prosaic reason for why Oh Brother, the
new album by Chicago-based, indie-rock band Joan of Arc on local experimental
rock label Joyful Noise Recordings, came out the way it did: Tim Kinsella, the
band's sole permanent member, lead guitarist and lead singer, had just bought a
new version of Pro Tools, the music editing software suite, and he needed to
work with some raw material to help himself master the program, to ride out the
So he seized
upon tapes from some of his own recording projects that had never come to
fruition: several aborted Joan of Arc sessions that came very close to being
completed as albums, with only vocal tracks left to be recorded; an aircheck
tape from an improvised session on a college radio station that was never meant
to be released. And he set about piecing them together into a sound collage,
thereby giving new life to these abandoned works from his recent past.
result is an 80-minute double-album comprised of four 20-minute tracks, each
the length of one side of an LP. Kinsella, whose Joan of Arc will play a
release show for the album Friday at the Melody Inn, told me that, just as
digital technology inspired the creation of the album, analog technology, in
the form of the long-playing record, helped to determine how it took shape.
thing is I had finished grad school, and was really excited to return to music
after a couple years of being like a Sunday-afternoon painter," Kinsella
explained before a concert in Washington, D.C., this week. "So we had a
few Joan of Arc practices where we were talking about what we wanted our new
songs to be like. We were talking about mp3s, iPods, people listening to things
on shuffle, and we were like, our songs need to be one side of a record long.
If it's going to be a record, it should fulfill the format of a record...So we
were writing these songs, and we'd get home and listen to the demos, and we
we're like, 'Wow, that's really fucking boring. That's just way too
of Arc's new material didn't end up working at a length of 20 minutes per song,
Kinsella kept the idea in the back of his mind, and resurrected it for Oh
Brother, on which each flowing, dream-like
piece seems to need an entire side of a record to develop, to build from the
stasis of a drone to the activity of a full-on rock jam session.
started out by working with four abandoned album projects and one live
recording. Eventually, employees at his band's primary label Polyvinyl decided
they actually wanted to realize one of those abandoned albums, and Kinsella was
left with four recording sessions to edit together.
album, which would have been called "Friend/Enemy," was recorded in
November 2004, or just after the Bush/Kerry election, as Kinsella times it. It
was a prolific time for Joan of Arc, with all band members living together in a
were pretty obsessively recording a couple records," says of that time.
"At any moment, 24 hours a day, two people were somewhere working on the
record, in one nook or cranny."
project, oracularly named "Mineral Totem" by Lungfish lead singer Dan
Higgs, took shape while Kinsella spent two weeks as a producer-in-residence at
an Ohio arts colony.
abandoned album would have been called Likins, and was a collaboration with
Lichens bassist (get it?) Rob Lowe. A covers project, it was comprised of songs
that he and Lowe listened to when they met, during the summer of 1995 —
tracks by Huggy Bear, Nation of Ulysses, Antioch Arrow, Lungfish.
also worked with a live recording never intended for release, a performance
with Chicago-based free jazz drummer Frank Rosaly that was part of a weekly
series of live improvised concerts broadcast on a University of Chicago radio
Brother is Joyful Noise Recording's second
release by Joan of Arc, and the first release of new material by the band that
is exclusive to the label. Labelhead Karl Hofstetter first connected with
Kinsella after he approached Polyvinyl with the idea of releasing a cassette
retrospective of Joan of Arc's full-length work, an idea realized last year with a limited edition run
last year with a limited edition run.
hopes that "Oh Brother" won't be heard as only a sound collage, but
as a coherent, full-length work that happened to have been constructed out of
material recorded across many years and with many different collaborators.
"In the end,
it should be expressive as a full piece, and that sort of editing or collage
could be disruptive. So it's intuitive to be aware of not letting the collage
aspect or the editing get too clever or intrude on the expressiveness of the
thing as a whole."