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Arc Arsenal

Thanks for Chicago, Mr. Minsellas: Tim Kinsellas, center, minds The Gap on Joan of Arc's latest.

Put a Nick Drake record on the turntable and poke a hole in one of your speakers. Grab a bottle of red wine and a pair of scissors. Forget who's asking or answering, or even what they're talking about, and just read. Start in the middle and end at the beginning. Cut the questions apart and splice them into the answers, slice words in half and make new ones--substitute your own, if you want. Cross out anything you don't like with a Sharpie and drip Liquid Paper over the rest. This is not a sacred text, not even a transcript of a musician talking to a journalist--or is that the other way around? It's a conversation, with eavesdropping allowed and participation encouraged.

"Um...are you taping?" Tim Kinsellas is on the phone in his Chicago apartment.

"Yeah," and I'm at my cluttered desk in Dallas.

"Is this going to be run as, like, a straight dialogue, or are you going to write about the record and just want some quotes or something...?"

"Kind of half and half."

[Joan of Arc's singer-guitarist-etc. Tim Kinsellas (known until recently as Tim Kinsella--singular, not plural) decided before the release of The Gap, his band's fourth and latest album, that he would interview the interviewers instead of the other way around. It wasn't a prank; instead, it was a way for him to move from Q&A to YOU&I--expand the interviews rather than eliminate them. They would be conversations rather than a series of well-rehearsed sound bites. Today happens to be the last day of Kinsellas' interviews, which is, in fact, one day longer than he'd anticipated. It's only a one-day difference, sure, but it's a crucial discrepancy: He's heading out on tour tomorrow, and today was supposed to be set aside for taking care of all the last-minute details, such as ensuring the van is ready for the road and things of that nature. Like any other interviewer, Kinsellas is running into deadline pressure. And so...]

"Well, what do you wanna talk about?"

"I don't know--what do you wanna talk about?"

"Geez, I don't know. I'm really freaking out today. I don't know. I mean, I've been doing most of the question-asking. But...uh...in a way...it hasn't just been me asking the questions. It's been, like, more reciprocal, you know, because of that. People ask a lot of the same questions, and I just hear myself say the same answers through all the interviews. So I've just been kinda doing it like this. I haven't thought about these two today; Jessica just told me, like, an hour ago. I don't really have any questions. Is there anything you want to know?"

"I guess everything I would ask is something you've heard yourself give the same answer to."

"Well, pick one and we can go from there."

"OK...um...I hear that you guys have been rehearsing a lot, or at least, a lot more than you're used to."

"Yeah, it's been, like, nonstop. Well, this one was done completely, and the last one was done mostly, on ProTools. Do you know what that is?"

[Yes, it's a computer editing system, used to turn dozens of tracks into one big heap of song, piling sound upon sound upon sound. It's a blender and a glue gun, ripping the melody apart and sticking it back together. It's safe to say that The Gap wouldn't exist without ProTools, at least, not in this form. It's the future backtracking into the past, flickering like a transmission from another galaxy.]

"So the whole songs were put together and arranged, and by the time this whole song is done, it's never been played live once by us. Like, we don't even know how to play it even. When it's done, we sort of have to learn to play our own songs. With this record, there's been a lot of sort of translating of, like, well, we aren't going to have a couple of women on tour with us doing backing vocals, and, you know, a small string section. So, we've had to do a lot of translating of instruments."

"Does that mean the songs are a lot different than they are on the record?"

"They're definitely all recognizable as the same songs, just different takes on the same thing, you know. And all of the older songs we're playing, except for some pretty small details, are all pretty straight. Anyone who knows the records would know the songs, be recognizable. What do you think of that? Does that bum you out? Would you be let down to go see a band...I have no idea if people will be like, 'That's lame. It doesn't sound like the record.'"

"If I wanted to hear the album version, I'd probably stay home and listen to the album."

 

"Yeah, that's how I think too. I think it makes it a lot more interesting than just like, 'Wow, it's just like listening to the record, except there they are."

