In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Tim Kinsella isn’t concerned with accolades—at least not anymore. Having spent all those years getting positioned as some sort of menace to the indie world, having his character attacked for making records that, in hindsight, were just ahead of their time (yes, even The Gap), he seems to have made peace with it all. Joan Of Arc’s new album suggests as much, as 1984 removes Kinsella from the front of the stage, allowing vocalist and fake-guitarist Melina Ausikaitis to handle all the singing, while the band offers up their most genteel batch of songs in recent memory.
“It was actually six years of trying to figure out how to record these songs. We had so many false starts arranging these songs that she had written,” says Kinsella. While touring for 2017’s He’s Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands, the band turned their live shows into largely improvised affairs, and after returning home, they hit the studio to bring that energy to a new record. “We were thinking of it as a Black Flag record, where Melina would sing a song, then the next song was a jam,” says Kinsella, referencing those late-period Black Flag records that are just as divisive as anything in the Joan Of Arc catalog. In order to make it all fit together, the band kicked the tracks to Kinsella’s cousin Nate, who has played in Joan Of Arc, Make Believe, American Football, and his own project, Birthmark, to have him cut them down to their essential parts.
“Nate is an exceptional case, since we’ve played together in so many different contexts over the years that I totally trust him,” Kinsella says. And with the final choices left up to Nate, he made 1984 into something Joan Of Arc couldn’t have. “I would have made different choices, but I’m too close to it,” says Kinsella. But he’s close to all of it, which is why we asked him to rank the Joan Of Arc discography. Okay, maybe not all of it, as the Joan Of Arc Presents albums, as well as some collaborative works such as Testimonium Songs and the Orchard Vale soundtrack, were omitted from the rankings. But with a discography that is always growing, and new material always in the hopper, Joan Of Arc is like no other band. At any point, Kinsella can be the lone player or just a mere face in the crowd, and that’s what makes them worthy of praise, even if they so rarely get it.
Noisey: Why does this one get the bottom slot?
Tim Kinsella: I guess, mostly, it just kind of falls flat to me. There are only two or three songs that we played live beyond that one tour. It was recorded in an interesting way, and it was actually a very nice experience. My dad passed away very suddenly and, you know, that’s shocking. So we set up in my mom’s house, and we brought an eight-track out there for two weeks. Sometimes there’s a kind of shock, and just to re-calibrate myself I need to record. It wasn’t like we were administratively like, “Time for a new record.”
We put the control room in my brother’s old room and the live room was my old room growing up. I recorded the entire record, beginning to end, guitar and vocals, then Sam [Zurick] did the whole record beginning to end on bass, then Mike [Kinsella] added drums. It was a cool way to go about it, but it was just an eight-track with two reels, and that was side one and side two, all done straight, beginning to end. It was a process that was cool, but it just didn’t generate the results. And I don’t know, it’s really mellow, too. All the gestures were pretty subtle. Maybe I was just in such a weird state with my dad that subtle gestures rang big at the time. But now, it doesn’t seem like anything pops out.
What were you hoping for the final product to be that you don’t think you achieved here?
There’s never any plan, but it’s kind of always that third Velvet Underground record, that’s one of those things we always circle back to over and over. There’s a new Joan Of Arc record written that’s 26 songs that we’ve been developing slowly since the sessions for 1984, which was last spring. It’s like, half Velvet Underground ballads and half straight-up, 80s east coast hip-hop. I like the balance of those two things. So this was one of our million attempts to make that Velvet Underground record, where we’re just sitting on the couch with acoustic guitars, but you have to be really good to pull that off, and I guess we couldn’t.
This album was clearly a means of processing a loss and moving forward, so maybe it doesn’t need to hold up if it helped achieve that goal.
It sort of always is about that process. Each of our records, whether it’s time for a new record or not, which it sort of always is and never is, it’s always prompted by thinking of a process more than a body of songs. There’s always a giant batch of songs to pull from, and it’s when we can think of a process that sounds like a fun, engaging way for all of us, it happens.
I had this friend Commander Mindfuck, you ever hear of that guy?
Can’t say I know Commander Mindfuck. It’s a good name, though.
