Old Faces, New Bird

This week Tim Kinsella will release his fourth record of the past 12 months. For the last few years the prolific and somewhat esoteric songwriter has done most of his work under the rubric of Joan of Arc, the art-rock band he started after his first group, Cap’n Jazz, split in 1995: last fall the group released its fourth album, The Gap, and in May chased it with an EP, How Can Any Thing So Little Be Any More?, both on Jade Tree. More recently Kinsella put out his first solo recording, an acoustic EP called He Sang His Didn’t He Danced His Did, on Troubleman Unlimited.

This latest release, though, is credited to a new full band called Owls, featuring Kinsella’s brother Mike on drums, Sam Zurick on bass, and Victor Villareal on guitar. For the uninitiated, that’s three of the other four members of Cap’n Jazz–only Davey vonBohlen, busy with his band the Promise Ring, is missing. That ought to blow up the skirts of the 20,000 or so people who snapped up Cap’n Jazz’s Jade Tree anthology in 1999, marking the band posthumously as emocore icons. But Owls is not a Cap’n Jazz reunion. “On our end there is zero nostalgia. At this point we’re getting older and we’re kind of losers,” says Kinsella, 26. “None of us can become bankers or get a job at an ad agency. This is what we like to do and we were kind of the only people left that we all can connect with.”

The four first reconnected last summer, to perform at a fund-raiser at the Empty Bottle for cystic fibrosis research after a mutual high school friend died of the disease. “We wrote all of the songs in a week and played the show. It was really terrible.”

But they enjoyed the process enough to do it again…and again, and again. Their debut, Owls, was recorded with Steve Albini in April, and on August 14 they’ll set off on a three-month tour of the U.S. and Europe (bringing them back to Schubas on September 5). The music is visceral in a way Joan of Arc’s hasn’t been since its inception, but it’s not a retreat to the sheer velocity and inchoate emotion of Cap’n Jazz either. The irregularly shaped melodies are more precise, there is more space in the music, and not surprisingly the execution is simply better. “We’ve all known each other so long, there’s such a trust…” says Kinsella. “If I was locked out of my house those aren’t the guys I would trust to solve that kind of logistical problem, but in the way we react to each other’s playing there’s a real trust.”

All four members remain active in other projects. Villareal and Zurick still play in the mathy instrumental quartet Ghosts and Vodka, who just released a new album, Precious Blood (Six Gun Lover). Mike Kinsella is releasing a solo album this fall on Polyvinyl. And though the Jade Tree Web site claims that Joan of Arc is kaput, Kinsella begs to differ. “I still don’t know if I’ve ever said Joan of Arc has broken up,” he says. But the band had increasingly become Kinsella’s studio project. “I started feeling foolish, calling everyone and letting them know the days we would be working on the record,” he says. “Everyone was like, ‘Cool!’ And then no one would come by. I would wait for a couple days and then figure, ‘Well, I guess we start working.'”

The tour to support The Gap last fall didn’t go well: the crowds were often small, and Kinsella says the members of the group–he and his brother, Zurick, laptop jockey Jeremy Boyle, and bassist Matt Clark–just weren’t getting along. “The tour ended and we didn’t speak to each other for two months.” They did perform one more unannounced show at the Rainbo and four shows in Japan in January, but “it was pretty clear by the end that the Japanese tour would be the end of that lineup.” For the last few months Kinsella has been recording new material with engineer, programmer, and frequent Joan of Arc collaborator Casey Rice. “This new thing Casey and I are working on is called Joan of Arc II, but I don’t know if that’s what it would be called if Jade Tree hadn’t said Joan of Arc had broken up,” Kinsella complains. “I’m still sitting here working on stuff.”

Everything Old Is on Sale Again

A slew of reissues by “seminal” bands–in other words, bands who’ve influenced whatever’s popular at the moment–have hit the shelves recently. A few highlights:

Krautrock titans Neu! experienced a wave of revived interest in the mid-90s, when they were namechecked by postrock luminaries like Stereolab, and their three albums, never officially released in this country, surfaced as high-grade bootlegs. Now Astralwerks has finally issued them domestically with the duo’s approval. Neu!’s eponymously titled 1972 debut, with its relentless “motorik” rhythms and harsh guitar drones, has lost none of its power; the other two albums, Neu! 2 (1973) and Neu! ’75, aren’t as remarkable, but both have their moments.

Radio Birdman were the first of many Australian acts to worship at the altar of the Stooges and the MC5 (the band’s name comes from a line in the Stooges’ “1970”) but for years they’ve been more heard-of than heard in the States. While the new survey The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978)–appropriately released by Sub Pop, home to a whole new crop of Stooges wannabes–contains a handful of dirty-clean gems like the Hawaii Five-O salute “Aloha Steve & Danno” and the Motor City paean “Do the Pop,” it doesn’t quite live up to the title: while I’m sure Radio Birdman may have been on par spiritually with American contemporaries like Patti Smith and the Ramones, musically they were not.

Los Angeles’s Dream Syndicate overstayed their welcome by years, but their sins are washed away by the brilliance of their debut album, The Days of Wine and Roses, which has just been reissued, along with the band’s eponymous EP, some practice tapes, and a pre-Dream Syndicate single recorded by songwriter Steve Wynn under the name 15 Minutes, on a Rhino Records CD. The lyrical, feedback-fired guitar work of Karl Precoda and Wynn’s smart post-Dylan songwriting influenced bands in and outside LA–among them Chicago’s own Eleventh Dream Day, whose first two albums for Atlantic, 1989’s Beet and 1991’s Lived to Tell, have just been reissued by Collector’s Choice Music (with liner notes by this writer).


Thick Records is currently assembling a best-of collection by Trenchmouth, the misunderstood and oft-overlooked Chicago band that since its breakup in 1998 has been hailed as (guess what) seminal by bands from the Dismemberment Plan to the soon-to-be-seminal At the Drive In. In their ten-year run, Trenchmouth issued four albums, all of which are now out of print. Vocalist Damon Locks and bassist Wayne Montana went on to form the Eternals; drummer Fred Armisen, who took a detour into professional comedy, was recently named one of ten comics to watch by Variety. The collection is due out some time next year.

Send gripes, leads, and love letters to Peter Margasak at postnobills@chicagoreader.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.