Few Chicago bands have embodied the freewheeling spirit and omnidirectional potential of the city’s independent rock scene—whose many subsets include punk, postrock, no wave, and art-rock—as thoroughly as Joan of Arc. Since the group emerged in 1996 from the breakup of emo instigators Cap’n Jazz the previous year, they’ve been in constant flux, dipping into a confounding variety of genres with an intuitive illogic that’s both passionately earnest and playfully perverse. Bandleader Tim Kinsella, front man of Cap’n Jazz, is the lone constant member of Joan of Arc, providing an anchor while a continuously circulating cast of collaborators entered the picture for an album or three or maybe a tour.
Joan of Arc could be mistaken for a Tim Kinsella solo project, and the music he released under his own name didn’t clarify matters. In 2015, when he was artist in residence for Indianapolis label Joyful Noise, he put out a seven-inch called Joan of Arc’s Greatest Hits and a 12-inch called JOA99, the latter recorded with Jeremy Boyle and Todd Mattei, both of whom had appeared on Joan of Arc’s Live in Chicago, 1999. Kinsella also formed other bands whose rosters drew from Joan of Arc’s: in the 2000s, they included Friend/Enemy (experimental rock), Owls (math rock), and Make Believe (political hardcore). The pipeline flowed the other way too—the 2010 Cap’n Jazz reunion prompted one of the band’s guitarists, Victor Villarreal, to join Joan of Arc. That same year, Joyful Noise released Joan of Arc’s ten albums to date as a cassette box set, beginning a mutually enriching relationship that continues today—the label has put out the great majority of Joan of Arc’s material, and it owes its approach to releases as art objects to the surprise success of that 2010 box set. “I don’t think I’d have a career without having done that release,” says Joyful Noise founder Karl Hofstetter.
Kinsella has often relied on a relatively small core group, but his total pool of collaborators is vast—Joan of Arc have welcomed established virtuosos alongside seemingly anyone who could carry a tune or keep a beat. They’ve got albums engineered by the inimitable Steve Albini or conducted by celebrated improvising cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm; contributors to their music have included Black Monument Ensemble bandleader Damon Locks, former Wilco multi-instrumentalist LeRoy Bach, and art-rock iconoclast Azita Youssefi. Joan of Arc might be the most Chicagoan band of the past 30 years, if only because they’re intimately connected to so many other local acts.
That’s not to say Joan of Arc have reliably been recognized for their achievements. The band could be difficult to follow, not least because their genre experiments weren’t careful hybrids but rather leaps from style to style between albums (if not between songs). From the moment Joan of Arc debuted, breaking hard from Cap’n Jazz’s frenetic punk with quiet postrock and skittering electronics, they’ve antagonized potential fans who expect a rock band to evolve incrementally rather than mutate apparently randomly. This approach sometimes seemed to make people legitimately angry: a 2000 Pitchfork review of The Gap accused Joan of Arc of making “unlistenable faux-art records” and referred to Live in Chicago, 1999 as “the worst record I’ve ever heard.”
In Chicago, Joan of Arc have found plenty of receptive listeners, as well as collaborators attuned to the band’s love of odd self-imposed rules that force them into unprecedented musical decisions. And Joan of Arc haven’t limited themselves to making records and playing shows: they’ve composed live scores for silent films, worked with performance-art troupe Every House Has a Door on the 2013 stage show Testimonium, and celebrated their 20th anniversary with an exhibit of visual art at Elastic. To anyone involved in the local rock scene today, Joan of Arc might feel like a favorite bar that’s been open since before anyone can remember, doing its own thing and adding character to the neighborhood. But like many such brick-and-mortar institutions, the band didn’t survive 2020—this past fall, worn out by years of diminishing financial returns, they announced their breakup, and last month Joyful Noise released the band’s final album, Tim Melina Theo Bobby. It’s named after their core lineup for most of the past decade—Kinsella, vocalist Melina Ausikaitis, drummer Theo Katsaounis, and bassist Bobby Burg—and ironically, it received by far the best Pitchfork review of their career.
Tim Melina Theo Bobby feels like a farewell in its deliberate attempt to encompass the eclectic variety of the band’s long career. This oral history attempts to do the same (though the titles that double as section headers do not represent their entire discography). I assembled a spreadsheet with the names of anyone who’d ever contributed to a Joan of Arc album, whether sonically or visually; eventually I compiled 125 names, and I’m pretty sure I left some people out. I couldn’t reasonably talk to all of them, but the 24 to whom I did speak helped deepen my understanding of the group’s complex history. Kinsella was instrumental in connecting me with these folks, but he asked not to be interviewed himself—entirely in keeping with his often inscrutable sense of humor. He’s still making music with his wife, Jenny Polus, as the duo Good Fuck, while Melina, Theo, and Bobby are soldiering on in Aitis Band. These projects are keeping the spirit of the defunct group alive, so that it feels like the only thing that’s gone away is the Joan of Arc name.
Cast of characters
Melina Ausikaitis Joan of Arc member
Jeremy Boyle Joan of Arc cofounder
Bobby Burg member of Joan of Arc, Make Believe, and Love of Everything; founder of Record Label
Rob Roy Campbell Joan of Arc contributor, engineer, founder of audio equipment company Electronaut, member of punk label and collective Underdog Records
Ann Carroll friend, roadie
Matt Clark member of Joan of Arc and Pinebender
Elliot Dicks engineer, founder of the Elliotsound studio
Tim Edwards Flower Booking agent
Graeme Gibson engineer
Lin Hixson Every House Has a Door cofounder and director
Karl Hofstetter Joyful Noise Recordings founder
Theo Katsaounis Joan of Arc member
Mike Kinsella younger brother of Tim Kinsella, member of Joan of Arc, Cap’n Jazz, Owls, Owen, and American Football
Nate Kinsella cousin of Tim Kinsella, producer, member of Joan of Arc, Make Believe, Birthmark, and American Football
Paul Koob designer, roadie, and Joan of Arc member
Todd Mattei member of Joan of Arc and Friend/Enemy
Casey Rice engineer and producer
Koji Saito tour manager and 7 e.p. label founder
Neil Strauch producer, engineer, and mixer
Chris Strong photographer, designer, and co-owner of the Brilliante label
Dee Taira Rainbo Club owner
Ben Vida composer, Joan of Arc contributor
Victor Villarreal member of Joan of Arc, Cap’n Jazz, and Owls
Sam Zurick member of Joan of Arc, Cap’n Jazz, Owls, and Make Believe
Sam Zurick Tim and I were best buds, and we hung out all the time in high school. Cap’n Jazz broke up and it was like, “Well, what do we do now?”
Mike Kinsella Tim started playing with Sam, who was in Cap’n Jazz, and then Erik Bocek, who was in a bunch of other local bands—we used to hang out in his basement, and he had shows at his house.
Sam Zurick We were very aware—or mainly Tim, he was very aware of making it nothing like Cap’n Jazz. That was sort of the model we were going for.
Mike Kinsella I believe they called themselves Red Blue Yellow.
Jeremy Boyle We played a show, and it was kind of a disaster. We were always just ready to go back to the drawing board—drop everything and start over.
Sam Zurick I was the first drummer of Joan of Arc, and I had never been a drummer or played drums. Talk about casual. It was like, “Yeah, why don’t you do that?”
Jeremy Boyle The first lineup of Joan of Arc was an odd collection of characters trying to make something happen together. There was nothing close to a singular vision or singular understanding of what things were. Myself, Tim, Erik, Sam, Mike—everyone needed something different and was looking for something different. Somehow we managed to make something happen that—probably for a real brief period of time—kind of met everyone’s needs.
Mike Kinsella Jeremy started building his own instruments.