Yeah, it was on his birth certificate. [Laughs] I heard he passed away a few years ago, but he was a 90s house producer guy. We were at a bar and John Cale’s Fear came on, and he was like, “Man, I love this record.” And I was like, “Seriously? This is not a thing I would think you’d be into.” And he said, “It’s one of those records that, when you need them, they’re there. They sound like shit when you don’t need them, but when you need them, they’re there.” That’s always stuck with me. Maybe it’s one of those records. Best case scenario, it can be one of those records for someone. But I don’t need it.
[This was made] the only year since I was 22 that I had a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job, and it was also the most broke I’d ever been. I was so miserable. I’d been divorced a few years, I was living upstairs from the bar I started working at when I was 25, I was at least ten pounds overweight in an uncomfortable way, what I think of as my midlife crisis started two years later, but I didn’t even have the energy to have a midlife crisis at the time.
This one really just got made because I was housesitting for a friend who builds microphone preamps, so he had this really amazing space. He and I were roommates a hundred years ago, and he had this nylon-string guitar, and it was this guitar that I played all the time when I was way younger. I don’t think I’d touched a nylon-string guitar between living with him and house sitting for him, so it was really just that I was housesitting and that guitar was there.
Side two is cool, with the sort of twentieth century minimalism patterns with the five acoustic guitars. That’s a very edited version of a longer piece, so I feel like that didn’t have the same impact. It’s also really hard to mix. As a live thing, it was really cool, because there would be the five of us kind of around the audience and it was this weird, 3D delay. But other than that, it sort of lacked that collaborative tension that brings a thing to life. It was just my sluggish self.
How often do Joan Of Arc records take that shape of being something to occupy yourself with during a time of stress or change?
Maybe that’s the shortcoming of the two that I’m naming at the bottom, as they’re the most like that. There’s always music being generated, and there’s always too much of it. There is a sort of formal filter of constructing the records separate from just making songs, and that might be lacking on these two. It’s all about the lifeforce I have at the time, and sometimes I’m weak and I’m flailing, but there’s still a lot that gets thrown away.
We excluded the Joan Of Arc Presents records to make this somewhat more manageable, but what made you draw a line between those and proper Joan Of Arc albums?
It was largely about whether there would be singing on them and whether there would be a tour for the record. It was subtle cues in that way. They were all just more specific. 1984 was actually going to be Joan Of Arc Presents, but we realized that was our band, and we had to be conscious about how we framed those things.
This was the divorce record. Is it harder for you to appreciate the albums that were products of traumatic personal experiences?
It’s not like ten years later I don’t have the emotional strength to face it or something; it’s not like that. But it was more like, that was me as a person instead of me as an artist, and that’s not very interesting to me. It doesn’t feel necessary to share that or something.
There’s that one song on there, “Insects Don’t Eat Bananas,” which is a kind of funny, Bahamas folk song sort of thing, then there’s the one that’s kind of a weird tape collage thing, but other than that, those are the two gestures at getting out of a certain mood. It’s very slick compared to a lot of them, but it’s a little one-note for me.
But this one had an interesting process. You booked the time and had a sign-up sheet so the other players could dictate when they would come record.
I wasn’t even the impetus to make that record. My divorce was as surprising to me as my dad’s death. Though, in retrospect, I should have seen them coming, knowing the general health of both of them. [Laughs] But my friends kind of prompted the thing. They wanted me to keep busy and got me in there. It’s nice to feel like I’m supported by my friends in that way.
It was really like, we have four days this week and four days the next, let’s do a night session and a day session, and then sending that to 15 friends and saying, “Tell me when you want to be there.” There were two sessions a day, and I would look at who was available for that session and then choose which song to record. So it was intentionally crafted with who would be around. The first rehearsal for that tour was really funny, because we all showed up and then we realized, “Wait. Who’s playing drums? Who is playing bass?” We had three guitarists, a synthesizer, and a guy with a conga. [Laughs]
The song “Flowers,” that’s the long, instrumental prog-rock song on Flowers, it was recorded during the Boo! Human sessions. It was mostly me and Mike, and I think Josh Abrams added a little bit, but it was me and Mike trying to keep ourselves interested by building “Flowers,” and then everyone would show up and we’d be like, “Ugh, alright, here’s another sad one.” When it came time to structure the record, we realized it didn’t have a place on the record even though we thought it was the centerpiece the whole time.
