought, 'If all of us were to all put our heads together, what would the results be? Oh, it would be a really bad movie.' It wasn't like I ever had a sense of myself as an auteur."
The soundtrack is released as Joan of Arc presents Orchard Vale. Tim records an album's worth of sound collages, Field Recordings of Dreams, on I Had an Accident Records. Make Believe plays 35 shows, mostly in Europe and Japan. Owen releases a split seven-inch with the City on Film on RedCarsGoFaster Records. Mike and his girlfriend start a band called the Shirts and Skins. The two met backstage after Mike played "a horrible show," opening for her friend's band. "I asked her out and she just laughed and walked away. I didn't see her for months. It turned out she was with her boyfriend at the time. So I couldn't make any moves. We started dating after that." They release some demos, but nothing comes from the project. "She teaches high school so we were like, in the summer we'll just tour," he'll tell Prefix in 2012. "We had a big plan about how cool it would be to be in a band."
Fourteen contributors are involved in JOA's next release, Boo! Human. Tim takes 14 tracks he'd written, books a week of studio time and has players sign up with their availability. The result is an album where each song features a different combination of players. The band tour for the first time in a number of years. Polyvinyl issues a three-track companion seven-inch called "My Summer-Long High Wipe Out," which includes a cover of Neil Young's "A Man Needs a Maid." Make Believe record their third and final album, Going to the Bone Church, then stop playing shows. Zurick runs into a now clean Villarreal at a Shudder to Think reunion gig. The idea of a Cap'n Jazz reunion starts to percolate. "I thought 'Why not give it a shot?'" he'll tell Alternative Press. "But at first the idea was immediately snubbed out by Tim and Mike." However, hearing that Victor is doing well and playing again makes the idea less implausible. "I think we are all excited he is taking care of himself and doing good now," Mike will tell Alternative Press. "So it was like 'Yeah, maybe.'"
Joan of Arc record the album Flowers, but band activity slows down, at least relative to JOA's usual schedule, when Tim decides to go back to school to get his MFA.
After two years of work with a variety of engineers including Nate, Deck, Tim Iseler and Graeme Gibson, Polyvinyl releases the latest Owen record, New Leaves, in September. The album reflects the changes in his life brought about by his recent marriage and the birth of his daughter. "My fans have grown with me," he says. "There are probably less and less college kids at the shows that are breaking up with their girlfriends and more young adults doing real life stuff." The same year, he compiles Japanese bonus tracks on The Seaside EP. In December, he contributes guitar and drums to some tracks on Windsor singer-songwriter Crissi Cochrane's self-released debut Darling, Darling.
In January, Joan of Arc presents Don't Mind Control is released. Its 18 tracks are each performed by a different group — each one of whom includes at least one former JOA contributor. They also issue the Meaningful Work seven-inch, which finds JOA paired down to a trio of Tim, Burg and drummer Theo Katsaounis.
Tim, Mike, Zurick, Villarreal and von Bohlen hole up in a Chicago practice space in preparation for a Cap'n Jazz reunion. Cap'n Jazz play their first show in 15 years in January at the Empty Bottle followed by a 15-date summer tour. "It was hard to play that bad," Mike says to Washed Up Emo. "It was only pretty much energy. To try to do that well, there is no point." Tim takes his share of the money they make and writes a novel. Joyful Noise releases a cassette box set of all of Joan of Arc's studio albums. Mike begins work on the next Owen record in the summer. Some of Cap'n Jazz's energy seeps into the recordings, producing the most "rock-oriented" Owen record to date. In September, Mike releases the one-off Abandoned Bridges seven-inch. The B-side is a cover of Wilco's "Always in Love."
