Smile Politely

Tim Kinsella: The Nature of Compartmentalizing Art and The Nature Boy

I just started a new job. It’s kind of like a Joan of Arc record: complex, challenging, mature, and important. But I bet if I just give it enough time it’ll soon feel like home.

Tim Kinsella just has to make art. He’s formed band on top of band, orchestrated collaborations (and scores), made a movie, written a novel … He (rhetorically) asks, “A person is supposed to just do the same thing their whole life? Things don’t need to be like that, especially in Chicago.”
But, he’s still doing what he’s used to, in a way. He’s on the road, as he’s been off and on for about twenty years now. It’s a short stint, and he’s solo, but it’s still Joan of Arc. I had the pleasure of interviewing him. (Side note: on the telephone he is neither challenging nor complex, just very smart and kind.) He gives some insights into the what’s and how’s — we left off the why’s. Also, The Nature Boy.
Kinsella is set to perform at the Highdive tonight, and we got a chance to discuss a bunch of things with him prior to the show.
Joan of Arc: “Post-Coitus Rock” [[mp3 joan_of_arc_post_coitus_rock]]

Tim Kinsela: Hello? [crashing sound] Isaac?

Smile Politely: Tim, How are you?

Kinsella: Good, I’m going to somewhere quiet. You hear me?

SP: You’re going into somewhere dark?

Kinsella: NO, I’m going into somewhere quiet; maybe it’s dark too, but that doesn’t matter.

SP: [laughs]

Kinsella: Ya hear me now? Okay — fire.

SP: I can, I can.

Kinsella: Okay let’s see. If they start making noise, it might be loud again.

SP: Well, maybe if you move…

Kinsella: Lemmie move it downstairs. Okay. Sorry about this, it’s you know, traveling. Okay great. Okay, hit me, wudda ya got.

SP: Well… You can take this as an existential question or a practical question, but I was wondering why you were on this tour.

Kinsella: Well! Uhm … let’s see … The existential answer is … I mean, it’s not really a tour, you know, I mean, I guess I can only answer it practically, in that I’m 38, and I have a Master’s degree, but it’s not like I have any marketable skills. I bartend on Mondays, and I teach at the University of Chicago’s Continuing Ed program on Thursdays, so this is a way I can make a little money Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Ya know what I mean? I’m not playing anywhere further than I can get from Chicago in that time.

SP: So it’s very much a functional situation.

Kinsella: Much fewer people come to see me than used to come see me in the U.S., but I’m doing really well in Japan and Brazil right now, so like I’ve been going there like, you know, like I can make like a good chunk of money in one of those two places and it gets me by for a few months, but then I still have to bartend and teach this Continuing Ed fiction writing class. I’m always on the cusp of being totally broke, so this is just strictly functional. But it’s fun, my girlfriend’s with me, and it’s simple.

SP: So it’s artistic expression, vacation, and work and travel, all sort of lumped in one.

Kinsella: Yeah, well that’s — you didn’t ask why I play music, you asked why am I playing three shows in Ohio this weekend, you know.

SP: That’s true, I didn’t.

Kinsella: And the shows have been amazing. I really expected there to be no one, but it’s all been really good.

SP: Good!

Kinsella: It makes me excited.

SP: That’s very good to hear. So this is a solo tour. Why a solo tour this time around?

Kinsella: Oh, that just goes back to the practical thing. I’ve always enjoyed playing solo, and I feel like half of the Joan of Arc songs retain their sort of structural integrity with just me and a guitar and then an accompaniment can be added or subtracted, and then other half are very much group things, you know? And I obviously can’t do those group songs that I really enjoy. We never think about dynamics in terms of loud and quiet — we’re like a band that gets dense and sparse. And I can do that with just my two hands and just my voice. I really like the challenge of the minimalist feat. There’s not very much strummy coffeehouse stuff. The songs still retain the shape of the whole group.