Jeremy Boyle That’s what I was exploring, even before I moved to Chicago, when I was living in Saint Louis—I moved to Saint Louis initially to go to school and study engineering.
Sam Zurick He was like our Brian Eno in Roxy Music. Kinda like the guy that sat behind a bunch of machines and made blips.
Jeremy Boyle I had some distortion pedal that broke, and I tried to fix it, and I broke it worse. But then instead of it being something that filtered or processed sound, it just became something that generated sound, so it was the source. And that kind of struck me, so I started to play with that idea: anything that could make a sound, electronically, could become an instrument. It was a matter of thinking about how to interface with it.
Rob Roy Campbell I didn’t know anything about that stuff at all, but I was into recording. Jeremy’s soldering, putting together these weird things and buttons that do things, and I was fascinated by him—like, how do you do all this stuff? And he got me all inspired by electronics. Now I’ve been running an electronics business for 20 years.
Sam Zurick I was like, “I’ll just do guitar,” ’cause I wasn’t a very good drummer—Mike’s the drummer. I switched to guitar, and I had never done that before, so it was this constant learning thing, just learn as you go.
Mike Kinsella I said I’d play drums on a couple songs. I know on one of the first seven-inches they took one or two of my guitar parts and made songs out of them.
Jeremy Boyle Band practice was two nights a week or whatever it was. In the most straightforward band way, someone would have a part or an idea, and we’d start to play with that a little bit, see where it went.
Ann Carroll I went to the first show—was it at the A-Zone? I think their first show was there.
Casey Rice I knew about them because of the Fireside, because Elliot did sound at the Fireside for many years.
Elliot Dicks They were trying to alienate their Cap’n Jazz fans as much as possible—they were trying to do something totally the opposite. Obviously they still had fans that they carried over, but I think they just wanted to do something that was a different genre. They were trying to experiment more, branch out.
Paul Koob Coming from the Chicago punk scene, a band with bleeps and bloops and stuff in it, a guy doing that, that was a real new thing, for me and for a lot of people who were fans of Cap’n Jazz.
Sam Zurick Besides Jeremy, we still had these rock instruments in our hands—you know, guitar, bass, drums. That was the challenge, just sort of not sound like . . . whatever.
Jeremy Boyle It was a real collaborative process of writing. I know that a lot of things came from, like, Erik might have a bass part that we would play off of, or Sam’s guitar part or something. It was always these fragments.
Mike Kinsella I didn’t feel like I had creative input, necessarily, with it. I remember Tim—he would have these ideas for the drums, and just be like, “No no no, play it more like you’re playing the snare with your left foot,” and I’m like, “OK, so how would I play that?” He’s not a very good drummer, but he could understand what he wanted to hear, so he just wanted it to be more disjointed or more inverted. He would try to use adjectives to describe how he wanted the songs. It was like being part of his art project the whole time.
In hindsight it was nothing but educational and, like, way more fun, it turns out, than being in a bunch of serious bands—you know, band practice, where you literally just run the part over and over and over.
Tim Edwards Joan of Arc had some of the Chicago postrock Tortoise kinda feel, but wilder and vibrant. Less measured. Tim was and is a terrific front man. Everything he said seemed important and authentic, even if you had no idea what he was singing about.
A Portable Model Of (1997)
Jeremy Boyle An important element of Joan of Arc—the formation of it and it coming to be something—was the involvement of Casey Rice and Elliot Dicks. They can see things that I don’t think we were able to see at the time, and really helped guide us, or open doors for us, in the recording process.
Casey Rice A Portable Model Of, which is the first one, that is recorded by me and Elliot.
Elliot Dicks When they did a full LP, they were working with Casey over at Idful.
Casey Rice They did the kind of straight rock setup with drums and stuff with me.
Elliot Dicks I was doing more of the live-band versions of songs in a nice, fancy 24-track studio in Wicker Park.
Casey Rice Elliot did some probably at Truckstop, which used to be down on Michigan Avenue.
Elliot Dicks I still had my eight-track when I was down in the South Loop, and they were able to do weirder stuff and spend more time experimenting, ’cause my studio was pretty cheap.
Sam Zurick From that first record, there’s a song called “Count to a Thousand.” I just had this one riff, and then Tim being Tim said, “OK, now everyone count to a thousand, and we’ll do whatever.” That’s a good example of how Tim was very on top of saying the right thing to extract these songs out of people.
Elliot Dicks We’d try some just random things, like sticking a mike in a piano as the ambient mike, putting a brick on the sustain pedal. Whatever sounds swirled through the room came into the piano, and that was part of the recording. I don’t know if that was something that rubbed off on bands in Chicago from other studios. In the 90s, I think bands were trying to be more creative and do different things in the studio.
Casey Rice When Tim started doing the more experimental kind of things, which he did start eventually with Elliot, he would have extensive notes. He’d have a notebook—he had written out everything he wanted to do. He tried to draw diagrammatical things to explain the time and the numbers of cycles of parts; I don’t know if he reads and writes musical notation, but he certainly wasn’t then.
Chris Strong I remember it didn’t sound like anything else, at least that I had heard at that time—I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t listen to enough music, but to me, it was one of the first records that used the stuff that Jeremy Boyle did, the little blips and all that. And it was Tim’s voice, and his lyrics—honestly, it’s his lyrics that really got me into it.
Tim Edwards I think they were the very first band I picked up, and it was probably right around that time, fall of ’97. I started working with the Promise Ring, another Jade Tree band, shortly thereafter. I don’t remember having much trouble booking Joan of Arc. They kind of had the Cap’n Jazz pedigree, and as they started touring, Jade Tree was becoming a thing.
Mike Kinsella The shows seemed like there was an energy to ’em. There’d be a crowd. It seemed like there was sort of, like, confrontation between Tim and the audience on some nights. He was making consciously awkward music—you had to get in the right headspace to know you would make this weird, ugly, disjointed music that might be challenging, and I think maybe he took on some sort of persona to do that. So I’m not sure if all the shows were fun.
Tim Edwards Word was spreading fast with the kids. Even if the promoters didn’t have a ton of info on the band, they knew college radio was playing the record, they knew there was good press in magazines, and frankly at the time there weren’t ten bands vying for every night at every club. Maybe more clubs were willing to take a shot on something.
Mike Kinsella There’s a legendary—in our little circle—story. We played Speak in Tongues in Cleveland, and I think Jeremy’s parents came to see the show. They hadn’t seen us, and maybe they hadn’t even met us. Somehow Sam and Erik got into a fistfight before we played, out in front of Jeremy’s parents. It was really awkward—they were both really wasted. And then I think Jeremy wasn’t happy about that, probably, and then we had to go play this show.
Internally, if there’s five or six of us onstage, half of us are mad at the other half, and then we had to play in front of people. There was never anything normal. If it wasn’t a fistfight, we’d leave for tour and it’d be the first show, and we’re loading in and we realize, “Oh my God, not one of you guys brought a tuner? That’s insane. Nobody has a guitar cable that works?” It was always something.
How Memory Works (1998)
Matt Clark My first job after college was working at Electrical Audio. I got hired to help with construction, but I kind of did a little bit of everything. Joan of Arc came in for, I think, just a day, or maybe two days, to do stuff for the second full-length, How Memory Works.
Casey Rice That one partially was recorded by Elliot and partially was recorded by me at the B studio at Electrical.
Jeremy Boyle After the second record, Sam, the guitar player, and Erik, the bass player, both left the band, and so then it was just a matter of having to figure things out in a different way.
Sam Zurick Something happened where I was like, “I wanna make louder, more frenetic music.” Tim was just making music in his bedroom. I wanted to rock—I needed to cultivate my inner David Lee Roth. So that is why I quit.
