When American Football released their emotive debut album, the band was in their final weeks of college, and simply searching for a way to chronicle the feelings, hopes, doubts, and wants that come of early adolescence. “The last album came about because we were all hanging out in the same room for a couple years because we went to college together”, Mike Kinsella tells us during our conversation at the Sinclair Restaurant in Cambridge. It’s a fitting setting to speak with the American Football frontman, in the very room where the band’s music is played loud and sung louder during Boston’s monthly Emo Night.
“It’s so weird that anybody heard that first album at all”, Mike Kinsella adds, modestly. The band went their separate ways well before American Football reached cult status. Over the next fifteen years, members of the band continued to play music together and apart in a number of other projects including Owen, Joan Of Arc, and Owls, before reforming and even filming a music video for their 1999 single, “Never Meant.”
During our interview Mike Kinsella covers a number of topics including the band’s unforeseen role in the emo movement, fatherhood, visiting Japan, and the future of American Football. Read the full interview and listen to the audio with Mike Kinsella of American Football below.
Let’s play Fuck, Marry, or Kill of vices: coffee, alcohol, or Netflix.
Mike: That’s easy: I am the only adult I know who doesn’t drink coffee. So I’d kill coffee. (Not prepared for his preparedness, I quickly substituted coffee for weed.) I like weed. I like the way it smells and I like my friends who smoke a lot of weed. I just had this conversation with my mom. Every five years I try it and I enjoy it for a little bit, but then I puke and feel weird. It’s because I don’t do it enough, I think.
Yeah, if you don’t do it a lot it’s easy to get freaked out if you take a couple puffs too many.
Mike: That’s the thing. I think I do it too good and then it hurts me. And then everyone makes fun of me, all these young kids make fun of me.
Mike: Marry alcohol, and I guess have one last night with Netflix.
So you’ve been playing music for over 20 years now. What’s the weirdest place you’ve heard your own music?
Mike: I don’t hear my music many places. Maybe in Japan. I’ll wander into a record store and it’s playing or something I’m just like, ‘this is fucking crazy.’
Do your friends ever play your music to fuck with you?
Mike: My friends are assholes so they might play it to be funny, but none of my friends like my music. That’s why I like them.
So you’ve put out something like 40 records either as the principal songwriter or playing drums or whatnot. Which one has been your favorite?
Mike: That’s a really good question. All the different bands all have a different…they all satisfy me in a different way. The Owen stuff obviously I write, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be happy with an Owen album; but there are some songs that I really like and I’m proud of, so maybe those are the most satisfying. I think the second Owls album is really cool. I think it’s a really cool bookend to what I do. The Owen stuff is sort of corny and pretty, and the Owls stuff is more mathy.
The old stuff like Cap’n Jazz, like, it’s cool: I feel like enough time passes and– I mean it sounds like high school, I’m aware of that– So maybe for ten or fifteen years after I was just like ‘that sounds young’… so I was just kinda distancing myself from it.
Mike Kinsella of American Football and journalist John Michael during an interview at the Sinclair Restaurant in Boston. Photo by Sasha Pedro
You’ve played just about the whole gamut of instruments, do you have a favorite?
Mike: Whatever I’m not playing. Like at these shows, the whole night I’m just watching people play drums and I’m just like ‘Ahh I wanna play drums!’ But then when I’m playing drums I’m back there watching the guitar players and I’m like, ‘these guitar players have it so easy, I’m fucking sweating back here.’
What’s your favorite tour you’ve ever been on?
Mike: There’s a lot. It’s sorta the same thing. Initially, when I was young…I can’t even explain, it’s changed in every way, there’s nothing the same about it at all. But when I was young, you’d get in a car, end up in a different town, you show up at a house and play in some basement. I was just going to Tweet this the other day. There was a time when all the weirdos in all the cities were friends–before the Internet. You always found the weirdos in the other cities, the punk kids or whatever, and then they hosted your band and you hosted their band and that was cool because it changed my life. Now, I just play music so I can go to Japan every couple of years.
So I have an involved question here. A lot of people would say you’re in that small handful of musicians that are foundational to the emo movement, and I read an interview with the Austin Chronicle, where you describe American Football as being like the trump of the emo tree, which I think is a fucking awesome metaphor because that’s an enviable position in music. Even if the tree falls down, you’re still there.
Mike: That sounds…did I say that? [Laughs.] I’m doubting you.
You said something like ‘towards the bottom of the tree.’
Mike: Of course. I can see with these bands now…You can trace it all back to something. But when we were doing it, we thought we were trying to mimic shit that we liked.
But as a musician…like when you were a kid, were you going out there thinking ‘we’re gonna tear up the world’? Maybe not Billboard number one but maybe still household names?
Mike: No, not at all. Whatever the opposite of that is. When I grew up it was all the DC hardcore, I guess post-punk scene. So that was the peak. The peak was one day my friend and I will own the record label and we’ll have our friends’ bands on it. None of this shit existed. I’m a grown up and I appreciate it, now.