Musicians are restless people. Family Tree follows the various projects that splinter from a band or collaboration. Today, we explore the many MANY projects of the first family of emo: The Kinsella brothers. Don't call it a revival.
Call me a naysayer, but I'm not entirely convinced that this "emo revival" is anything more than a media narrative that the music press has sold itself on.
Emo never really went away, the scene just became codified and accessorized until it was a caricature of itself, a shark jumped around the same time as most listeners' adolescence. Maybe, then, this present day reexamination is a generational thing — music journos of a certain age attending to their own 10 and 15-year nostalgia egg timers buzzing from the kitchens of their minds. Maybe we're just starting to feel more secure discussing our high school haircuts. Whichever, this "revival" is a fanciful bit of sensationalism. Most of emo's biggest players never stopped playing; some of us just stopped paying attention.
Take the Kinsella brothers (Tim and Mike, and sometimes cousin Nate) whom, as far as the gaucheness of emo goes, stand on the right side of history. From Cap'n Jazz to Their / They're / There — 25 years that span spazzy post-hardcore, confessional acoustic balladry and electronic experiments — the full flavour and history of emo is wrapped up in their collective output. If there's a first family of emo, they're it.
The Kinsellas started as far back as 1989, but it's their tenure at Jade Tree Records that's basically emblematic of the scene in '95 through '02 and what you might call second-wave emo (that's if you start counting at Rites of Spring). With the March 25 release of Owls' Two (stream it at A.V. Club), the 13-years-later follow-up from the Kinsella's jazziest and most cryptic outfit (and, yeah, probably a little bit because of all this "revival" malarkey, too), we've decided to take a closer look at the tangled musical ancestry of a rock and roll dynasty that's had a quarter century on the ground.
Mike (drums) and Tim (guitar and weirdo vocals about "boys who smell like salami") started Cap'n Jazz in '89, releasing a string of singles through the early '90s that all basically sound like they belonged on Dischord Records but never found their way to D.C. from the Midwest. In 1998, a few years after they'd disbanded, Jade Tree collected all of the Cap'n Jazz releases on Analphabetapolothology — 93 absolutely essential minutes of blissed-out, herky-jerky post-hardcore.
The Sky Corvair
For two short years, The Sky Corvair was Tim's side project to Cap'n Jazz, featuring Bob Nanna of Braid and Hey Mercedes. Their only release was Unsafe At Any Speed in '95 before Tim abandoned the project to focus more fully on his brother's and his main squeeze.
Joan Of Arc
Joan Of Arc has been Tim's baby since the breakup of Cap'n Jazz in 1995. Over 22 LPs, the band has featured every player from the Jazz (Mike, Sam Zurick, Victor Villarreal, and the The Promise Ring's Davey von Bohlen), though JOA's sound — an emphasis on sparse acoustic compositions and subtle electronic interventions — stands in stark contrast to the spastic, adolescent fare of their alma mater.
From 1997-2000 and with their acclaimed self-titled debut in 1999, Mike proved that he, too, was a capable songwriter and frontman with American Football, delivering heart-on-his-sleeve type sentiments and settling into a softer pop sensibility that he complicated with crafty time changes.
Active for just two years in the early 2000s before reforming again 2012, Owls scored a cult hit with their 2001 self-titled debut. Though the band was basically a return to Cap'n Jazz (the Kinsella brothers, Zurick, and Villarreal), Owls brought forward a mathy but mature aesthetic, meditating on riffs instead of bouncing from section to section. As if they'd finally found Ritalin. For the first time, their virtuosity wasn't overshadowed by their hyperactivity.
The One Up Downstairs
Before American Football, Mike was working with future AF drummer Steve Lamos as well as David Johnson and Allen Johnson on a project called The One Up Downstairs. They recorded an EP before disbanding that was released posthumously in 2006 by Polyvinyl. It's basically the rough notes for American Football.
Leaning harder on those pop sensibilities, Mike shed his American Football bandmates in 2001 and went into full-on acoustic balladry with Owen. It's the closest any Kinsella has ever gotten to that stigmatized emo terrain populated by bright-eyed, tender-seeming poster boys like Dashboard and his glossy ilk.
Make Believe started as the circa 2003 touring lineup of Joan of Arc (including cousin Nate on drums). When they got home, they wanted to write heavier songs as a band proper instead of as Tim's hired guns, so Make Believe became their outlet for anything they'd have filed under "crashing" or "loud."
Since 2007, Nate has released three solo full-lengths under the moniker Birthmark. This output has a minimal, electroacoustic bent, where classical instruments — strings and pianos — are chopped down, screwed with, and otherwise, glitched into beautiful pop songcraft.
After the 2000 release of Joan Of Arc's The Gap, Tim took some time away from his "rock band" vehicle, releasing three solo full-lengths for various labels under his given name — sometimes awkwardly pluralized as "Tim Kinsellas." But if Mike and Nate's solo maneuvers were in the interests of writing poppier music, Tim had no such inclinations. Lucky for us, he just can't shake that trademark oblique rambling.
Friend/Enemy was a short-lived recording collective, 12 members strong that included Tim, Zurick, JOA alumnus Todd Mattei, Califone's Jim Becker, Sunny Day Real Estate's Nick Macri, and super drummer Zach Hill. They released 10 Songs in 2002 and then dissolved as quickly as they came together.
With only a 2004 self-titled full-length to their credit, Everyoned was a Chicago-area supergroup that included Tim K., industrial pioneer Chris Connelly, electronic musician Brent Gutzeit, as well as Liz Payne and Ben Vida of Town & Country.
Their / They’re / There
With two EPs out last year, Their / They're / There have been identified as flagbearers in the emo revival (something our own Ian Gormely wrote about here). What's most interesting is how these two young bucks — Into It. Over It.'s Evan Weiss and Loose Lips Sink Ships' Matthew Frank — invited Mike Kinsella, a musician they would have come of age listening to, into their fold. And all parties stand to benefit: it's a new relevancy for Kinsella, while the young'uns get to cherry-pick from all of the experience and wisdom of an indie rock sage.