April 8, 2004
INTERVIEW : TIM KINSELLA
For the past decade or so, Tim Kinsella has challenged the conventions, trends, and occasionally even the patience of his audience with the numerous projects he's been involved with- Cap'n Jazz, Owls, Friend/Enemy, Joan Of Arc, and, most recently, Make Believe. While most of Kinsella's work is typically hit-or-miss fare, Make Believe seems to have accrued a new sense of focus and direction for the singer. The group is described as "Owls without drug problems, Friend/Enemy with a consistent lineup and a practice schedule" and its press release even details a 7-point improvement plan:
#1 Would be a live band--all songs written as a band playing live.
#2 No-one was getting in unless they were down for the long haul--maintain a consistent lineup
#3 Practice every day--well over 40 hours a week--if they're lucky enough to get away with living outside of the dominant culture as much as they are, they would work hard to maintan and justify such a privilege.
#4 No effect pedals
#5 No over-dubs
#6 Songs would have to speak for the collective not the individual singer
#7 Sound palette limited to classic rock band lineup to force new approaches to cliched shapes
Make Believe is currently touring the country with Sacramento instrumental spazzcore duo Hella and Philly's lovable weirdos Need New Body on a splendid package tour that should be hitting your town shortly. It was on the Philly stop that I got a chance to sit down and chat with Mr. Kinsella about...well, a lot of things.
ScenePointBlank: So, how’s the tour going?
Tim Kinsella: It’s the greatest. Hella and Need New Body are my two favorite bands on the planet. I’ve been very lucky to be on the tour.
SPB: You obviously like working with a lot of different groups simultaneously- Joan of Arc, Owls, Make Believe, your solo project, etc. What do you find you get most out of this kind of musical multi-tasking? Do you find that each project serves a specific purpose?
TK: I don’t really know. I don’t really do anything else. Like, once a month I’ll rent a movie or my girlfriend will rent a movie and I’ll watch it with her. So, I maintain the pretense that I really love movies but I only see one a month. I don’t know. I don’t do anything else?°¦what was the question again?
SPB: What do you get out of working with different groups simultaneously?
TK: Oh?°¦I don’t know, man. [Long pause]
SPB: Do you feel like it’s somewhat limiting to work with one group at a time?
TK: No, I don’t feel limited. Honestly, I forget about the other groups when one is working. They never really conflict. It’s all very intuitive; there’s not much thought behind it all. We all just live in this warehouse together and play music with our friends all the time and record it. If we mass-produce what we record, then we can make a little money and if we do enough of that, then we don’t have to work as many hours each week and we get to do what we want. It’s all very selfish and intuitive. I’m like the luckiest person ever born. Think about [how] Americans right now are the most privileged people to ever be born on the planet and white males like me and you are the next tier of most privileged people to ever be born. But most dudes have to work and I just work 8 hours a week, 6 months a year, you know? I’m the luckiest human ever born. I just do whatever I want.
SPB: What do you do outside of music?
TK: Eh, fuck my girlfriend.
SPB: No, I meant for a living.
TK: Oh, I bartend a little bit. I’m really lucky. It’s a really good job.
SPB: I saw Owls at this exact same venue a little more than 2 years ago and you guys really blew me away. I was wondering if there was any chance of the group getting back together and maybe making another record or doing another tour?
TK: No, I wish we could. We tried to for years. This Make Believe sort of started with me and Sam [Zurick, guitarist for Cap’n Jazz/Joan of Arc/Owls/Make Believe] really wanting Owls to work and not being able to make it work. It just grew out of that impulse.
SPB: Tell me a little bit about Make Believe.
TK: We hang out together all day, every day. It’s more of a lifestyle than any conscious decisions.
SPB: You guys are all based out of Chicago, right?
SPB: I noticed that over the years, you’ve worked with a lot of the same people on your projects. Is this an issue of comfort or necessity or...?
TK: Just intuition. My friends are my friends. My family is my family. It’s who I know.
SPB: Have you ever thought of working with people outside of that little circle?
TK: Oh, yeah. I mean we all play with a lot of different people all the time. It’s all very open. I don’t know. Very little thought goes into any of it. There’s a lot of concentration in the immediate all the time. But as far as any sort of distance, thought, or perspective about it, it doesn’t really happen. It’s just really being involved in the moment. I feel like?°¦I don’t know if this might be a tangent, but it seems to me when we travel a lot and we see friends from high school or if I have to explain what I do to an aunt I see every couple of years or something, they’ll be like, “I saw you in some magazine! You’ve really made it!” And it’s like, “Really? I’ve done way cooler things than that magazine. Is this really your idea of success?” So it’s like this differed idea. And I feel like sort of mainstream, white consumer culture America is based on differing to the future. Sort of like, “I’m doing this right now because it’s going to get me this”. But they never get there, you know? So we sort of always work in the moment. That’s the kind of thing: being engaged in the immediate. So a lot of concentration goes into the moment, but as far as any greater strategy with any distance perspective, it never really happens. Does that make any sense?
SPB: Yeah, absolutely.
TK: Sorry if I’m babbling.
SPB: No, not at all. I think it’s kind of a noble way of approaching your craft. I mean, I make my own music and I’ve noticed that a lot of it is sort of based around the end result- I find that a lot of music is, actually. So I guess you could say that I’ve been trying to move away from that approach.