That was an interesting one to make. We started it with me, Bobby [Burg, bass], Theo [Katsaounis, drums], and Nate, and we’d written it to a certain degree, then we booked a three-week European tour where we just played that beginning to end. Then there was a weird situation where Nate wasn’t able to go but Victor [Villarreal, guitar] was around. He was learning the songs as we went, and we were tweaking the songs after each show. So then we got back and went straight into the studio with Steve Albini to record it.
It wasn’t the best chemistry as a unit. We landed, and then Albini had the flu but he couldn’t reschedule. We were like, “You don’t have to do this.” And he was like, “The next time I’m available is six months from now. That defeats the purpose of the whole idea of you landing home from tour and recording live.” Everything was one or two takes, and it was us playing the whole set for the 23rd time in 26 days. So it needed to happen then, but he was miserable with the flu, and we just weren’t getting along as a unit. And it’s very austere with no overdubs. There’s just full minutes of nothing repeating. It has its moments, but it was just one of those things where it was the end of tour, we were sick of each other, and we were tight enough where we didn’t have to think about it.
In a way, it almost feels like an Owls record.
Yeah, there’s even a little owl character on the back.
I feel like if this came out three years later, in the midst of people all talking about the emo revival, it probably would have done really well.
I remember reading a thing about Allen Ginsberg and there was this passing statement a friend of his made about how he had perfect wrong timing. When everyone was cutting their hair, he grew his. And I was like, “Yeah, I get that.”
This is our Fleetwood Mac record. It was the first one without Jeremy [Boyle, synthesizers], and that was a tough thing to do. He had to quit because of life stuff, and it’s not that Jeremy made all the synthesizer sounds on all the records up until then, but live, that was his department. So it’s not like we couldn’t have synthesizers or electronics on it, but it was more a gesture of respect to him. He was gone, so we stripped that away. But it was also the first time working on tape after getting sort of obsessively electronic.
I know it’s wrong because it should have just been called Staying Alive and Loveless. There was some glitch in expressing that. That’s the second time, because the Cap’n Jazz anthology was actually named wrong too. It was supposed to be called Anthroanalphabetapolothology, but the graphic designer dropped the “anthro.” But it was also Staying Alive and Loveless and also Rape Fantasy, so it was a zillion songs, and I think I named this pile “So Much of It.” So that got sucked into it. But it should have been Staying Alive and Loveless. That’s a good title for a record, and a lot to live up to.
Staying Alive was us being a rock band with rock band instrumentation, but we could just be chill. And I guess John Cale’s Fear, the reference I made earlier to Commander Mindfuck happened years earlier than that, but at that time, I did have a poster of the cover of that record in my room, and I had cut my bangs really weird to look like John Cale, and I can’t imagine I walked around like that. But my favorite records, a lot of them are very chill. So we were like, “Why do we always have to be freaking out? Can’t we just write nice songs?”
What was the impetus to spring up all those other bands, like Owls and Friend / Enemy, between The Gap and Staying Alive?
The response to The Gap was so intense and we were a little shook as a band. The label had lost full confidence in us. At that time, that was the height of activity for us in a lot of ways, and the height of being public in a certain way. I was sick of doing interviews. People ask you the same questions, so you’re going to have the same answers, so you start saying the same things all the time and start to feel like a phony and an asshole. To promote The Gap, I insisted on interviewing the journalists. I’d do all the interviews, but I got to ask the questions. Which, in my mind, I can read why people took that as some pompous thing, but it was my necessary survival instinct. I was happy to talk to all those people, but I can’t be made to feel like a dancing bear. And I think I did feel like I needed to be safe with Staying Alive. I can’t believe it’s not lower on the list.
But I think it goes back to what Commander Mindfuck said, and what I think the appeal of Joan Of Arc is, and that’s whatever mood you’re in, there’s a record for that.
I think some of the fragmentation of the lyrics, on the first couple records especially, it was always so intentional. Because we were touring a lot before the first record was even made, I quickly realized that some nights I’m feeling silly, some nights I’m feeling surly, some nights I’m perfectly content, sometimes I’m tired, and I don’t want to feel like a phony and channel this stuff. I have a bias against surrealness; It seems sloppy to me. So by fragmenting the specifics, my mood allowed me to meet it equally.