Victor Villarreal Erik Bocek had approached me—he said that he and Sam were going to be leaving Joan of Arc, and that they wanted to start up a project with me. They really wanted me to sort of take the wheel and do a lot of the writing for the band, and so that was how Ghosts & Vodka began.
Jeremy Boyle That was when Todd Mattei joined Joan of Arc, and Todd was a friend of mine from growing up—we knew each other since kindergarten.
Todd Mattei They were looking for someone to fill in on guitar for a tour right when I was moving to Chicago, and they asked me to at least do the tour. It ended up working out, personality-wise, and so I stuck with the band for a while after that.
Paul Koob They asked if I wanted to go on tour as a roadie, and so I did a six- or seven-week tour that summer.
Tim Edwards Joan of Arc has always been pretty prolific and put out records every year for the most part. This was good for a booking agent, because a new record usually led to a new tour. And tour dates is how a booking agency keeps the lights on.
Todd Mattei I’ve never played in a band that people were really excited to see.
Paul Koob The shows had really good energy. At that point, it felt like we were getting punks to come out, and there was a real good sense of community—the shows weren’t terribly huge.
Todd Mattei I also had and even to this day to some degree have stage fright, so I’m a pretty withdrawn performer. Also I think I learned pretty quickly I don’t like touring very much, which became a major factor in so many things going forward. It was a huge learning experience and lots of fun, and sometimes I felt really out of place.
Live in Chicago, 1999 (1999)
Casey Rice Then after that is when Live in Chicago happens, where it starts to go weird.
Todd Mattei Casey Rice, he was a part of it—probably more of a band member than most of the band members besides Tim were, in the degree to which his input affected the songs.
Casey Rice If you look at the credits of Live in Chicago, there’s a guy named Bob Akai playing drums—that’s just me programming a sampler. It’s not a guy. That’s when it starts to turn into more computer based.
Jeremy Boyle Casey made a proposal. He said, “Instead of buying some really expensive studio time, where we have to pack everything in in a few days, what if we take that budget and just record and edit in my apartment? Just to sort of trade facility for time?”
Casey Rice I had been a computer user as a teenager. When computer audio came in, I was like, “Oh, cool,” but I really didn’t think of it as a way to make things really perfect. There’s a common conception that a digital record now is where you play a song, and you go away for a day, and you come back and it’s like Ozzy Osbourne ’cause somebody’s ironed all the air out of it and it’s all perfect and shiny. That wasn’t really my angle. We wanted to make something you couldn’t make in a normal studio—we were like, “We want to use the computer as an instrument and be more like new music than be like rock ‘n’ roll music.” I don’t want to make a Smashing Pumpkins record—we want to make a crazy emo-rock musique concrète freak-out record.
Ann Carroll We did the photo shoot for Live in Chicago, the Godard photo shoot—that was really fun.
Sam Zurick I heard Live in Chicago, 1999, and I called Tim—I remember calling, like, “It’s so good!” As a fan, I loved that record.
Casey Rice That’s when people start to have a bad reaction, like, “Oh, this is shit.” It was really contentious, I remember. People wanted to have a Cap’n Jazz record over and over again, ’cause it meant something to them—it’s like their Chuck Berry or whatever, ’cause as a teen they heard it and it really rocked them.
Matt Clark Tim was trying to get the band together for the Live in Chicago tour. They were trying to figure out how they were gonna tour in the summer of ’99, and I was working at the photo lab. I think they knew me to be an OK musician. I said OK, and that was that. Two weeks later I was on tour. My memory of it, it was like, “Can you do this? OK, here’s the practice schedule.” Tim, if nothing else, knows how to run a practice session, and Tim was like, “Here’s a schedule, can you make all these rehearsals?” “Yeah, probably.” “Do you have a day job, is that OK?” I quit my day job and joined Joan of Arc. I was also gonna go off to grad school that fall, and I pulled out of going to grad school to go be in Joan of Arc.
Ben Vida Tim and I just became friends, and I mean, maybe just kind of socially, at the Rainbo.
Dee Taira Tim just came in and asked for a job. He came in right when it was a good time. He knew everybody that already worked there. He lived around here. It’s not like I went, “Oh, I think I’m gonna pick artists and musicians to be employees,” it’s that’s who lives here—it’s really hard to tell who’s in what band because they keep moving all over the place.
The Gap (2000)
Todd Mattei I think over the course of the year or whatever between the two, I became much more central—when The Gap came around, I think I just tried a lot more. It was fun.
Bobby Burg During the era of The Gap, the bass player in Joan of Arc at the time, Matt Clark, was in a band with me, Love of Everything. So Joan of Arc ended up practicing in my attic for a month, and we would sometimes hang out on the back porch. So then we became friends a little bit.
Matt Clark We were making The Gap in January of 2000, which I know because Tim turned down Sue Miller and Julia Adams’s offer to play one of the last shows at the Lounge Ax ’cause we were making a record.
Casey Rice We would get together however many days a week, and we would work on the music. And some days we would just, like, get computer sounds. I had a Pro Tools program on my computer at home, and I wasn’t very good at using it—it was the first time I got into it—and Tim would give me these insane edits he needed. I’d try it, and if it sucked we’d throw it away and do something else.
Matt Clark Everything was subject to Tim and Casey in the end.
Casey Rice My credit on that was I “realized” it.
Matt Clark On The Gap we were writing songs together, we were writing parts together. I was writing parts—the things that I played on that record are my own. There are songs where there are lots of layers to what I’m doing, and there are songs where I only play one thing. There are songs where any parts that we may have had wound up getting processed beyond recognition, and that’s fine.
Casey Rice The system didn’t allow you to do effects in real time. It only allowed you to do eight voices at any one time; it was like doing it on eight-track, where you’d have to bounce it down and then add stuff. If you wanted to apply any kind of digital process into the files or the material, you had to render it, listen to it, and if it wasn’t right, you would have to undo it and render it again. You’d normalize a file, and “time remaining” would be like five hours, so we would go have lunch, get a drink, or walk around—come back and it was done.
Matt Clark I think we might’ve been the first full session at the new Soma on Damen, but most of that was done in Casey’s coach house across the street from the Rainbo—they had all this raw material, and I think that was very much the idea of Tim and Casey just hanging out at Casey’s house for however long that was. A few weeks, maybe a month, just making edits, trying stuff out.
Casey Rice It was excruciatingly slow. We wanted to make a real computer-music record as opposed to just, like, token elements of computer music.
Matt Clark The Gap, for all of people’s loathing of that record, however it’s been received, I think we were operating very much like a band—that, again, was subject to Tim and Casey’s vision for what it should ultimately sound like.
Todd Mattei I think there were lots of feelings about the fact that we had this really great band, we were doing all this cool stuff in the practice space, writing songs—and then it became this very fractured, digital record. Although I’m glad it went that way, I think at the time there were mixed emotions about how much the raw resources of the musicians were being used versus this one vision of how the record should be.
Casey Rice Jade Tree didn’t know they were gonna get The Gap in the end. When they got it, they were just completely outraged that they had spent all this money on something that sounded like total garbage to them. It certainly didn’t sound like fucking emo. It’s kinda bananas.
Paul Koob I think maybe the tour for The Gap was the first tour that I was performing.
Nate Kinsella Live in Chicago, 1999 and The Gap—I listened to only that for like a year. That totally shaped my brain.
Paul Koob Most of those Joan of Arc tours that I was on, that was the most fun I’ve had playing in bands. There were an insane amount of guitar tunings, so it was a real puzzle to figure out that list and how it could work with tunings. We had a whole thing worked out—I’d play something, and then put whatever I was doing down, go across the stage and pick up the proper guitar, go back, tune it to some alternate tuning and put it back, and get another one and do the same thing. I was real busy, and I liked it. I think we would take four or five guitars just for Tim on those tours, there were so many tunings.
