Photo Credit: Chris Strong
“Our ‘Going Out of Business Sale’ was decided a couple of years ago now,” was the first thing Tim Kinsella of Joan of Arc noted. The foursome may not have been together on a stage in a couple of years, but they knew the music they were putting together a couple of years ago would be their final hoorah. That’s where this back and forth started, but as we settled in – Tim unfolded the voices in one’s head, the music, and what’s next for everyone; he and his wife with their band Good Fuck, and more.
Kendra: With the end of the year comes the end of an era for the four of you. Was this a decision made long before the harsh realities of 2020 settled in?
Tim Kinsella: We haven’t played a show since November 2018. The first steps of recording this record were already done by then, and we had decided it’d be our last record before we started recording it.
For the last decade or so, our records were each written and assembled with certain prompts or parameters in mind, prompts, and parameters that weren’t necessarily interesting to share with the audience, most often technical. But this time the most interesting guiding principle we could imagine was “What does our final record sound like? What if we finally stopped continuing to exist as this open-ended thing after so long and made a final statement?”
It took a long time to get it done for various creative and administrative reasons. Maybe we were dragging our feet because we do really all love each other and love making things together and hanging out with each other, but our modes of operation became unsustainable. We just aren’t popular enough or lucrative enough to sustain the level of attention necessary to do it in the way it deserves to be done.
My wife and I have a band Good Fuck and we are a 24/7 band and squeak by being very prolific on Bandcamp. Bobby, Theo, and Melina have a new band called Aitis Band but they’ve been slowed down in recent months by the pandemic.
Kendra: “Destiny Revision” is a song you’ve mentioned was penned a couple of years ago. When you were initially writing that, did you ever think it’d be on the final record or even be completely flushed out?
Tim Kinsella: As I said, every element of the record was done knowing it’d be the final record, but the second part of the question is interesting. There seems to be an assumption re: Joan of Arc (and it has definitely continued into Good Fuck) that maybe we have low-quality controls in place because we are “prolific.” But I don’t think “prolific” in and of itself is a meaningful quality.
There is never any assumption that any song will ever get flushed out. For example, we came out of the first recording steps of this record with about 23-25 songs (I can’t remember exactly). All of these went through a second round of development. And after that second round, it was pretty clear which four or six songs weren’t worth investing a third round of attention. So maybe 18 songs get a third pass, and we just kept whittling it down like that for a couple of years until we did final mixes on 12 songs and even then threw two more away. So I’m never attached to a particular song and am happy to throw any away at any time.
And by the time anything gets shared publicly–by JOA or Good Fuck–it’s been developing slowly for at least a year or 2. For example, Good Fuck has released about 50 songs this year–not including a dozen remixes we’ve done for people–and we still have a pile of 55 songs in various stages of development. Maybe 10 of those will ever be heard by anyone in a year or two.
Kendra: Naming the album after yourselves points towards this possibly being the most personal of your releases. What part of you and your artistry do you hope people not only recognize on ‘Tim Melina Theo Bobby,’ but celebrate for years to come?
Tim Kinsella: We got tagged right at the start as being a highfalutin concept band, and it’s true that the music is true to ourselves and as humans, we have nuanced and layered intellectual and psychological and emotional inner lives and social lives. It’s hard to communicate with people, to express anything truly true, especially in a medium as loaded with bullshit baggage and shortcuts as popular music.
So I’ve never been embarrassed by our ambitions. It’s a respect for the audience. Our music is not for everyone and that’s OK. But the people that are there for it, it’s always meant a lot to us to be there for them and to trust that they have the open minds and hearts to get what it is that we’re laying down and synthesize from it whatever meanings they need for themselves. Which is to say, all the records have been personal. I don’t take the album’s title to ring as “personal” as much as “elemental” or “essential,” like, in the end, all the different modes we’ve fucked around with and all the places we’ve been and after so many years, in the end, it really all comes down to this very singular core friendship between the four of us.
This might be kind of a tangent, but I’m reminded that I was at a wedding a couple of years ago and these old friends of mine were there, and I keep in pretty regular touch with all of them. And they’re all in a band together, but I guess I never see all of them at the same time unless it’s the once every few years I see them play. I was suddenly starstruck to see my friends all together in the same place, even though it’s totally normal to see or talk to any one of them anytime. But there’s a communal resonance or power that bands accrue–like Voltron–so maybe in a way we were grabbing for that or celebrating that sort of force for ourselves, knowing that it won’t be common anymore for the four of us to all be together.
Kendra: Let’s go back to “Destiny Revision” because there is a line, “in between the body and the mind lives the voice.” That little voice in our heads that keeps us company even on our loneliest days can also be a pain. What do you do when that voice isn’t acting like your best friend but rather your worst enemy?
Tim Kinsella: Well, I think of the song as being about multiple slippages: within one’s self, we each deal with our own awareness (not to mention one’s awareness of their own awareness) and the limitations and ideals of one’s own brute physicality; and also between people and how we get in each other’s heads and calendars. It’s a lot to keep straight. It takes a lot of time to know which voice in your skull is somehow truer than the other voices in there. Metabolisms fluctuate with age.
I had COVID earlier this year and my body has since changed profoundly in ways unimaginable to me a year ago. I see the struggle as ultimately coming down to learning to recognize what’s within our own control and how we can harness the power to expand that when necessary, and coming to peace with what one needs to just surrender, resisting the deep urge to apply any meaning to circumstances or fate.
Kendra: The video for this song is a beautiful, emotional one with Bobby’s photos from past times on the road. Which of those photos has the best backstory for you?
Tim Kinsella: Thank You! I didn’t see it or know anything about it until it was done and really liked it too. I can’t really recognize where a lot of it is. I like that it includes a variety of crowd sizes because we played some big shows and a lot of small to medium shows but we always did our job the same whatever the circumstances, so that’s what I see in the video. This band was the central organizing force in my life for almost 25 years, so calling it irreducible is an understatement. The video did a good job of distilling the blur of it all, which is more true to my experience.
Kendra: With all that has transpired this year, how do you feel 2020 has shaped your creativity and drive moving forward? Will you be continuing with music or focusing your attention elsewhere?
Tim Kinsella: My wife Jen and I work on music all day every day. We set our alarms every morning to get to it. We have strict schedules we stick to–hours of concentrated tech work every day, separate from the hours of writing and playing every day. I’m answering these questions during the designated band-admin hour while she’s taking our mail order to the post office. Even during our break times we mostly watch music documentaries and read books we know will inspire us.
At this point, the pandemic itself is hardly as scary to me as the fact that we have a government that basically seems intent on killing us. That seems to be on course to being rectified soon. And whenever the music world returns as a social and public thing, we will be ready for anything. Joan of Arc didn’t break up because I was sick of music but because it had become a barrier to making as much music as I need to make to feel like myself.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned in terms of live streams and whatnot, but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Tim Kinsella: The fundamental mindfuck of this year is the globally unanimous inability to make plans. We’ve done our best to harness that surreal feeling in a way that’s productive to us, but it’s still deeply disorienting. So no concrete plans for anything. And I’d recommend Link Wray’s as the ultimate song that makes my heart beep and brain buzz just right when I need it to.