According to Owen’s Mike Kinsella, Mike Kinsella:does not miss having to think while playing music, and is not pleasant to be around.
With a lengthy career in several bands ” Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc and American Football, to name a few ” his self-awareness might be a little disconcerting. But as Kinsella sings in “Bad News,” from “At Home With Owen,” “Whatever it is you think you are / You aren’t.”
Started in 2001 as a purposeful musical departure from previous bands, solo project Owen has afforded Kinsella complete creative control in a way less ostentatious and markedly less influenced by his family. You see, he is something of a particular strain of indie-rock royalty, with brother Tim Kinsella and cousin Nate Kinsella involved in Joan of Arc and Make Believe, as well as several other pivotal Urbana, Ill., bands.
Owen will join ex-Rainer Maria singer Caithlin DeMarris, Elmay and Toil and Trouble for a 7 p.m. Friday show at Norman’s Opolis.
The switch from Joan of Arc’s intricate and technically complex style to Owen’s plaintive acoustic songwriting is a transition Kinsella doesn’t regret, although it’s changed his work ethic slightly.
“It’s almost harder to get something done, because before I was trying to challenge myself in a way,” he said. “I’d be going to bed each night, and it would be like doing math, thinking about the parts of the songs critically.
“But now it’s, ‘Oh, I’ll just put that off until tomorrow when I pick the guitar up,’ and then tomorrow comes, and I’ll pick a book up or play video games. It doesn’t really need my attention as much, so it’s hard to actually finish stuff, but when something’s done, I sort of enjoy the finished product more.”
Long under his brother Tim’s wing, Kinsella said his “formative years” were spent concentrating on technical musical proficiency, and despite Owen’s departure from the overtly complicated, he doesn’t necessarily have to lament its absence.
“I don’t know if I miss it more often than not,” he said. “I still sort of get to satisfy that part of me that wants to do that. Once a year, I’ll do Joan of Arc or a side project, or something will get together, and I get to be kind of ‘mathy.’ I think I’m glad I learned how to do that, to some extent, but I’m enjoying just thinking, ‘That’s the song. That’s all the song needs.'”
One potential side effect of a complete turnaround from previous bands is the backlash from pre-existing fans, although Kinsella said the divide is large enough to prevent that problem, noting that few are huge fans of both Joan of Arc and Owen.
“People tend to lean one way or another, and I understand that,” he said. “I also think that a lot of Owen fans are of a nature where they don’t really know Cap’n Jazz ever existed, or that I used to be in other bands. I’m sure there are a lot of Joan of Arc fans who hear Owen and think, ‘Oh, that just sounds like Dashboard Confessional,’ and never listen to it again, which makes me want to kill myself.”
Kinsella, as in his lyrics, speaks softly and plainly, delivering jokes and criticisms in exactly the same tone. In short, he always seems to be himself, which has caused some trouble in the past. There are anecdotes from such situations posted on Owen’s MySpace page.
“When I’m just not having a good night, I almost feel like more people appreciate that I’m sort of honest about it than the people who are performing like people on MTV perform. If I’m in a bad mood, it sort of comes through, which does suck,” he said. “I understand people pay money for tickets, but it gets so mundane. Some nights, I can’t believe I’ve got to play these songs again, though maybe the people there are like, ‘Well I’ve never seen you play that song.’ And I already feel bad, and that just makes me feel worse, and it doesn’t really help the situation. It’s not that they expect me to be cool and witty and stuff, but just pleasant to be around, and I’m not pleasant to be around.”
Owen is certainly a loner’s project ” a fact again proven when Kinsella chose to record Owen’s self-titled debut at his mother’s house instead of in a studio, using the record company’s money to learn to record himself. Although Kinsella later had at least a slight change of heart, inviting cousin Nate to assist in the recording of 2004’s “I Do Perceive.”
“The concept of the (first) album is pretty good, but sonically and technically, it’s pretty horribly done. An album or two later, I started to invite professionals to help me out a little bit,” he said. And then, ironically, “I needed people who were more proficient than I am.” “Becky Carman