Jeremy Boyle I had decided to leave Chicago, and I moved back to Pittsburgh, where I grew up. We had scheduled a tour, and I guess we weren’t necessarily sure what was gonna happen—it was getting difficult. We had a tour set in Japan, and that was gonna be the first time that we played there. It seemed like a good way to end something, and so it was sort of planned that that would be the last thing that Joan of Arc was gonna do—at that point, Tim and I were the only two people that had been in the band the whole time.
Todd Mattei I was going through some personal shit—I actually withdrew from the band right at the precipice of Japan. I moved out to Pittsburgh for a while. That was a huge decision. I hated the idea of missing Japan, but I was really having a bad time.
Sam Zurick The Gap came out, and I was a huge fan. I loved every song on that. I loved the way it was made. Tim, I don’t know if he knew that, but he called me and said Todd didn’t want to tour for that record. So he asked me to just be Todd. So I was Todd.
Koji Saito Joan of Arc came to Japan many times. I’ve seen Joan of Arc twice: in 2001 and 2008.
Matt Clark I just remember at some point, for an encore in Tokyo, Mike picking up a guitar and playing “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis, Sam sitting down at the drum kit, and me soloing—it might’ve been just the three of us. My memory of it—and I’m probably wrong—is Tim was fuckin’ livid, because all of a sudden everybody in this 2,000-person room in Tokyo is singing along to an Oasis cover that his little brother was singing while Sam was playing drums and I was just soloing, which is just dumb. It’s a dumb way to end a show. But it’s also great—it was hilarious. I remember thinking, “This is what the Replacements would do. This is what a real punk band would do. Take it to the man,” or whatever.
Jeremy Boyle I don’t remember exactly what was decided, or even how much it was decided or whatever, but it was like a break. It was over.
Matt Clark We had a trip to Japan that for Tim personally was not a success, and full of drama, and full of comedy for everybody in a good way and also in a scary way. Then we got home, and at some point Tim declared Joan of Arc over, and that was it.
Todd Mattei It seems like Joan of Arc was always in some sort of potential phase of breakup or breaking up.
Matt Clark At the time, I remember it feeling mutual—everybody shrugging, like, “I guess that’s it.”
Tim Edwards I don’t recall a phone call where Tim called me up and said Joan of Arc has broken up.
Formation of Friend/Enemy and Owls (2000)
Todd Mattei Before I left, Tim and I had made the Friend/Enemy record together, and that was a huge bonding experience. I think that record is more abrasive and hard to listen to than we realized at the time. There haven’t been a lot of collaborative musical experiences that I’ve had that have been more positive than that one.
Graeme Gibson Tim and Todd had all these songs where it was the two of them playing guitar. We’d just do a weekend with one group of people on one batch of songs and one reel of tape, and then do it again with a different group of people, and that became Friend/Enemy.
Todd Mattei Most of it was recorded live, so there was always more than two or three musicians playing at a time. Also we just had people come by, people that I really respect, like Nick Macri, the bass player, and Zach Hill, who was in Hella and millions of other things—I guess he’s in Death Grips too.
Graeme Gibson All the people that were playing on it had never met each other either.
Chris Strong Tim just needed somebody to lay out, I think, the very first Friend/Enemy record—he just needed somebody to lay it out, and he probably asked Mike, and Mike was like, “This guy will do it.”
Matt Clark Then Tim and Mike started Owls, and it just felt like a family thing. They started playing as Owls with Vic and Sam. I recorded all the Owls demos at my parents’ house with an eight-track. Tim flirted with asking me to play guitar in Owls, and I remember thinking, “No, I’m in Pinebender now.” He wanted Owls to be a four-piece.
Mike Kinsella By the time we started writing Owls songs, that was sort of what I ended up getting into: more math rock, some more disjointed kind of stuff.
Tim Edwards I had a sense that Tim was going to bounce around between the projects. I think it fueled his creativity, and he got to work with different, talented people.
Rob Roy Campbell Underdog Records moved to Elston Avenue in 1994 into this horrible but gigantic concrete building—it was 6,250 square feet, the second story of a warehouse. At the time it was a furniture warehouse, but it became the Odwalla juice distributor, so it was freezing down there, which made it freezing upstairs. Around ’95, ’96, Underdog, I stopped working with them, but I was still living in the space, and then eventually Underdog and the two other founding members moved out into a house somewhere. I kept the space. In total I was there nine years. So I ended up just replacing them with other friends. Tim eventually became one of the roommates. Once Tim moved in, then many other people followed suit.
Sam Zurick Tim saved me from oblivion—he plucked me from oblivion a few times. How I ended up there—they built me a room, just ’cause there wasn’t a room for me. So they put up the drywall, and that was all Tim.
Rob Roy Campbell There was a huge room in the middle that was where we had shows, and it had a stage and everything. We had a lot of shows there. Drag City had a New Year’s party there one time that had, like, hundreds of people—it was insane. Then in the way back, there was a presentation room that had a little control room, so I converted that into a tiny little recording studio. Like, 95 percent of the time it was a band practice space.
Chris Strong Rob Roy was the one that dealt with the landlord—all the rent went to Rob Roy. He was kind of like our big brother.
Sam Zurick It was a nice space, a real nice space, ’cause it had the practice space. Otherwise it was a total slum. It was a literal slum. It was managed by a literal slumlord.
Chris Strong I ran a record label with my friend Ed Menacho. We rented a room to run the label out of. Also I used it as kind of a space to keep my photo equipment and do my photo work.
So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness and In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust (2003)
Sam Zurick I was playing guitar a lot. That’s when In Rape Fantasy came out, but we recorded it at the same time as So Much Staying Alive. Like, I don’t remember the breakup—I do remember us just writing constantly, ’cause we were in that same loft. We just wrote those two records, so we recorded them at the same time.
Graeme Gibson Originally Lovelessness was a double album of those two albums combined in a totally different sequence. The one that came out on Perishable, In Rape Fantasy, was basically all the songs that were rejected by Jade Tree. At least that’s how I remember it. They were like, “We’re not doing a double album, and we only want to do these songs out of the batch.” And then Perishable did the rest.
Rob Roy Campbell We went to Clava and recorded.
Graeme Gibson Those records we did mainly at Clava; that studio was kind of my home base for the ten years I lived there. At the beginning of that, the Perishable Records office was the entrance to the studio.
Rob Roy Campbell That was just a free-for-all. We just kind of laid down the songs, but then we ended up taking parts out, putting other parts in, doing all sorts of weird stuff and improvising.
Mike Kinsella Tim’s like, “Why don’t you come to the studio for a couple days and you can record bass?” So I got to write and record bass lines, and I was so excited. I think it’s cool. I think it has a good vibe—that’s like one that I’m like, “Wow, I really contributed to this, and I feel real good about it.”
Graeme Gibson Mike came in, and he did all the drums and bass in one pass each and made such crazy sense of all these songs that seemed so snaky before he’d put his parts on them. Then after that it was just kind of like, have people come by and put stuff on top.
Rob Roy Campbell It was interesting to see Tim working in the studio, because I would never feel comfortable working the way he works. I felt fine collaborating, but his process is unique. He’s so confident in his ability to pull 10,000 ideas out of his head in the moment; he wants that absolute brand-new-ishness to be happening at all times.
Graeme Gibson Tim Rutili and Benny Massarella from Califone, they were just there doing stuff. Benny would come in and play on stuff a lot, and Tim did too. Tim played guitar on some of those songs, and Benny would do some percussion.
