Trying to dissect the innards of a band like Joan of Arc (and specifically of chief songwriter and only consistent member Tim Kinsella—a man who once infamously altered his last name to "Kinsellas" because he was feeling plural) is like trying to forge a fire without flint. And with a brand-new collaborative album, Boo! Human, the common thread of baffling, seemingly heady ruminations from the group has once again sparked another vague flame on the collective psyche of underground rock.
Boo! Human is new ground for the ever-evolving Kinsella, as the members of Joan of Arc (a group whose lineup shifts from show to show and album to album) have incorporated the efforts of various collaborators on an eerily barbed assemblage of tunes. No two songs sound alike, but Joan of Arc have ironically managed to put out their most cohesive and defiant album since Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain.
"We don't think about the end result going into things as much as we think about an interesting means of approaching things that seem absorbing to us," explains Kinsella from his home in Chicago. "That's more the trick for keeping things fresh."
Fourteen musicians were tapped for the recording of the album, as former collaborators of Wilco, Iron and Wine, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Beth Orton, and Prefuse 73 joined the band's core group of musicians (Sam Zurick, Bobby Burg, Nate Kinsella, and Mike Kinsella, among others).
"This has become a much easier and more open thing," said Kinsella. "It may as well just be like having a potluck together except there's a byproduct of music."
Since the band's inception in 1995 following the breakup of the seminal Chicago post-punk band Cap'n Jazz (touted as one of the forbearers of the dread "emo," an attribution Kinsella has dismissed on more than one occasion), critics have consistently expressed befuddlement at both the prolific nature of Joan of Arc's output and the relatively impalpable nature of their songs. Kinsella, however, has little concern over what is made of his art, other than the simple fact that it has been made.
"I don't think about being prolific or not. I don't feel like I'm working very hard at being in a band right now, " he laughs.
This sentiment, though, seems a bit muddled in light of the fact that Kinsella seems to be always working on one band or another at an almost Herculean rate. His other main project, Make Believe (which projects a much more aggressive milieu), releases Going to the Bone Church this summer. The similarities—or lack thereof—between the two entities, Kinsella reasons, are really in the eye of the beholder.
"There's definitely a continuity of my personal biases," says Kinsella, "but there's definitely an awareness of wanting each to be its own self-contained independent thing in relation to my impression of the other records."
Regardless of the spiraling nuances of Joan of Arc's catalogue, the perceivably arty overhead and the innovative lyricism noted by detractors, it's Kinsella himself who's still his own worst critic.
"Nate [Kinsella] was telling me he walked into the Mailboxes, Etc. yesterday and they were listening to a Joan of Arc record, and he said it just sounded so horrible to him. He was like, 'I don't know, man, it just sounded like shit.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I know!'"