This one was positioned as a companion piece to A Portable Model Of , in that the album titles made one complete statement. How did these two become their own distinct entities?
A Portable Model Of had a funny thing in the liner notes: “You’re not mistaken, this is a concept record,” something like that. That was a joke that just didn’t land. Then people were like, “Oh my God, they’re so pretentious. They’re going to make a concept album and tell us it’s a concept album.” When the first couple seven-inches came out, people were like, “What the fuck is this shit?” So they were all looking for some meaning, and we were like, “There is no meaning.” The meaning was the thing itself and that contrast. So it just sort of felt like we were making A Portable Model Of but with more confidence and a greater ability to execute our ideas.
This record does feel a bit more celebratory and pop oriented, but it’s not a huge departure from A Portable Model Of.
I think A Portable Model Of is probably sloppier, but it was a similar thing where an acoustic guitar and homemade electronics were enough for certain moments. I think everyone else had gotten better at their instruments, and we had a better sense of what the vision for the band was but, at the same time, Erik [Bocek, bass] was losing his patience with it. So that was the difference, that sort of tension. Where the first record had this shared tension of, “What’s it gonna be?” The second record we were like, “Ah, cool!” Except for him, who was like, “Wait, this is what it’s gonna be?”
This one deals largely in you trying to express what it felt like to hear Bauhaus at an early age, right?
I got The Sky’s Gone Out when I was, I think, ten. One of the greatest gifts of my life was this punk rock record store by where I grew up, and Bauhaus was the one band that had a logo that I hadn’t heard yet. I got it used for $3 or something and took it home and was like, “What is this?” I became obsessed with it. When I went back to school in my 30s, in one of my first classes my first semester, we had to bring in the object that we feel everyone else will understand what we’re trying to do through that prism and I played side two of The Sky’s Gone Out for people. This sense of collage, though I think the appropriate word would be architecture, because there’s such weird sense of scale. So yeah, side two, the way that it has elements that return in different contexts felt like a big breakthrough for me.
You’d flirted with doing more textural pieces, but this one had the most long-form works to that point. What was pushing you to explore something of that nature?
There’s always a sense of expansion, you know? Even in something like Staying Alive or Eventually, All At Once, which are sort of formal exercises in straightforwardness that have defined limitations, they have necessary moves for greater expansiveness. Sometimes when we feel ready for it, we’re actually expanding, and we can articulate it as an expansion itself and not just a moment, or a necessary gesture that we need at that moment.
This also really captures the unease of the post-9/11 world, and just the swirling emotions that we were all trying to make sense of. How much was that inspiring this record?
Oh, 100 percent. It’s a way truer record to how we were feeling at the time than Staying Alive. Staying Alive was our insecure attempt of still doing [the band] in a formal way, but that’s how it actually felt. It came out in March or April of 2003, the same moment as the Iraq War, and it just felt like we were living in backwards world.
What were the motivations going into this record, and what was pushing you to expand what Joan Of Arc could be?
The Gap wasn’t only the first whole record we made on Pro Tools, but it was the first record anyone I know made on Pro Tools. I got a Pro Tools rig in my bedroom in maybe ‘99, I guess. It was way before anyone I knew had something like that at home. I was never a computer guy, but there were all these programs that were new, and it was largely about tape hiss. It was like, we couldn’t believe when a sound went silent that it was actually silent. If you listen to the record with just tape hiss in mind, which, it’s a testament to what wacko, introverted potheads we are when we don’t get out enough, but we were obsessed. We were like, “This is going to be the weirdest sounding record to ever happen because there’s going to be no tape hiss.” Little did we know that everyone in the world, at the same time, was making records this way. It was this moment where everyone in the world had access to the same technology as us and they were actually thinking about making good songs. But we were like, “Whoa. This new technology is going to destroy how time passes while you’re playing. This is totally changing what it means to record music.” We didn’t want to make it, we just thought this is what it had to be. When it came out, I think our general attitude towards people was like, “Yeah, sorry, we didn’t want to do it either, but this is where we’re at. Sorry, world.” [Laughs]
People outright hated The Gap, to a degree that, when you listen to the record, seems a little overblown. How was it to be in the eye of that storm of hate from critics, your label, and seemingly everyone else?