Chris Strong Tim actually came with me on a three-week cross-country shoot, and I remember on that trip, he was writing a lot of the songs in his hotel room for the Lovelessness record. He started talking about Make Believe on that trip, which is the first mention that I had heard.
Nate Kinsella Lovelessness was their last Jade Tree one. They were gonna do a big tour on it, like U.S. and Europe—a few months of touring. Tim got in touch with me then. I was totally in a spot where I had nothing going on, and it was perfect—like, “Whoa, this is amazing, I get to be in my favorite band! OK, how am I gonna figure this out?” I saved up money living in Nebraska—I was a test subject for a while, and saved up enough cash so I could make it to Chicago in January 2003.
Sam Zurick He moved into the loft too, so we were all doing Joan of Arc. I was playing guitar every waking moment.
Nate Kinsella Bobby was on that big tour with us, the So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness tour—he was living in New York.
Bobby Burg I went on tour as Love of Everything, opening up for Joan of Arc.
Nate Kinsella That tour was pretty rough, but we got along OK.
Bobby Burg When we were in the van in Europe, on that tour, my roommate in Brooklyn called me and left a message: “I’ll be moved out when you get back.” When I told them that in the van, I remember Tim was like, “Move back to Chicago. We’ll start a new band.” The band that became Make Believe.
Nate Kinsella We got home from that big European tour and just decided to do a stripped-down band where it was just four of us: Tim, Sam, me, and Bobby.
Bobby Burg I had never really played bass very much before, so I got a short-scale bass because I thought, “Well, it’s gonna be, like, easier to push down and reach with my fingers.” I found a voice that was basically, like, a skipping stone—or you know how you can run down a mountain and you just bounce off the rocks on the other side, and it’s like a controlled fall? I tried to play bass like that over Sam’s zany riffs.
Sam Zurick It was a good counterpoint to Joan of Arc, where we would do all that, like, xylophones and Pro Tools, but then we had a screaming band too. So it was perfect for all of us, ’cause it wasn’t Joan of Arc, it was something else, but they happened simultaneously.
Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain (2004)
Nate Kinsella We did Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain. Sam was living at the loft—he was just playing on stuff all the time. He was definitely involved in a ton of it, and Bobby too was playing on it.
Mike Kinsella They turned the main living space of the loft into a recording studio. It was peak, like, “If you just came by that day, you walk upstairs, you open a door, and you’re at the session.” So it’s like, “You’re either interrupting somebody that’s recording, or you walked in just in time to put down these drums or strike the piano a couple times on this song.”
Nate Kinsella Graeme Gibson came out a couple times to record big full-band stuff, but I went to school for recording after high school, so it was easy to set up a few mikes. I just ended up engineering it, ’cause that’s fun for me too.
Chris Strong With the Dick Cheney record, we would be making the artwork while the music was being recorded and practiced in the other room. It was all kind of happening at the same time, which was really fun—to be doing it in the presence of the music being made, instead of, you know, almost every other time you’re handed a CD, it’s done, and you’re asked to just go from there.
Neil Strauch I don’t know if that would be the first time I heard of them. I know that’s the first record I bought, the first one I really kind of studied of theirs.
Nate Kinsella When that Dick Cheney, Mark Twain album came out, we toured on it. We put together a big band—there were probably eight or nine people onstage. Tim’s wife at the time, Amy Cargill, came along, but then she went home. And then my girlfriend—who I’m married to now—she came out and filled Amy’s spot for the rest of the tour.
Sam Zurick We toured as Love of Everything, Make Believe, and Joan of Arc. I was in every band, and so was everybody else. It was ridiculous, but it was so fun. It was like a circus!
Nate Kinsella We were all onstage for, like, two hours.
Presents Guitar Duets (2005)
Matt Clark Tim did the Joan of Arc Guitar Duets record.
Bobby Burg It was an idea that Tim had: “What if we put names in a hat,” and there’s all these cool guitarists that have been in Joan of Arc. Wouldn’t it be cool to make a record like that?
Jeremy Boyle Basically, we stepped into the studio, we drew names out of a hat, and matched up in pairs.
Bobby Burg Nate and I were taking turns engineering, and we wanted to do ours the night before as a test—that way we also wouldn’t have the pressure of having to play on the same day we’re having to make sure everything’s recording. Everything else was recorded the next day. The one I did with Matt, I had my loop pedal—I had the first six rounds memorized before I started improvising, and Matt just said, “OK, this is gonna be like a slow swell.”
Jeremy Boyle Sam had written some really tight guitar parts—that was a very Sam thing, and I was just trying to interact with the structure he had. Playing with Tim Rutili was a lot of fun, ’cause it was just super open. We talked for a couple minutes—just trying to name a starting point—and then we went in and just recorded.
Eventually, All at Once (2006)
Bobby Burg It was as thrilling for me to get to produce Eventually, All at Once at Tim’s mom’s house as it was to track Life Like at Electrical with Steve Albini.
Sam Zurick We all recorded that record at his mom’s house after his dad died.
Ben Vida He started working on Eventually, All at Once and invited me in to do a session. We were recording it at his mom’s house, out in the suburbs, wherever that was. I think I made maybe two or three records with them, and at the center were Tim’s songs, of course, but I feel like he approached each new record as an experiment. The way that I worked on that record versus something like Boo! Human was just so entirely different. I have to say that that’s probably, at its core, what Tim and I found interesting in one another.
Bobby Burg Tim and I and the engineer would drive out there with a different person each day. Tim had all the songs ready. We did the drums first, and then each day a different person would come in and add something until we filled up all eight tracks. Then we mixed it in the studio.
Ben Vida I guess I was playing lead guitar on the record, but Sammy hadn’t laid down the bass lines yet. I was maybe only listening to guitar parts that Sam had written at that point, so the order of performances was very askew. It was interesting to hear that record back and hear what was added in after I had played, knowing that if I had come in at a different point in the process I would’ve made different decisions.
Boo! Human (2008)
Graeme Gibson Boo! Human, I think that one’s my favorite. It was really fun to make—good group of people.
Ben Vida Boo! Human was a rotating cast playing live in the studio together—in a way, very traditional, but working out the arrangements on the spot. Often six, seven, or eight people playing at once—really, really fun sessions. Tim and I produced a couple of records for Chris Connelly where we had used that method—bringing a lot of people who I’d been working with in a different, slightly adjacent music scene, like Joshua Abrams, my brother Adam, and some of those folks. I think that kind of informed what Tim would do with Boo! Human.
Paul Koob Whoever was around came over, like LeRoy Bach, John Herndon, regular Joan of Arc rotating cast who were around.
Graeme Gibson LeRoy, he’s a great bridge. He has such a great understanding of phrasing and things like chords, chord phrasing, that he really took a cool approach to playing with Tim and understanding that language without having to rethink what he does.
Paul Koob People would just jump on a thing and play. I would go the days that I got off work and play a piano on something or play, like, weird percussion stuff—congas or whatever.
Sam Zurick We would show up at the studio—who knows what you’re playing, you just show up. Those songs came together out of nowhere.
Paul Koob Because it was done in little bits here and there, and largely without the vocals, it didn’t really have any kind of tone, in terms of “Tim’s divorce record.”
Graeme Gibson I feel like we had a bit of a bond on that, just because it felt like a bit of a breakup record for both of us. We both had a marriage that had crumbled.
Chris Strong That one, I remember we shot that at Rainbo. Tim had just gone through a divorce—he was just having kind of a rough time, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. I just technically pulled it off, but that was his idea.
Nate Kinsella I think after I left is when Theo started playing with them.