I don’t think that intricacy or manual dexterity is an expression in itself to me. I don’t think a song is good or not based on how complex it is. That’s also not the factor in if I play it or not. It definitely feels like it’s compressing and expanding when I play it solo. It clusters, and then it opens up.

SP: The song?

Kinsella: Yeah.

SP: So are you playing that, uh, is it a Gretsch sort of SG guitar that I have seen you with over the years?

Kinsella: Yeah yeah, I’ve had the same guitar I’ve always had over the years; it’s a Guild.

SP: Guild! Okay that’s what it was. Quite nice. How did you come upon that guitar? I don’t know anything about it, but it’s beautiful.

Kinsella: Uhh, yeah I just … It was at Guitar Center. There’s no real secret to it. They made like 700 of them.

SP: Oh okay.

Kinsella: I’ve had a few SGs before that, and liked them. I just liked the weight of them. I don’t like the feel of Telecasters type played, and Les Pauls are too heavy, for live, for me. Cramps my shoulder. I knew I wanted an SG, and this one had walnuts or whatever.

SP: Cool. I didn’t figure there was any myth or legend or anything, I’ve just never seen that guitar elsewhere.

Kinsella: Yeah, there’s 700 of them, and it’s called the “Nature Boy.”

SP:  “Nature boy…”

Kinsella: Griffin Rodriguez from Icy Demons has one, and Robert Lowe from Lichens and Ohm has one. They are the only two people I know [that have them].

SP: You worked with Rob Lowe on Oh, Brother, right?

Kinsella: We were actually making a record called Likins, L-I-K-I-N-S, and Oh, Brother was sort of like four records that didn’t get finished, sort of woven together.

SP: So the finishing part was the sort of mosaic you made of it?

Kinsella: Yeah yeah. Me and Rob just had, like, an hour of long, weird jams, and me and my friend Robert Ryan — he’s a tattoo artist — and our friend Jeff had these, like, six, seven songs, that we made. It was just a matter of just like some of them had been, like, five years before they had been touched before that, so yeah.

SP: So, is [Polyvinyl Records’] Life Like the most recent record Joan of Arc has released?

Kinsella: No, there’ve been three since then. It was just the last one that wasn’t like a limited edition release thing. We did three limited edition LPs [through Joyful Noise Recordings] last year. One was a soundtrack to Dreyer’s Joan of Arc, one is called Pinecone, and one is self-titled and it’s got Charlie Chaplin and the elephant man on the cover. So that one is sort of like all acoustic; it’s just acoustic guitar and vocals the whole album, and Pinecone is very much, like, longer pieces, more psychedelic, more abstract. And the other one’s the soundtrack. 

Painting by Dmitry Samarov

SP: I actually had a group of folks over at my place and we screened the movie and played the record at the same time and it was very beautiful. It was super, super cool; but, it was quite unfortunate that we didn’t synch them perfectly, so that the record ended first … So as Joan was burning alive, there was just tons of uproarious applause.

Kinsella: Oh no! {laughs] Yeah man, that’s way off, actually. There should have been, like, another four minutes after that [laughs]. There’s a new one recorded now called Testimonium that we just finished; we’ve been working on it. That’s sort of the most like a follow-up to Life Like, in that it’s like a rock band you know?

That one is everyone from Life Like except Victor, and then David Grubs is playing second guitar instead of Victor. He played in Gastr Del Soul and Bastro and this soundtrack performance piece he’s been doing for a year and a half.

SP: That sounds great. When’s that supposed to drop?

Kinsella: Polyvinyl puts that out in July. And then there will be lots of touring as a group after that. Yeah, that’s like the next proper, full band, full tour kind of thing, ya know?

SP: That’s very exciting; I hope you will be able to make it to Champaign again for that as well.

Kinsella: Yeah yeah, I hope so. It’s close.


You can catch Kinsella and his Joan of Arc project at The Highdive tonight with locals Anna Karenina/Anna Karina set to open. Show starts at 8 p.m.

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