I was like, a shy teenager who had a pretty decent load I was carrying in terms of personal stuff, so Cap’n Jazz really existed as this necessary need to scream. Then it was sort of addictive, that I could scream and it was validated and celebrated in a way. People encouraged me to scream. I was 26 when I made The Gap, and there was a lot of attention being paid to me. I went from being a very awkward, introverted, shy kid to suddenly having a lot of opportunities to tour the world, and there’s all these people around applauding me, so I think I got a little cocky. I’ve learned a lot of patience since then, but that was the first time it was so much negativity. It was disorienting, because it didn’t feel like, even me interviewing the music writers during this album cycle, that got turned around into, “Oh my God, this guy’s such a pompous asshole he wants to flip this stuff.” But it was also, that was the point of the record. It was expanding the possibilities, you know? And I listen to a lot of weird music, but I listen to a lot of not-weird music, too. But I think I might have been more immersed in what people were expecting, or what sounds okay to people, and that’s different for everyone. If you’re going to improvised noise shows all the time, by comparison, this is a very listenable record.
And this record wasn’t getting compared to that. It was getting compared to all the pop-minded emo bands of the time.
It’s always been that way. From the very first Joan Of Arc record, we thought we were doing one kind of thing and people were like, “Why’s it not this thing?” I love pesto, but I also love ice cream. But if I was eating ice cream and someone was like, “That’s not pesto!” It’s like, “Yeah, it’s not supposed to be.” So yeah, I am not bothered by that anymore.
When Jade Tree and Epitaph reissued those early records last year, this one was skipped over.
They never even mentioned it.
Yeah. Honestly, they didn’t even bring it up. So I didn’t bring it up.
There are moments that I’m so embarrassed of, but it was so pure. There are songs on it that are seriously me and Jeremy each turning a separate radio dial plugged into a separate Effectron and doing a duet of turning the radio through the Effectron. That just felt so liberating. It was just this beautiful moment of discovery, in my mind. Like I said, it’s one thing to go from a shy kid who wants to scream to suddenly being encouraged to scream. But it’s another thing to be like, “I can actually express myself, and it turns out the things I want to express don’t fit so neatly into this genre, but that’s okay.” It was a lot of creative permission.
How were you approaching playing guitar and these other instruments to express yourself instead of just screaming?
I have two really funny things of how I’ve thought of my own guitar playing. So, Sam is like the craziest guitarist in the world. I remember the Make Believe stuff coming out and playing it for our friend who is a guitar shredder who just assumed that it was two guitars. But we were like, “No man, that’s just Sam.” And he was like, “That’s cool. How are you going to do it live?” And we were like, “What do you mean? That’s just Sam. That’s one guitar track.”
So Sam and my brother and Victor—Victor was a better guitar player at 12-years-old than he is now, and that’s not a diss on him now, he was fully formed when we all met. So I always felt like I was a totally crappy guitarist because the three people I played with were just exceptional. It was only in the last five years after playing with other people where I was like, “Oh, I’m good at this. I can actually express what I want to express.” And only, maybe, 10 years ago, there was a guitar sitting around that I was playing around with and I was like, “This tuning is amazing! Everything is where I want it to be and it’s so easy. What is this?” So I plugged it into a tuner and it was standard tuning. And I was like, “Oh! That’s why! Everything’s so convenient” So I was freed up to discover it for myself, because I knew I couldn’t compete with those guys. And using a lot of wacky tunings just made it much easier for me, so it was a long, slow evolution for me.
It kind of made you get back to the thesis of punk, of pushing yourself to reach things that you couldn’t just yet.
There’s always been an awareness of putting the margin of error on display and knowing that’s what resonates. If you can express something close enough to what it is that people know what you’re trying to do but you barely miss, it’s better than actually landing it sometimes.
We had started putting together songs and everything we did we were like, “Eh. It sounds like us.” We’d thrown all the songs away and realized we were happiest that moment at band practice when we’d switch instruments, so we made a record of that. It was just this total trust that it would emerge.