Theo Katsaounis Tim called me—this was late 2007, I want to say maybe December of 2007. He’s like, “None of our drummers can play”—which was at the time Ryan Rapsys, Mike Kinsella, or Nate Kinsella, those were the go-tos. Or Cale Parks even, but he had moved out of Chicago. He’s like, “We have this new album”—it was Boo! Human, that was coming out in 2008—”We’re gonna do this tour, all these tours, do you want to do it? We’re doing east coast, west coast, and going to Japan.” I was like, “Well, yeah, that’s a no-brainer.”
Ann Carroll What’s so interesting about Joan of Arc in this span of time, and all these different iterations, is they all kind of work and give people what they need at the time. I needed to quit my job. I totally remember being in the bathroom at my job and getting a text from Tim, and being like, “Oh, that’s it, that’s what I needed,” and giving my notice the next day. Him just being like, “You want to go on tour this summer?” I was like, “Yes, yes I do.” That was my last restaurant job—I was a pastry chef, and I didn’t even want that job. I wanted to go back to school.
Theo Katsaounis I was familiar with pretty much everything up until that album, Boo! Human. Tim gave me an advance copy just to study up. He gave me a handful of songs—”We’re for sure playing all of these, like, five songs, so just study up on this.” I felt fairly prepared. I would just study up and score down all the parts and the structure of it, so I came in with my notes all ready to play, and it worked out.
Ann Carroll It was both comforting and kind of exciting to go places I’d never been. It was fun. Theo’s hilarious, Bobby’s an old friend from New York, and it was just nice.
Bobby Burg I feel like we were making Boo! Human and Flowers at the same time.
Graeme Gibson I think there was a song or something left over from that record that was put on Flowers.
Theo Katsaounis At the time it was Paul and Todd were in it.
Paul Koob On Boo! Human, I think Tim had ideas for structure for those songs, and had lyrics, and had a vision for what that was going to be. But Flowers, it seemed like it was, “Whoever can show up will show up and do stuff.” Tim had a cache of lyrics that he’d written down that he’d never done anything with, and he applied those to whatever the music happened to be. It was much more collaborative and kind of freewheeling.
Bobby Burg On Flowers, the first song, “Fogbow,” I wrote the music as a guitar loop, and I recorded a Love of Everything version of that and played it on tour. I was doing a cover version of that before that even came out.
Paul Koob Before we did the sessions for that, we had some meetings, and I think the people in the meetings were Tim, Bobby, Theo, Todd Mattei, and I, which was the touring lineup for Boo! Human. We would meet and think of an assignment for the couple weeks before the next meeting, and everybody came to the table with a pretty good start for a song.
Theo Katsaounis It was basically, like, you take a hat, you take all these ideas and you throw them in a hat, and you pull one out. One of the examples was the band had the structure of a song out, and Bobby pulled out one of the instructions from a hat; his instruction was “Tell Theo what to do in this song,” just to kind of make things more interesting. So he had me take one of those old music boxes—it was sort of broken—and he said, “Put it on top of a snare, and play it, or rub it on the snare.” That’s what was my task for whatever that song was. That album in particular was based heavily on Oblique Strategies.
Paul Koob I played the upright bass that was around. I’d never even touched one before, but I spent 20 minutes figuring out how to play this one part and recording it. Graeme Gibson engineered that one too, and he just hauled out all this weird shit that was around the studio, and we figured out what we could do with it. It was pretty fun.
Graeme Gibson Postproduction was a big part of the records a lot of the time, and that one was just like, “Here’s a bunch of songs; here’s a group of musicians. Everyone’s gonna work out arrangements and then record it.” It was the most organic record.
Theo Katsaounis After Paul and Todd had left, it was Victor who was the person who replaced them.
Victor Villarreal Cap’n Jazz had done some reunion shows. I remember we were driving to the Metro in the city, and we were trying to find parking, and I overheard Tim and Nate—Nate Kinsella was doing sound for Cap’n Jazz—I overheard them saying, “Oh, we’ve gotta have a band meeting for Joan of Arc, and we’re gonna discuss what’s gonna happen once Cap’n Jazz ends.” I was in the back seat, and I just blurted out, “Hey, you guys need a guitar player?” Tim was just like, “Oh, I thought you were busy—you were doing your dog thing and your solo project.” I said, “No, I’m free actually, I’ve got time.” Took him two minutes, and I just remember him looking in the rearview mirror back at me and saying, “You’re in!”
Life Like (2011)
Theo Katsaounis I want to say there maybe were some singles or EPs, and then Life Like.
Neil Strauch I was possibly gonna do Life Like, and then they ended up working with Albini.
Koji Saito I didn’t start working with Tim and Joan of Arc until 2010. They had a lot of other Japanese labels or promoters before me.
Victor Villarreal We did a west-coast tour, and then we did an east-coast tour, and then we went to Europe. Then right after we got done doing those tours, we went straight in the studio with Albini. It was awesome because we had toured so much at that point that we were so fuckin’ tight.
Bobby Burg We just played it—I think it was all first takes.
Theo Katsaounis That was such a bucket-list thing—it was really fun to be a part of. Albini was so easy to work with and obviously very professional. He was even sick for some of it—he had stomach flu for 24 hours, and he still soldiered through. He’s like, “Well, this is my job, so I gotta do it.”
Bobby Burg He’s the man to document what you’re doing. He’ll make it sound just like you sound.
Theo Katsaounis He was always in a good mood. He had great stories to tell. At the time he was obsessed with tea, so he would talk about all his obsessions with tea, and all these obscure loose-leaf teas.
Oh Brother (2011)
Karl Hofstetter I remember right after the Joan of Arc cassette box set came out, Tim wrote me an e-mail and it was just one line: “Hey, we’ve got a double album if you really want to lose money on something.” Something to that effect—it was very self-deprecating. I was like, “Yes please!” That was Oh Brother.
Bobby Burg That one is like four different projects that Tim had. One I recorded part of was a version of Friend/Enemy with Zach Hill and a bunch of the usual players. Then another one was a collaboration with him and Rob Lowe—Lichens.
Theo Katsaounis Tim with Frank Rosaly duo. Tim and Mineral Totem, which was Tim, Jeff Bradbury, Robert Ryan, and Doug Rosenburg.
Karl Hofstetter He told me that it was a double album with four extremely long songs. I think they’re each 20 minutes.
Bobby Burg That one’s kind of a collage created out of, like, four unfinished projects.
Karl Hofstetter Tim said, “I really wanna have crop circles on the artwork.”
Melina Ausikaitis I did this crazy crop circle drawing for this one cover.
Karl Hofstetter I asked him recently if the crop circles were because he was actually into alien conspiracies. He was basically like, “Yeah, around that time I was super into extraterrestrial theories.”
The Joan of Arc Lightbox Orchestra Conducted by Fred Lonberg-Holm (2011)
Victor Villarreal We did a show at the Hideout I believe—it was called Lightbox Orchestra.
Karl Hofstetter The Joan of Arc Lightbox Orchestra Conducted by Fred Lonberg-Holm was recorded live at the Hideout.
Theo Katsaounis We fit I don’t even know how many people—it felt like a hundred, but I’d say 12 to 15 people—on the stage of the Hideout, which is tight already. I think there were some people in the front of the stage if I remember correctly. Then Fred was the conductor facing us.
Victor Villarreal There were all these sections of musicians, and then we’d all be assigned to a color. Fred had these light bulbs, and each light bulb was a different color, and so he would activate certain sections of the orchestra by turning on the light bulb.
Theo Katsaounis The session was just an improvised thing, and they recorded it and released it.
Joan of Arc Presents: Joan of Arc (2012)
Karl Hofstetter After Oh Brother, we did Joan of Arc Presents: Joan of Arc. So they wrote a live score to the silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and performed it live in Chicago. They did it twice, but the first one they did is the one that came out on that LP.
Neil Strauch That was for the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival.