The instrumental double album Joan of Arc presents Oh Brother once again challenges listeners. The album contains scraps spliced together from four separate projects. The lone unifying element is, naturally, Tim. These projects include an abandoned Friend/Enemy record with Zach Hill, a duo with Frank Rosaly call TK/FR, his duo with Lichen's Robert Lowe, which they cleverly call Likins and Mineral Totem, which features Need New Body's Jeff Bradbury and tattoo artist Robert Ryan. The next proper JOA record is the polar opposite of Oh Brother; Tim, Burg and Katsaounis are joined by Villarreal and after a month-long tour of Europe and U.S. where the quartet perform songs from an unrecorded album, they head to Electrical Audio to record Life Like with Steve Albini. Honed from the road, the sessions take a matter of days.
Tim's novel, The Karaoke Singer's Guide to Self Defense, is published in September. Described as "an irreducible collage, as intuitive as it is formal," it concerns a fractured family reunited by a funeral. "Books are a little scarier because it's a bigger time commitment," he says. "The records, there's less vulnerability involved because you're not asking a lot of someone's time."
Polyvinyl releases Owen's Ghost Town in November. A number of new bands start popping up citing Mike and Tim's work as a major influence. Tags like "Midwestern emo" and "twinkle," used to describe the guitars on the American Football record, become common shorthand on Bandcamp. "I understand my place in emo history," Mike will tell Washed Up Emo. "Musically it's what we were doing in the '90s. It's a little more interesting than pop punk and a little more catchy than hardcore." One of the most prominent of these new bands is Into It. Over It. Like Owen, it's the one-man solo project of Evan Weiss, who Mike asks to open his Ghost Town release show in Chicago.
Joan of Arc remain busy as ever, releasing three albums as limited edition vinyl. The first is a soundtrack to Carl Dreyer's silent masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is recorded live at the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival.
Pinecone is a follow-up sound collage to Field Recordings at the request of Landland's Dan Black. The final release is a self-titled acoustic EP. Mike joins Weiss and Loose Lips Sink Ships' Matthew Frank in a new group, after Frank approaches Mike at an Into It. Over It. show. Frank and Weiss had already been writing together for over a year, with Frank playing guitar and Weiss handling bass duties. Mike plays drums for the first time since Owls.
Their/They're/There announce their existence to the world in the middle of the year. "I like the dudes," Mike will tell Washed Up Emo. "I like the music, it's fun to play. There are no aspirations — when we're home, we'll write some songs and when we're all home again we'll record them. It's not like, 'How are we going to conquer the world?' It's just sort of a fun thing to do that's a side thing for all of us." The original four members of Cap'n Jazz decide to once again collaborate. "[The reunion] was more fun than we thought it would be," says Mike. "We wanted to see what we could come up with now." Band members feel that Cap'n Jazz's music isn't representative of where they're all at musically though, so they resurrect Owls and begin to very slowly work on a sophomore album.
Joan of Arc collaborate with performance art and experimental theatre company Every House has a Door. The resulting soundtrack to the collab, Testimonium Songs, is released by Polyvinyl. Owen's next album, L'Ami du Peuple, includes several songs originally written for the Shirts and Skins and continues Mike's slow expansion of the Owen sound, featuring female backing vocals, and big rock instrumentation. He credits his newfound experimentalism to producer Neil Strauch, with whom he first worked on Ghost Town. "I think he's going to inspire me to change the recording process and the writing process," he tells Washed Up Emo. "I'd feel bad even if I'm paying an engineer, that they have to listen to my songs for a week, even if it's their job. I'm comfortable enough with Neil that I'm excited to go into the studio and fuck around."
Their/They're/There release their self-titled debut EP in April on Record Store Day. Their first gig is the same day at Reckless Records in Wicker Park. In the summer, they hook up with producer Ed Rose, best known for his work with Coalesce and various Get Up Kids related projects. They record the three-song Analog Weekend EP directly to tape. It's released on Polyvinyl in December.
Teaming up with former Wilco member LeRoy Bach and indie folk singer Angel Olsen, Tim records an album with local Chicago poet and idiosyncratic songwriter Marvin Tate. Produced by Bach and backed by sparse piano, Tim and Olsen sing 13 of Tate's songs. "I'm really working outside my comfort zone as much as possible," he tells Jessica Hopper in an interview for Spin. "This and Testimonium — they weren't my own stories, but I had to embody them. It felt like being an actor."
