Keeping Up With the Joans

Guitarist Tim Kinsella has played in so many bands it’s hard to keep them straight. He got his start with emo trailblazers Cap’n Jazz, and he’s best known for leading the experimental outfit Joan of Arc. But he’s also a member of Friend/Enemy, a sprawling art-rock juggernaut with Joan of Arc guitarist Todd Mattei and members of such groups as Califone and the 90 Day Men. He fronts Owls, a rock quartet made up of some of his former Cap’n Jazz cohorts. And he plays in Everyone, a collective with singer Chris Connelly, TV Pow laptopper Brent Gutzeit, and Ben Vida and Liz Payne of Town and Country. He’s put out seven records in the last three years, including a solo album. And if that resume isn’t confusing enough, the liner notes to the two new Joan of Arc discs (the band’s first new material in three years) credit tracks not just to Joan of Arc but also to Friend/Enemy, Joan of Arc II, and the Sam Zurick Band (led by the guitarist who’s played with Kinsella off and on since Cap’n Jazz).

By the time Joan of Arc released The Gap (Jade Tree, 2000), the “band” was essentially Kinsella and a revolving cast of helpers, including engineer Casey Rice. When Owls released their eponymous debut album the following year, it seemed as if Joan of Arc was finished. “We never really intended to get back together as Joan of Arc,” says Kinsella. But during this time he was making music with Rice using Pro Tools, a project he half-jokingly referred to as Joan of Arc II. “I had built a maze around myself with the tracks that were begun with Casey, and eventually my computer threatened to swallow the songs completely if I didn’t grab them at the last minute and simplify them,” he says. “But by that point I had been working on them so long that I was afraid they’d get overly undone, so I decided the best way to deal with them was to go to tape in a studio and have people who hadn’t turned them inside out a million times play them quickly.”

But it wasn’t quite that simple. At Clava Studios in September, Kinsella was working on two different projects–Friend/Enemy and the Sam Zurick Band–with much the same personnel. “One afternoon we had the brilliant realization that just because the guitarist and bass player trade instruments [in those two projects] doesn’t mean we need two band names,” he says. So they decided to lump all the songs together and release the results under the name Joan of Arc. Combined, the sessions produced enough tracks for two new albums: in February, Jade Tree released So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness, and last month Perishable issued the more disjointed In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust, clearly cobbled together from the first disc’s leftovers. So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness is Joan of Arc’s best work–the nonlinear structure of the songs suggests the freedom afforded by Pro Tools production on albums like Live in Chicago and The Gap, but the new stuff is unmistakably the work of a real band.

While this material is hardly conventional–Kinsella’s lyrics read like cryptic journal entries, and the tunes rarely follow verse-chorus-verse form–it’s still Joan of Arc’s most accessible work since the group’s first two albums (their “emo” phase). The clean guitar arpeggios and curlicued lines played by Kinsella, Zurick, and Mattei lock into a precise pattern over which Kinsella warbles. These aren’t exactly pop songs, but they are undeniably melodic and sweet even as they constantly change shape. Players like Califone’s Ben Massarella and Jim Becker, cornetist Rob Mazurek, and Graeme Gibson of Boas (who recorded both albums) provide a range of additional instrumental colors.

“Working on Pro Tools exclusively and exhaustingly for a couple years changed how I play and write a lot,” says Kinsella. “Eventually all the physicality of music was gone, and instead of playing I had some weird sound-wave visualization of music.” He also came to feel that all the computer production and glitchy, whirring digital sounds had the effect of time-stamping the music. “So this time the production ambition was towards an older or familiar sound, like a Fleetwood Mac or John Cale record, and then to force the songs to stand up on their own two feet,” he says. “It’s more exciting now for us to limit our options to familiar sounds and devices and seek new relationships between the elements.”

Joan of Arc, just back from an extensive European tour, play the Empty Bottle on Saturday night; the lineup will feature Kinsella, his brother Mike on drums, their cousin Nate Kinsella on bass, and Zurick on guitar.


On May 9, city representatives and plainclothes policemen issued two tickets to HotHouse, charging the nonprofit venue with improper liquor sales and operating without the correct business license. They also issued two cease and desist orders, which forced HotHouse to shut down. At a hearing with the Department of Revenue last Friday, the two tickets were dismissed. For the last three weeks HotHouse has operated sporadically under the limitations of its license, selling alcohol only before and after performances. Last Friday the club also submitted a new application to the city for a public place of amusement license; for now, HotHouse will resume its regular programming and begin selling liquor throughout shows–which makes it conceivable that it’ll be shut down again.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/courtesy Jade Tree.