Victor Villarreal I think it was just me, Bobby, Theo, and Tim, and we all sat in front of this huge screen in this church, and they played the film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, while we performed the soundtrack to it live.
Neil Strauch That was one of those things where it really was just, like, “Hey, you want to record this?” “OK.” “Cool,” and then I just brought some gear.
Theo Katsaounis I remember some friends telling me some people were crying. I mean, it’s such a heavy story, so I can understand. It was a really cool, magical moment in Joan of Arc history.
Karl Hofstetter With that one we wanted to do it on LP and encourage people to sync it up with the film, the way that you would with Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz. That was another double-LP, superlong experimental song.
Neil Strauch That was cool because it was mixed as an entire piece, watching the video.
Joan of Arc (2012)
Theo Katsaounis We did a live score to a Charlie Chaplin short, His New Job.
Karl Hofstetter The first proper Joan of Arc record Joyful Noise did was the understated self-titled one—the Chaplin record.
Bobby Burg That’s Tim on acoustic guitar, and then the His New Job soundtrack. It’s a four- or five-acoustic-guitar soundtrack composition we did in this theater in Chicago—a former soundstage where they shot a Charlie Chaplin film called His New Job. It’s kind of like a bouncy guitar thing.
Neil Strauch It was just a bunch of people doing this really long, mathematic guitar piece; we just put them in a circle and recorded everyone doing it. It’s kinda funny, ’cause I was like, “I don’t even know what this is for—I imagine this will be a record.” It ended up being a side of a record. Then I just mixed the acoustic side of it. I think Tim recorded that himself at Rob Roy’s place.
Testimonium Songs (2013)
Koji Saito In 2013, I did a double tour with Tim and his cousin, Nate Kinsella—it was my own label’s promotion. So Tim as Joan of Arc solo, Nate as Birthmark. Then Tim told me about his problems—he always has many problems. He said Joan of Arc are ready to release new records, and also they’re ready to release another Owls record. So we talked about the future on that tour. Then I released Testimonium Songs in the summer of that year.
Lin Hixson Tim was a student of my partner, husband, and creator in Every House Has a Door, Matthew Goulish, in the writing program at the School of the Art Institute, and I have to say that it was then that I became familiar with Joan of Arc.
Theo Katsaounis Matthew Goulish and his partner, Lin Hixson, who are Every House, they just love Tim’s lyrics and his music. They reached out to him to collaborate on what came to be Testimonium.
Lin Hixson Testimonium is based on the writing of Charles Reznikoff, who was an objectivist poet, and it was based on his two-volume oeuvre that was unfinished called Testimony. With Every House Has a Door, we’re often drawn to historically or critically neglected subjects, so Reznikoff at that time had largely been neglected. Testimony is a huge compilation of courtroom transcripts from the years 1885 to 1915. He was writing in the 30s and 40s, but it comes from earlier testimony of criminal cases or cases of workplace negligence. It’s quite brutal in a way, and in a way it’s like an alternate history of the United States.
Bobby Burg We sort of made our element as a band discretely from the other people involved in the creation of the piece.
Lin Hixson We were interested in presenting the work through three forms. One was the recitation of actual words that Matthew wrote but were based on Reznikoff’s testimony, and movement and music. We were very interested in Joan of Arc because of their structural, kind of hysterical style. Joan of Arc, in the performance, released the pressure that was building in the recitation, in the words. The viewers actually saw these elements separately, but next to one another.
Theo Katsaounis I learned so much working with them, just seeing their process and how they write and direct live performance in movement. We weren’t just accompaniment: We were actually in it. Like, physically, were in the performance. We did movement ourselves.
Lin Hixson The way the piece was organized, we ended up having to move the band around the stage. That meant moving the cords, the amps, and moving the drum rug. That became their choreography.
Bobby Burg My amp was on wheels. So part of the show ended up being me, like, wheeling it out there, pushing it around.
Lin Hixson They had to move it in such a way that it landed at a very particular time, because performance is time.
Theo Katsaounis There’s no room for error—everything is so airtight. It’s all mapped out and planned out—there’s barely 1 percent of improvisation.
Lin Hixson Tim was so funny, ’cause he said he started having nightmares about coiling the cord and moving the amp.
Theo Katsaounis It was a great learning experience, and I absolutely loved working with them. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Lin Hixson They are so committed and dedicated, so that was a real gift for me, to be working with them. And they were so thoughtful. They made this six-song cycle, but divided into three different guitar tunings, so they had to stop and retune for each of the songs.
Neil Strauch The songs stood really well on their own, but the record wasn’t quite a record standing on its own—it kinda sat in the middle. I feel like that one, Polyvinyl, they did it and kinda were like, “I don’t know if we’re gonna do anything with this.” They just released it, without doing anything for it. I think it was just difficult to market.
Theo Katsaounis Melina was brought in to do backup for Testimonium Songs.
Melina Ausikaitis The way that they fit me into Joan of Arc was little a cappella breaks in the set at first. I was performing a cappella when I was doing my solo stuff, ’cause I don’t know how to play anything.
Theo Katsaounis I remember Tim was like, “We should have Melina’s presence, she’d be a really cool addition.”
Melina Ausikaitis Tim was conscious of trying to make me feel wanted and part of everything. So he’d come up with, like, “Back me up on the chorus.” That’s how my fake guitar came about, ’cause I was just standing front and center, waiting for my turn to be like “Oooh” or whatever. I just felt like such an asshole, and I was like, “It’d be nicer if I had something to hold at least.” My friend Eric Chaleff makes guitars. I asked him for a fake guitar, and he had this little prototype thing that he’d made, and that’s what the fake guitar ended up being. Later on it became something that actually made noise, but at first it didn’t do anything.
He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands (2017)
Koji Saito The 2016 tour, they’d already finished He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands. We announced that tour as a Joan of Arc 20-year anniversary tour, but they mostly played songs from He’s Got the Whole This Land, so people were really upset because Tim didn’t play guitar. It was very Joan of Arc, I think.
Karl Hofstetter The recording process was pretty unique for This Land. They went to different nonstudio locations, free jammed for hours, and recorded it.
Theo Katsaounis Melina was playing in the band, and Jeremy at the time too.
Jeremy Boyle I was starting to put together some ideas that I had been wanting to do forever, but couldn’t seem to get the push to do it. So the opportunity to collaborate with people again was really important and needed.
Bobby Burg We would go in with an engineer and set up all this stuff and just jam out, and then try and mine the jams for the good parts.
Melina Ausikaitis Tim’s idea for the album is that he wanted it to be about Chicago. So we tried to find spaces that were exemplary of the city, at least our experiences with it and our love for it.
Theo Katsaounis Once we started to get the songs—like, say, the first couple layers, like drums and then some sort of riff over it—then Tim contacted Mike Lust. He’s like, “OK, we’re gonna record at all these different places.”
Bobby Burg The Chicago Athletic Association let us use their gym to do mixing and overdubs.
Karl Hofstetter They edited those crazy-long jams down into songs—they basically created the songs in the editing process.
Neil Strauch Later on Tim told me, “I’m so happy we didn’t do that with you.” Because what they had done was just, like, record for days and days, just jams, and then took the days of jams and created songs out of that. He’s like, “If you were there, you would’ve been thinking of the end product the entire time,” and it was counter to what they needed. I kind of like that.
Karl Hofstetter When they brought me in, they had a lot of the songs identified, but they were still sprawling. A song that would end up being three minutes was, like, six minutes. When I heard it, I was basically like, “This is great, but I think you should edit it down 50 percent more in order to make the parts really special.”
Bobby Burg The album 1984 was always the project of, “Oh, what if we make a Joan of Arc record that Tim doesn’t sing any actual words on, he just does ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.'” It’s like Melina’s solo record, almost.