There was nine hours of jams recorded, and we’d spend a full day in these spots. We’d have one full day setting up the feng shui of the live room, then we would just start going. That whole record is just two BPMs, and we’d be like, “Is this a techno song or a trap song?” It was just, set it at 140 or 88, we’d start the pulse going, and we’d keep it going for an hour, and we’d all move between five instruments in that hour, so we had so many different combinations and we don’t know who’s playing what, and that’s true of 1984 too. It could have been a different record, it could have been a million different records, but this is the one it was, and this was the way to let it come out.
Joyful Noise released a deluxe version which had some longer sections of these songs included. Do you ever have the impulse to release things more regularly given how much material you have?
Yeah, for sure. I was changing gears so much a couple months ago that I was getting frustrated, so I put on the wall what actually needs to get done. I’m even aware of the urge that, any time I’m about to post something on Instagram, I’m second guessing myself. I don’t want to put one thing out in the world that distracts anyone from the thing that’s the thing, you know what I mean? Everything that comes out has been mulled over for at least a year. I didn’t know that the vocal line from “This Must Be The Placenta,” I didn’t know that I had sung that vocal line on a song eight years earlier. I didn’t even know it. So sometimes there might be eight years before a phrase finds its thing.
Part of why I like it so much is that it’s after Boo! Human, and we’ve already talked about that, but the response to Boo! Human in our little world of the minor ups and downs, people were happy to hear Boo! Human because they were like, “Oh, they’re feeling musical again.” But it was also like, Boo! Human was such a bummer. I always liked the first song on Flowers, which we’ve never found a good way to do live, which felt like a good response. Everything else had a really interesting M.O., because we booked the studio time and everyone agreed they would bring in one song prompt. And it was a funny lineup to do that, because the guitarist Todd [Mattei] is a very invested electronic musician but doesn’t play guitar much, so that was an interesting thing. And Paul [Koob], who played bass, hadn’t written a song in, like, 15 years and doesn’t think about music. And the other limitation was no equipment. Each of us would bring a sort of riff to start from, but we aren’t using any equipment that’s not at the studio when we get there. So that created some really interesting choices that we wouldn’t have otherwise done if we weren’t all together.
What made this one feel more successful than other times you tried putting certain limitations on the recording and writing process?
I don’t know, and it’s definitely more of a collagey one in a way, but there are certain secret Joan Of Arc instruments that no one has ever asked me about. One thing is my acoustic guitar that has a big crack in the back is on every record. If there’s a record that’s happening and it’s not there, we’ll sneak it on as a percussion instrument somewhere. In 2003, Bobby got me this Army helmet for my birthday. He was like, “What do you really want? Well, you just think the sky’s falling all the time.” So he got me this Army helmet, and there’s this Army helmet and seashells combo that makes a really terse percussion sound. And then there’s a motorcycle gas tank that we use as an out-of-tune steel drum. Those are on every Joan Of Arc record somewhere. I mean, the helmet came later, but they are our sort of secret signatures that no one has ever recognized or mentioned to me, but we know it’s on there, and it sort of makes them work as a whole. This is the record where it felt like we leaned the hardest into using those things. It’s not that there’s a lot more of the helmet or a lot more of the gas tank, but there’s a lot more working together.
What was different going into this one than the two previous albums?
The first two were recorded by two people. We would do the loud rock songs that were more put together with Casey Rice in a studio, and we’d do the quieter weird ones at our friend Elliot Dicks’ loft. But Erik quit over a miscommunication about a mixing decision when he stopped coming to the sessions, and he was Sam’s roommate at the time and he was giving Sam all sorts of shit for not quitting with him in solidarity, so Sam was like, “I gotta quit.” And it was like, “Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow.” It wasn’t a big deal, but it was the first one without those two.
We reversed how we recorded the first two: We recorded the quiet ones at Casey’s apartment, then went into a more studio situation with Elliot. So it felt cool to keep the same processes but reverse them. And I don’t know, it was the first time we spent a full year, sort of every day, tweaking it. It was the first double album, and a lot of things depended on one another. You couldn’t cut one song without it changing the meaning of another song. So once we were halfway through and realized we were making a double album, there was a sense of accomplishment and permission in that. I remember feeling like the intensity of feeling we were going for, I wanted someone to drop the needle at any moment on any of the four sides and immediately feel like, “Oh God, these people are killing themselves. I just walked in on a murder-suicide.” [Laughs]
But now, I just recall it as a very happy time. A lot of my friends who are still my friends today all met working together at this one cafe in ’97, and that record, to me, feels like the distillation of my 20s. It felt like being a part of this new community that really understood each other and were interested in the same sort of things, reading the same books, seeing the same movies, unearthing the same knowledge together.
