Joan of Arc's Tim Kinsella
There’s no doubt Tim Kinsella is one of rock’s most polarising figures. In his 12 years as Joan of Arc’s restless and ever-prolific front-man, he’s amassed an impressive body of work, both with his main project and its myriad of offshoots. In the process, the 33-year-old Chicago native has earned nearly as much praise as he has criticism, attracting labels such as ambitious, innovative and genius right alongside purposely difficult and pretentious. Yet such sharp division lines have done little to deter Kinsella’s output, whether it was with his highly influential and now-defunct emo act Cap'n Jazz or now with Joan of Arc, his solo work or one of his many other bands, such as Owls, Make Believe and Friend/Enemy. As Kinsella prepares to take to the road in support of one of Joan of Arc’s most welcoming pieces of off-kilter rock, Boo Human, the soon to be masters of writing student let us in on his new album, film work, family and his aversion to the rock’n’roll lifestyle.
How did you set about to write the new album, Boo Human?
The writing process is pretty easily integrated into my lifestyle. I truly have the luckiest, most privileged, easiest life, so I have a lot of time to play music. I mean, I’m a bartender and I’ve been doing that for about eight or nine years, just so I would have the time to focus on music. But I am always very aware on whether or not I am not concentrating on creative output. There is definitely an urgency to be active creatively so I justify my privileged lifestyle. With making records, the songs just kind of pile up and this energy reserve builds up and then some alarm clock goes off saying, "Okay, make the record now.” And so with the new one, I just picked through all these demos and home recordings, threw two-thirds away on the first listen, and then booked the studio time and came up with some ideas of what the band would be.
The last Joan of Arc record,Eventually, All at Once, almost played like a solo record, with you taking on most things yourself. With the new one, however, you have enlisted 14 different musicians. How did you decide which players were going to be on the record and how did you organise everyone?
It was hard to nail anyone down specifically, so we just said, "Okay everyone, just come by when you can.” We had a sign-up sheet, people would show up at noon and I would go, "Okay, this is today’s group.” But really, it was kind of based on a practical audit of who was available. Joan of Arc sort of operate now where there are maybe 18 people who are in the band, and we set something up and see whoever is available. It’s the same with touring. We just figure out who is available, get together and sort out who is going to do what later.
Did you set out to do anything really different from previous albums with this record?
The lyrics are definitely a very different approach. It’s always meant a lot to me to have very shaded and open meanings to the songs, so people could attach their own meanings. I mean, I’ve always been a big fan of lyrics in songs that you’ve heard a million times but then suddenly it’s like, "Hey that lyric in the second verse doesn’t really make any sense.” I’ve always been really drawn to that. I’ve always been more interested in creating a playing field for people to impose their own meanings on. But the lyrics on this record are much more straightforward and there is just this, "This is how I feel. This is what I’m going through. Here it is.” There’s definitely an aspect of vulnerability in the words that isn’t in the usual Joan of Arc operating procedure.
There is a line in the Boo Human song "Shown and Told” where you mention a hermaphrodite stepfather. How does that fit into this new lyrical approach?
Well, that one is an exception and there are a few of those on this record. There are a few mysterious moments like that one that I would prefer to leave mysterious. Actually, when we were playing the other week I was, "Now, what is a hermaphrodite stepfather?” And I got hung up on that line for a minute. And I think that’s why I’ve always enjoyed leaving my lyrics more abstract because when we are on tour playing all these songs live, a different line will hit me each night, and I can see something new it the songs myself.
On the press release for Boo Human put out by your label, Polyvinyl, they call the album one of your most accessible records. Do you agree with that?
Selling something on the adjective of accessibility seems like the most meaningless sales point to me. I’ve been part of enough records now that when people are approaching it there is a bit of a stigma, being, "Well, is this going to be a listenable one or some indulgent one,” so I know that’s what the label is referring to. But what kind of standard is accessibility? I mean, who is ever like, "Man, that’s awesome. Totally accessible!”
Do you ever feel you are being overly difficult on your records?
Well, it’s not something I ever really think about. But I never want to turn an audience off or something. I’m not being willfully obtuse for any reason. I think what sometimes comes out as us being difficult is really just us being playful. And I think often people don’t recognise the degree of playfulness in what we do.
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