Neil Strauch Melina had all of her songs already. They were all solo songs, which were always a part of the set—a really powerful part of the sets.
Bobby Burg We went into that with Melina’s songs as the source material, and then our improvisations.
Neil Strauch They were just going to create all these different musical motifs, and they were gonna be interludes. It was gonna be her songs, then an interlude, her song, then an interlude
Melina Ausikaitis This time around we recorded all of the vocals first, just a cappella, and then we went into the recording studio. Everybody knew my songs so well by then ’cause I’d been doing those a cappella things in our sets for a while. So Tim would be like, “Think about ‘Vermont Girl’ and let’s jam.” There’s a ton of instruments in the studio, and everybody just picked whatever they felt like they wanted to try out for that particular song. It was kind of the same process as This Land except for with “Vermont Girl” in mind.
Jeremy Boyle We really went into the studio with this intention that we were recording these segues that were gonna move between these a cappella tracks. And that was what we all thought we were doing.
Melina Ausikaitis We weren’t in charge of the paring-down process so much. We just dumped everything on Nate Kinsella and were like, “Here, this blob is for ‘Vermont Girl,’ good luck!”
Karl Hofstetter As it was originally laid out, you would hear just an instrumental song and then a Melina a cappella piece, then an instrumental song and then Melina a cappella. When they sent it over to Nate, Tim was like, “We want you to produce this, but the only rule is you can’t layer vocals on top.”
Nate Kinsella They gave me one rule. They’re like, “Keep the a cappella songs a cappella,” and then the band songs were just gonna be instrumentals.
Karl Hofstetter Nate broke that rule immediately.
Nate Kinsella I mean, I couldn’t help it. I had to just see what it could be like if I mashed them up. But once I started down that path, I was like, “Oh, damn, this could be cool. This is the precise thing they asked me not to do, but also I’m following what’s sounding good to me right now.” I don’t know. I hope I didn’t upset anybody.
Melina Ausikaitis Luckily, Nate is a genius.
Nate Kinsella I made spreadsheets out of the keys that Melina was singing in and the keys that all of the songs were in. So I was having to do all this math of, like, if those keys were at all related, could it work to put Melina’s vocal on top of these other instrumental tracks? It was really fun—it was like a whole puzzle. I created a ton more work for myself, but it was really fun to try to do it like that.
Melina Ausikaitis The only time I really got affected by the influence of the band on my work was when I heard 1984 for the first time, and the songs sounded so different that it was a shock. I’d been singing them over and over again my way, and alone, for a couple years by that time. It was crazy—I totally started crying. But then I got over it, and I realized it was really fucking good.
Jeremy Boyle The tours were hard. It’s hard to be able to carve out enough time to be away to do that, and then to go on tour and lose money every time. We had plans to do a tour in Europe, and it was gonna happen and it wasn’t gonna happen. It was through that process that the idea of Joan of Arc breaking up was discussed and was becoming something that seemed like it was gonna happen. So I think that the idea was that that was gonna be the last tour, the one in Europe.
Melina Ausikaitis Even at the beginning, we were worried about going on it. Joyful Noise kind of figured out a way to make it financially so we could go.
Theo Katsaounis It was bittersweet, because it was such a great tour in Europe. We got to go to these amazing places, and the shows were great. But the money wasn’t so great, unfortunately, which is completely fine. But winter is a rough season for me, financially, because my job at Big Star would slow down. And every time I’d tour I’d always have enough to pay for bills and rent and all that stuff. It was a little rougher this time around. I don’t think this was the catalyst, but maybe it was one of the reasons, like, “OK, if the band is around this long and not doing as well financially, let’s just hang it up.” But I know it’s probably more layered than that, from Tim’s perspective.
Melina Ausikaitis The last tour that we had—and probably even the one before that—we had a really difficult time financially. Barely breaking even, and missing all this work—it was just really hard on everybody. Tim, he’s really loyal and a good friend, so he just took that all on himself—he was responsible for all of us, and it must’ve felt terrible. I think he was just like, “We obviously can’t do this. We can’t tour and sustain ourselves.”
Tim Melina Theo Bobby (2020)
Bobby Burg Tim Melina Theo Bobby was always going to be the last Joan of Arc record, and that one was, like, created over a period of three years and multiple sessions—all of us collectively refining the songs.
Karl Hofstetter It was probably over a year ago when they told me that they were recording this record and they were expecting it to be their last. I didn’t really take it to heart right away. Half of me was like, “Yeah, right, Tim. You can’t quit this if you wanted to.”
Graeme Gibson We thought Joan of Arc was over multiple times, ’cause Tim would start some other project and do that for a while, and then all of a sudden he’d just make another Joan of Arc record. Like, why is this Joan of Arc but that wasn’t? Sometimes it’s the same people. You never really know. But I guess they made it official.
Neil Strauch I think it was less, “Oh, let’s make this the last one” and more, “I think we’re gonna wrap up the project—let’s make a final statement.”
Bobby Burg It was motivating. Like, that’s a record we wanted to hear—we made a lot of records, and making the last Joan of Arc record sounded like a good idea.
Melina Ausikaitis For this one we just set up in Tim’s house: a few drum machines, lot of keyboards. We had the fake guitar in there, we had a VHS player that you could record stuff from, and the record player was available. So Tim and Bobby had these stations—there were a few guitars with amps behind the couch, and in the adjoining room was some computer setup, and wires going from one room to the other. Bobby was so into, like, figuring out how that would work.
Bobby Burg We mostly met up in Tim’s apartment, so it’s a more intimate record in that way.
Karl Hofstetter For this one in particular, I think there was a desire from everyone for this to be representative of the band as a whole—that hasn’t been a goal of the other albums.
Bobby Burg That’s a fun challenge. What would that record sound like?
Theo Katsaounis It’s hard to say. It felt more, like, “OK, this is it. Call it closure by doing this.” It felt like the most collaborative thing I’ve done for Joan of Arc.
Mike Kinsella I think Tim told me that they were writing that record that way—I think that was the plan. I wasn’t necessarily convinced. And I’m not convinced only in that it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t have to end. It’s not like a TV show that you’re running out of story lines. Tim’s still living his life—it is Tim’s life, so it’s kind of weird. It’s like being, “This is the last day I’m gonna use my left arm.” Well, your left arm’s still there, man—why don’t you just use it? “No, I’m not using that arm anymore.” But I think also it opens a lot of mental space for him to work on Good Fuck and whatever else he wants to do next.
Matt Clark It’s Tim’s baby, and every lineup of Joan of Arc has been great. I think the last lineup of Joan of Arc is the best. I’m not just saying that—I think the four of those people together really had it dialed in.
Karl Hofstetter We’ve talked abstractly about possibly doing a super intimate show that would be filmed and recorded as their final show, so that we might be able to sell virtual tickets, and then also have the video and audio to release as a final live record down the road. And we had talked about even potentially doing that at Rainbo, which I think would be awesome.
Dee Taira His brother just did something at Rainbo as Owen, even though we were closed, and that was pretty nice. I’ve always said “Sure,” because it was that kind of neighborhood.
Karl Hofstetter The day after we talked about a show, Chicago went back into more serious COVID restrictions, and it just didn’t seem like it was in the cards—at least not in the immediate future.
Theo Katsaounis I’m totally grateful and privileged to have been able to play with them. They’re my friends. They’re my family. I love them. So that will always be there, whether the band’s around or not.
Bobby Burg It’s there if you ever need it.
Melina Ausikaitis I’ve been, like, “Thank you so much for having me, ’cause it changed my life.” It changed the way I work and changed the way that I comport myself. And see myself. And the way other people see me. It’s fucking crazy. I’m really so honored to have been a part of it. v