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Tim Kinsella on Getting Cap’n Jazz Back Together After 20 Years

The co-founder of Cap’n Jazz discusses their mini-tour, his least favorite song to play live, and more.

Photo: Joey Tobin

Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Tim Kinsella, whose band Cap’n Jazz plays House of Vans this Saturday on its second-ever leg of reunion shows since disbanding in 1995.

This mini-tour is the first set of Cap’n Jazz shows in seven years. Why reunite now?

Invitations come in occasionally, and it’s a matter of how good the offers are versus what else we have going on. It’s fun, in limited amounts. We’ve all known each other for a hundred years. And the seven of us that are involved with this tour also make up a full reunion of the bands Make Believe, Owls, and the lineup of Joan of Arc in 2003.

How were the first shows?

Amazing. From the first note, the audience has been singing along louder than we can play. There’s been four shows, and there hasn’t been a dud.

Any weirdness?

The whole thing is weird. I’d just turned 20 when Cap’n Jazz broke up, and I’m 42 now. It’s totally surreal that we get these invitations to play these songs, and to have so many people excited about hearing them.

How old were you, on average, when you wrote most of what’s on the set list?

18 or 19. When we broke up, Mike [Cap’n Jazz drummer, American Football frontman, and Tim’s brother] had just finished his senior year of high school. He was 17.

What’s it like playing those songs 20 years later?

It was more difficult to make that psychological leap seven years ago, on the first round of reunion shows. We were all so invested in what we were doing in the present, and we felt self conscious about these songs that seemed immature. It was tougher then to be like, “that lyric is so stupid,” or “that bridge is totally wrong.” Now, we’re established in our respective careers. There’s not the insecurity of people thinking Cap’n Jazz in the only thing we do.

Mike’s band from college, American Football, is in the middle of its own reunion, which produced an album. What would it take for you to write another Cap’n Jazz song?

I don’t think it’s possible. It’s, like, literally impossible. It’s easy for the band to travel together and get along and have a good time, but creatively, there are camps within the group that can’t see eye to eye on things.

So there’s no record in the pipeline.

No. I mean, we’ve talked about it. The last time we talked about it was five hours ago, on the airplane home from California. But it’s just not realistic given where we’re all at personally at the moment.

Which Cap’n Jazz song is your favorite to play live?

I couldn’t say, but I do know a couple least favorites.

Which ones?

I don’t like “Planet Shhh.” And maybe “We Are Scientists,” because it’s a shittier recording on the anthology—more of a deep cut. There’s a song “The Sands Have Turned Purple” that I think is one of our best that the rest of the band doesn’t think is as strong as others. Which is crazy to me. I’m like, this is one where we really figured it out, and they’re like, no way, “Planet Shhh”—which I think is corny. The unanimous least favorite is [A-ha cover] “Take on Me.” Every single night, we’re like, “Fuck, do we have to?”

But you play it anyway.

We don’t have that many songs!

You have enough to fill a set with some on the cutting room floor.

We play like 15 every night—we play for an hour. And we don’t play the songs from the old 7-inches from when we were in high school. We play the record, and the songs written after the record.

Cap’n Jazz has gotten a lot of credit for this genre’s resurgence. Why do you think it’s happening now, 20 years later?

I couldn’t say. I’m a 42-year-old man. I’m not a youth culture person. But my guess, from a sociological perspective, is that modern mainstream rock is the boringest thing in the world. Hip-hop and electronic music are the alternatives on a big scale, and this type of music is a form of guitar rock that comes across as an alternative.

And I’m not saying we invented this thing. We were just blending. That’s the definition of modernism: curating the past and choosing which components to put together in a new way. We might have mixed some influences in a way they hadn’t been mixed before, but it was just instinctual. We never said, “Let’s sound like this kind of band.”

Cap’n Jazz performs with Hop Along at House of Vans this Saturday, July 29, at 7 p.m. Free with RSVP. First come, first served.

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