No Journalists Allowed: Tim and Mike Kinsella, the brothers behind Joan of Arc and Owen

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Growing up in the northern Chicago suburbs, brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella began the indie-rock cult favorite Cap’n Jazz at the ripe young ages of 15 and 12, respectively. Though the idiosyncratic quintet didn’t garner most accolades until a few years after disbanding, its founders and cohorts all have gone onto productive, overlapping careers. Tim has been the force behind Joan of Arc; Mike has released six solo albums as Owen; and both regularly collaborate with a small army, including cousin Nate Kinsella (Birthmark), Sam Zurick (Owls), Bobby Burg (Make Believe), and Victor Villarreal.

Mike Kinsella

Tim Kinsella

Here the brothers take turns questioning each other about being musicians, coming off like an asshole, and feeling your age.

Tim asks Mike

Are you aware of your own biases and tastes as the only standard of a song’s success or failure?

MK: I think it’s different. If you are playing with three other people and you all have your own biases, you have to satisfy everybody’s. I’m aware that what comes out in my songs is the same thing for the past 15 years of me just trying to sound like The Sundays in my own mind.

Do you think of technique as ornamentation or as structural necessity to the songs?

MK: I’d like to think it’s not a structural necessity. The older I get, the more I have no interest in it. Song technique — like changing the time signature — I like to think that’s just inherent in me because that’s the kind of stuff I like. I like a little bit of that so I put it in there, but it’s not fundamental.

How do you conceptualize the development of Owen, and to what degree is that even relevant to what Owen means in your mind?

MK: A small degree, which I think is because they’re related. You’re saying the way we differ is [because] I’ve been kind of doing the same thing and maybe getting more tasteful at it or, hopefully, getting better at it. And you, it seems like every record or every project, react to what you did [previously]. I just keep writing whatever comes out that year, and I record it the next year. And then it comes out, and I do it again the next time.

Every year, I listen to way less music; it just isn’t a part of my life. So I’m not being poked or prodded with different influences. I don’t know what’s cool now. But I don’t even seek out old stuff — any kind of musical influence.

Mike asks Tim

Do you feel your age?

TK: I feel 15 years older than my age. I did just sleep with a 24-year-old girl, and then I realized that the age difference between us is the difference between me and a 50-year-old. If I’m an okay sex partner for her and I’m 13 years older than her, then why can’t I feel like a 50-year-old?

What is your least favorite Joan of Arc era?

TK: Well, there was the first practice for the Boo! Human tour. There were so many different people on that record, and then we were like, “Okay, here’s the tour dates. Who wants to come?” And everyone who wrote back was like, “Yeah! I’m in.” And we showed up and had a guitar, a conga, and two synthesizers. So that one afternoon, we were like, “Well, let’s see how it goes.” We tried playing as many songs as we could.

That’s how much you differ from me: you got through that whole practice before you were like, “We gotta do something.”

TK: I was super psyched. Wouldn’t you be so happy if it worked?

Do you think that people think you’re an asshole just because your music is challenging?

TK: “What gives you the right?” That’s a term that makes me really excited when I see a band. I get so excited because it’s so life affirming to be like, “You can do that? Who knew you could do that?” — which would have been like the conga/two-synthesizers lineup.

I went to see Neil Michael Hagerty a few years ago. I see him every couple years, and every time I leave the show thinking, “Holy shit. That’s the worst shit I ever saw.” And then a month later, I’m like, “Oh, my god, did he do that?” I saw him at the Double Door eight years ago and — no one there — the opening band is a jazz trio he hired to do covers of Royal Trux songs. So he has a jazz combo playing his old band’s songs to open for his show, and he shows up and his band gets up there — and he’s this ultimate guitar shredder — and he’s playing bass, and he’s playing bass solos high up on the neck the whole time. That’s his set. That’s daring.

But that’s not the what-gives-you-the-right thing. I’m talking about some young band that makes you re-imagine the potential of things.

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