[The they in this case is Kinsellas; his brother, the still-singular Mike Kinsella (drums, bass, acoustic guitar); Jeremy Boyle (computer); Matt Clark (bass, electric guitar, piano); and Todd Mattei (electric guitar). (Mattei has since left the band.) But when you're talking about Joan of Arc, the they could be shortened to the he; The Gap like the three previous Joan of Arc albums is the brainchild of Kinsellas. And like the three previous Joan of Arc albums, it's art rock without the rock, both joke and punch line, and sometimes, the straight man too. (How else to describe a disc with a song titled "John Cassavetes, Assata Shakur, and Guy Debord Walk Into a Bar..."?) Kinsellas is one of the few musicians who approaches music as he would art in any other medium, starting with his idea of what something should be rather than trying to make someone else's idea into his own. Many others claim to do the same, or you suppose they do, but only Kinsellas actually does it that way. And it's not as pretentious as it sounds. But it also is.]

"I think that there should be more of a--and this is a more highfalutin term than the actual practice--but I think there could a greater critical dialogue. I feel like there should be more of a challenge on the roles of critics and musicians."

"Well, music critics bitch about bands not doing anything different, and then when one does do something different, then they're like, 'Well...I don't know. It's kind of artsy and fartsy.'"

"Right, it's like pretentious to do something different. But, I can't imagine why you'd want to be in a band. What's the fun part of being in a band if it's not about sort of fucking with other bands, the functions and the form? It'd be really boring to just be, 'This is how you're supposed to do this.'"

[Which is one of the reasons why Kinsellas celebrates albums such as Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to the 1971 film Sacco and Vanzetti. He's a fan of the disc less for the music, which features songs and vocals by Joan Baez, than for the way it manages to be so melodramatic that it practically plays for laughs. And it does so without any knowing winks or ironic nods, not losing its straight face for a moment. Never letting anyone in on the joke, or even admitting a joke exists, is something Kinsellas has celebrated all along. His idea of interviewing writers follows that same line of thinking. Well, sort of. It's another attempt to playfully circumvent the rules, the same pattern of behavior that led to a concept record stretched out over two albums--1997's A Portable Model Of and 1998's How Memory Works--and studio disc titled Live in Chicago, 1999. Why do things the way you're supposed to do them when you aren't required to?]

"So how did the interviewing the interviewers thing go?"

"There was a couple of older guys that were just sort of...they weren't into it. 'Ah, you got a little gimmick, huh?' Those were the kind of the people I was trying to avoid by doing something like this, you know?"

"Of course, that's exactly the kind of people you attract when you do something like this."

"Right. But I just hated feeling like-- when I read an interview with myself, I feel like I'm always being pushed into this corner, and the person has this agenda. It's annoying. Those people were kind of trying to do the same thing. But a couple went really well."

[But Kinsellas' sensibility doesn't fly for everyone, such as the engineers at the pressing plant who refused to believe that nothing was wrong with The Gap. You can hardly blame them: Anyone unfamiliar with Kinsellas' take on song structure and melody and everything else would swear that the disc's first track, "(You) [I] Can Not See (You) [Me] as (I) [You] Can," has more than a few problems, sounding as if the master tapes got dropped somewhere along the way, as acoustic guitars skid to digital stops.]

"Yeah, all the glitches and stuff. The record actually got remastered three times, because we couldn't make the people at the plant understand that we wanted it that way, that everything was intentional. Like the fucked-up sequencing. They thought that was wrong, and they fixed that, and then they gave us this super-slick version. We were like, 'What happened to our record?'" He laughs. "It took a few times to get it right. I like that."

 

"Do you like recording more now, knowing about ProTools and that kind of software?"

"It's a lot more engaging, because there's endless parameters, but it's sort of scary too. When we finished the record, I was sort of freaked out, like, I don't know how to write a song anymore without this computer. I spent the summer working on projects that were not ProTools-oriented at all."

"Like more rock band-type stuff?"

"Yeah, I had a rock band. We played one show. We practiced every day for two weeks, then played one show. And I did these two-track recordings by myself. I had a purist sort of summer, kind of purged the eight months of ProTools saturation. It worked out well. Do you have an aversion to knowing a record is made that way? Does it seem less pure to you?"

"Some records you can't sit there with everyone in the studio. Some sound better that way, some don't. Most of the time, I'd say you should just go with whatever's available to you."

"Yeah, this is sort of the process that's interesting to us. I don't think we're very conscious with how it could have ended up. We're very careful to try to not make a cold-sounding record, except in the parts we wanted it to sound cold. I think we did OK with that. But, you know, I'd be the last person to know if we did or didn't."


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