The title hits on that a bit, and the record shows how boundaries between certain genres were way less stratified, and the album really allowed you the space to wander between them.
And that’s the huge mistake we made with He’s Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands. I wanted that record to be two songs shorter and the songs to have a little more breathing room, and I was just outvoted at the last editing session. But this record has that space. And the community you’re describing, it was recorded across the street from the Rainbo [Club, a bar in Chicago that Tim’s worked at], and it was in that building there that we recorded both that and The Gap. And it was the first time where my friends were no longer just punk kids, they were painters, and noise musicians, and free jazz musicians, and there wasn’t some hierarchy, and we were all thrilled about what our friends in other disciplines were doing. Even now, I feel like all my friend groups exist in their own tribes. I’m friends with all of them, but they all exist in their own tribes. And that was a moment where it didn’t feel like that.
It was pre-internet, pre-social networking, and Rainbo every night of the week was packed, and it wasn’t packed with squares. That Live In Chicago tour, we went on tour and suddenly we didn’t know anyone anywhere because all our friends had moved to Chicago. It’s like what is happening in Los Angeles, or in Baltimore a few years ago, where all the creative people seem to move to one place, and that was Chicago at the time.
This is the one where we were all the most on the same page. This is the record we made during Make Believe. I don’t know if we knew we were going to make another Joan Of Arc record. We weren’t thinking about it, we were just working on Make Believe so hard, every day. It was the first time where, and I was still probably bartending a couple times a week, but it was the first time where we didn’t need other jobs—not that we were living large.
We were all living in this loft together, and for the making of that record, we had five Pro Tools setups and seven of us lived in the loft. This loft, Cap’n Jazz practiced there, so for ten years it had been our sort of home base. We’d practice there, but this was the time when we all lived there. We had a live room and a studio room next to each other, but we had these five Pro Tools setups all around the house and it was just the greatest sense of community between us. It was a shared investment. At any hour of the day, 24-hours-a-day, for a few months, no one would notice if you weren’t working on something. I could stay in bed all day, but in this corner Nate is working on rearranging some song, then in this room Bobby and Sam are putting something else together. It’s a thing we kind of always do, which is have a B-station so people can concentrate on developing something else. It seems like the most expansive to me.
It’s the one that gains the most from the vinyl treatment, to see how things break up or play into one another.
You can hear it as four movements and it’s digestible, but it is so big that I think a lot of people get lost in the middle and don’t see the beginning or the end. But if you see it as side A or side B, it helps.
This being built while Make Believe was happening, I know that band was intended to be your version of a political hardcore band. How much did that all kind of seep in here?
I mean, there’s the title. [Laughs] At the time, Chris Strong, who does a lot of the artwork for a lot of our records, his photo studio was in our loft, so he was making the artwork as we were recording the record. And even the artwork was so over the top. When he wasn’t working on a shoot, we’d be recording and he’d be sitting there making a collage as we were recording it. So when it came time to make the artwork we were asking, “Do we need a more unified visual presentation?” And it was like, well this is the record, and the artwork got made as a natural byproduct coming out of the process of making it. I remember about halfway through coming up with the Joan Of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain… idea, and my ex-wife, who plays all over it, going, “You can’t have Dick Cheney in the title. You can’t have Dick Cheney’s face on the cover.” We talked about it as a big group. Even the funny promo photo from that time, of us all having a feast together, it was a big, happy time.
But it’s funny, because George W. Bush has been softened with the passage of time. Having Cheney right there kind of serves as a reminder of the horrors he inflicted.
It’s funny, because even A Portable Model Of and How Memory Works, I had a made a lot of zines as a kid and that was sort of the sensibility that it was this year’s issue. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t seem to congeal as intentional. And maybe some of the records on the bottom half of this list were more conscious of, “No, no, this has to have this feel.” But those early records, and Dick Cheney, Mark Twain, it might be the last one to have this, where the only standard of what makes it is that it was made in this time, so it’s naturally a part of this.