TK: Yeah, with the end result you’ll never get there.
SPB: Yeah, what is this end result anyway?
SPB: How did you hook up with Jade Tree? Joan Of Arc seems like kind of a weird fit for the label, doesn’t it?
TK: It is a weird fit and it really isn’t a fit anymore. The new Joan of Arc record comes out in August on Polyvinyl. I don’t know. We knew ?°»em. I was 20 years old or 19 years old and they were my only friends who had a record label.
SPB: What do you think of the new crop of Jade Tree artists?
TK: Oh, I don’t know. I really appreciate everything they’ve done for us. I have nothing but good feelings towards them but it’s not a thing that has anything to do with me, really. I think they’re the greatest and I really appreciate what they do, but I don’t really?°¦what was the question? What do I think of their new artists?
TK: I don’t know. I wish the best for them. It’s weird to be sitting in this space and not be hanging out with them- this is usually when I see them on a tour. They’re friends of mine and I care about them. I have a hard time judging bands or music because very few things are really exciting to me. There’s, like, Lungfish, Need New Body, Hella, Uzeda, U.S. Maple, Will Oldham?°¦I don’t know. I buy a lot of old records. I can’t keep up.
SPB: I was actually going to ask you what you were listening to lately.
TK: I’ve been listening to a lot of the Harry Smith Anthologies of Folk Music, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Van Morrison, Bauhaus?°¦I don’t really keep up. I sort of feel like who am I to say what’s good or bad? There are people who sort of blow my mind as to what they can do. It never ceases to amaze me when I see some bands?°¦how did people get together and decide to make this sound? It’s not even a decision, you know? I know from doing it myself that it’s some sort of instinct or a challenge. There’s a lot of genre bands out there who seem to satisfy some sort of need in people, but I don’t feel like I’m qualified to say what’s good or bad.
SPB: What excites you about those artists?
TK: I think with Hella, every single measure is a surprise. It seems like an impossible feat over and over. Have you seen them?
SPB: Yeah, they’re great.
TK: And with Need New Body, it’s like their minds have been blown wide open and anything is possible. I just love that. And someone like Will Oldham, I just feel like is a master of a very traditional style of writing. I really appreciate that. Personally, I don’t have that kind of discipline. I don’t feel like I could master that sort of thing. But I don’t feel like I could name what I’m really drawn to in anything that I’m drawn to. That’s part of my secret mind that really controls me. My conscious mind just fucks that up.
SPB: Your lyrics have always seemed to lean towards the mysterious or abstract- or abstract to me, at least. Could you tell me what sorts of processes are involved in your approach as a wordsmith or what sorts of things go through your head when you’re writing lyrics?
TK: I don’t know, man. [Long pause] I work on it constantly. I never really sit down and write. Maybe once every 2 or 3 days, I’ll sit down and write for an hour. Actually, it’s more like every 5 days, I’ll sit down and write for an hour. But usually it’s just I make notes to myself maybe one minute every fifteen minutes, like, ?°»oh, there’s a real ring to that phrase’ or ?°»how about that birds nest in the chandelier’. It’s just an amazing world. If they’re abstracted, it’s not to be difficult. I did this interview before the show and this woman asked me, “Why do you have to be so obtuse and difficult? It’s sort of elitist”. That sort of disappoints me because I feel like in my mind it’s more open-
SPB: Open to interpretation?
TK: Yeah. To be like, “this song is yours”. It’s out of respect to the audience more than trying to baffle everyone. I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like the two-party democratic system. I don’t like any of the bombardment of ?°»everybody needs to own a car’, ?°»everyone’s shoes are made for them somewhere far away’, ?°»everyone needs to eat meat’. There are people suffering everywhere for the privileges that we have and- this is a tangent- it’s my own guilt. I’m aware of this and I don’t know what I’m doing here. It’s amazing to me at the very core that I’m alive and I feel this breeze on me right now and that I’m talking to you and I don’t know?°¦like, what is this? Why are we animated? Why do we walk around? It’s fuckin’ nuts, man. There’s zero reason for anything. The least I could do is try to offer something to people that they can relate to and make their own. It’s obviously not like joining the Peace Corps or building shelters for people in South America, but its-
SPB: You’re contributing something, at least.
TK: I don’t even mean that as some sort of justification for what I’m doing. It’s very selfish, but it’s all I can do. It’s what I do. I don’t think about it. I can’t help but write a lot of music. I don’t even remember ever deciding that I liked music. I mean, I know I can’t play music- I’m not a musician- but if this what I’m doing, the least I can do is be generous about it and make it the listeners’ instead of my own. I don’t want to tell people about like, “I got a broken heart/this girl’s so hot but she’s mean” or “start a revolution!” It’s meaningless, you know? It’s the same bombardment of school and the prison systems. I just want people to people to make it their own. Does that make sense?
SPB: Yeah, definitely.
TK: It’s very sad to me?°¦ah, nothing’s very sad to me.
SPB: No, go on.
TK: It bums me out sometimes like how I was saying how I did that interview earlier, the last thing it’s supposed to be is exclusive, but I can’t help how people read it, so it’s sort of like if I leave things open and someone sees that as exclusive, then it’s just them projecting their own insecurities. It’s all meant to be for the listeners to project themselves upon and make their own song.
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