Joan of Arc's Tim Kinsella on the New Album, The Chicago Music Scene, and SF Bands
Joan of Arc is not so much a band as it is a constantly changing collective of musicians spanning over 15 years. One member remains constant, though: Tim Kinsella, who you might say is Joan of Arc. The band's latest album, Life Like, brings yet another lineup on the most stripped-down, simplified Joan of Arc album yet. We talked with founder and frontman Tim Kinsella about the Chicago scene, the revolving door band model, and the new album. Joan of Arc plays Cafe du Nord this Thursday, May 12.
7x7: Early on in the band's career, one of your goals was to be accepted by the multiple sub-cultures that formed around genres and styles in the Chicago scene. Do you think you achieved that?
Tim Kinsella: There were many fractured sub-scenes doing interesting things around town. But as exciting as a lot of them were, they all had their superficial codes of membership. I wanted to be sure to not pander to any of them. We talked about it in terms of "music for no audience" as we recognized the immediate acceptance of any scene-in-waiting meant we were failing to be truly expressive in any honest way. The vanity in music culture repulses me, makes me ashamed to be a musician.
7x7: How has your relationship with the Chicago art scene changed over the years, if at all?
TK: I've lived in the same general neighborhood for almost 20 years and run in circles centered around similar biases for that time. So camaraderie deepens between weirdos, whatever their specialized disciplines, makes it simpler to execute whatever plans - one knows who to approach to collaborate with, whose dependable.
As far as a music scene though, I've never felt one iota of support from the Chicago indie-rock-organized-crime-syndicate. The big Chicago labels, publicists, publications, etc won't touch us and have never given us the smallest of breaks. I love the community of musicians! The musicians are endlessly inspiring, beautiful, imaginative, open and loving people. The musicians are my friends for life. And some of the club-owners are really great. But the scumbag opportunists that run the game behind the scenes here, they're the worst—self-important, arrogant leeches, business-scum trying to pass as down-to-earth music fans. So gross. And Chicago is pretty transient. People pass through with ambitions, opportunistic types with big ideas. I'm weary of them.
7x7: You definitely bring a literary sensibility and playfulness, both lyrically and satirically, to Joan of Arc. It's even evident in some of the track titles, like "Stemingway and Heinbeck," and, on the new album, "I Saw the Messed Binds of My Generation." How has your background in English lit influenced the way you approach your music?
TK: Language is analytical and music is emotional. I guess striking the balance between the two is interesting to me. It's a constant negotiation.
7x7: The revolving door model for a ban isn't that uncommon these days, but I feel like Joan of Arc is one of a few bands who really make it work. How do you make it work so well? What are some of the challenges and some of the benefits of having members come and go?
TK: We are all friends. We all trust each other. There is no competition or careerism or envy or rivalry or anything like that between any two parties involved. As complex as this revolving door model is, it's still the simplest way for us. I guess it's not unlike a director that has a steady ensemble cast he returns to.
7x7: So the new album. You recorded Life Like after playing 20 shows in 2 days in Europe. How did that affect your process and the resulting album?
TK: It was recorded almost all live - maybe 3 overdubs. It was all first or second takes. It was recorded without self-consciousness, just muscle memory. It was great.
7x7: What do you love and (or hate) most about San Francisco?
TK: I love the Pancho Villa burritos, always sure to eat one when in town. I like climbing around the rocks and the ruins at the beach up where the old bathhouse (maybe?) was destroyed. Whatever that place is called. I always visit Amoeba. San Francisco evokes rare feelings in me, just being there. The hills and the architecture is truly singular. I'm always thrilled to visit. There's no better bookstores anywhere.
7x7: Any SF musicians you really love or admire?
TK: Richard Brautigan is charming. The Dead Kennedys and Jawbreaker were certainly formative to me. Skip Spence? CCR? Did Terry Riley live there? Alan Watts? Walter Murch?