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American Football Had Moved On, But 14 Years After Their Breakup, New Fans Demanded Them Back

American Football (from left): Steve Holmes, Mike Kinsella, Nate Kinsella and Steve Lamos
American Football (from left): Steve Holmes, Mike Kinsella, Nate Kinsella and Steve Lamos
courtesy the artist

American Football play Granada Theater on Saturday, April 1.

American Football’s self-titled, nine-track debut album has far more fans now than when it was released in ’99.

The band belongs to a class of emo and post-hardcore music that also counted Jimmy Eat World, At the Drive-In, Sunny Day Real Estate and Pedro the Lion as members. Rather than cheesy or snooze-inducing, their sound hit a sweet spot that was jazzy, folky and melancholic. Nevertheless, they were mostly lost in the pack.

But now a younger generation has discovered the band and American Football are getting a second shot at stardom.

After seeing a strong response to a string of reunion shows played in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in 2014, the band released a second album last year, also self-titled. Now they’re touring behind their new work, and headlining venues American Football never would have filled in the ’90s, including the Granada Theater, which they play on April 1.

“I’m always excited to play, especially for people who haven’t seen [us],” drummer and trumpeter Steve Lamos says.

The band comprises Lamos, Steve Holmes on guitar and Mike Kinsella on vocals, guitar and bass. They formed in ’97 at University of Illinois in Champaign, a few hours outside of Chicago. Kinsella had already made a name for himself playing with other emo and rock bands such as Cap’n Jazz and Joan of Arc.

During school, American Football had released a self-titled EP and played a couple dozen shows in and around the city, and they decided to record the debut LP album to document their experience.

Lamos moved on with his life after American Football broke up three years later, when many of the members were graduating. He’s now an associate professor in the English department at the University of Colorado — Boulder, and is married with children. Although the members kept in touch after breakup, they weren’t very close.

But when a deluxe edition reissue of their debut LP crashed Polyvinyl’s website a couple of years ago, they realized there was demand for them to reform. No one was more surprised than Lamos.

“I teach, and the kids I teach are now literally less than half my age,” he says. "I don’t know exactly how they learn things [about American Football]. We did get modest royalty statements. I really did not know much about this until a couple of years ago, until right before that reissue came out.”

Partly due to Kinsella’s growing reputation, American Football songs such as “Never Meant” and “The Summer Ends” became hugely influential to a new wave of emo bands including Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), Joie De Vivre and Into It. Over It.

Mike’s cousin Nate Kinsella recently joined American Football’s lineup on bass, and the band will hit Japan, the U.K. and Europe later this year. Prior to their reunion in 2014, they had never played Texas before. Their first time was Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin for a one-off appearance.

Twenty to 30 shows a year is about the max the band will be able to perform because of their other commitments. Lamos still wants to teach nine months out of the year, and like him, the Kinsellas also have children — they’re stay-at-home fathers. Holmes works for a software company.

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But Lamos is content with that frequency. “That works perfectly for me,” he says. “I think more than that, I’d be insane and less than that, I would miss it.”

As long as people keep buying their albums and showing up to their concerts, they’ll keep playing. But American Football don’t want to overstay their welcome. “If it resonates with people, that’s fantastic,” Lamos says. “And if it doesn’t, then that’s the universe saying, ‘Well, it’s time for this to be over.’”

See them while you can.

American Football, with Kevin Devine, 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1, Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave., $33.50 to $36, granadatheater.com.

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