Work on the second Owls record continues. Villarreal leaves Joan of Arc "so that we could functionally keep Owls and Joan of Arc separate in our heads," says Tim. Efforts are hampered by the four members' busy schedules. The birth of Mike's second child further pushes things back. "The actual moments of collaboration between the four of us are distilled into a couple weeks 13 years ago and when we were teenagers," says Tim. "We're kind of intimate strangers with one another. When we all come together, it's one thing to feel out how we all interact. It's a whole other thing to all make something together."
Owls' second record, called 2, is finally finished and is released by Polyvinyl in March as the band sets out on tour to support the release. Tim's second novel, Let's Go and Go On and On, is released in April. It's a fictional account of the life of real life actress Laurie Bird that, according to Amazon, "draws on this very American story to explore our endless fascination with the Hollywood machine and the weirdness that is celebrity culture." Tim calls it a "total failure." "The struggle… is how do I sequence it to lead the reader through my head." He's keeping Joan of Arc on the back burner for the time being. "We all agreed we'll talk in a year and see what we feel like doing," he says. "Everyone does a lot of different creative things and people want to focus more on other stuff."
Also in March, Polyvinyl announces that it will re-release American Football's lone LP with a collection of bonus tracks from a boombox demo the band made during one of their practices. "It's insane, the legs of that album," Mike tells Washed Up Emo. "Everybody was in a few different bands that put out one record, so it's funny that record is sort of referenced by anybody. I don't know how or why, but it is a reason I'm still able to make music."
"It's probably sold more records than most of my other bands," he tells Exclaim! "But we were never really a real band. We never really toured and never really played proper venues. It was mostly just living rooms and we played some classrooms around campus." The same month, Mike tweets that he's heading into the studio to record an album's worth of covers for an upcoming Owen release. "Super excited to de-amplify / snooze-up some of my all-time favs." Mike rarely plays with Joan of Arc these days, but its flexible line-up and his continued creative relationship with Tim certainly leaves the door open.
"[We have] different sensibilities, a different sense of what's interesting or valuable about a particular thing," says Tim. "I think he enjoys playing in Joan of Arc sometimes because he's asked to think about things in a totally different way."
Mike balances his life as a father of two (his daughter is five and his son is two) with short tours. "When I'm talking to other parents at my kids' school, I'm just like, 'Oh I play music.' There's no details, like, 'Oh I've been playing music and playing to the same 30 people in Atlanta for the past 18 years,'" he tells Washed Up Emo. "If I'm home with kids for a month, it's fun to [know] at the end of this month I'll go away for a week and I get a couple nights I can drunk and I get to play and if there's 50 people there to see me great. For that night I'm the coolest kid in the room, which is the opposite of my life at home."
Analphabetapolothology (Jade Tree, 1998)
While there is some filler, this collection of everything the band released is the Rosetta Stone for everything that followed. Merging the best of East Coast hardcore and West Coast pop-punk, Cap'n Jazz managed to distill all the energy and anxiety of suburban teenage life into these 24-tracks, laying the groundwork for its members' future endeavors as well as the legion of bands that followed in their wake.
American Football LP (Polyvinyl, 1999)
Out on his own in the world (or at least a couple hours away at school) Mike and his bandmates recorded this emotive masterpiece in a single weekend. Chiming guitars mix with plaintive vocals to create one of the defining releases from the second wave of emo bands. More than a decade on it remains one of the most influential and heavily referenced records for a new generation of groups who've adopted the word "twinkle" as short hand for it's mathy, melodic guitar sound.
Their/They're/There (Polyvinyl, 2013)
Picking your favourite Kinsella related project is a matter of taste, but you'd be hard pressed to beat Mike's latest project. This collaboration with Into It. Over It.'s Evan Weiss and Loose Lips Sink Ships' Matthew Frank bridges the 90s Chicago underground and the new generation of bands inspired by it. Catchy and melodic, with Frank's inventive fret work frequently taking the spotlight, Their/They're/There capture the energy and spirit of the past while pointing the way forward.