By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
Joan of Arc is not a band.
Yeah, it just released an album (A Portable Model of, on Jade Tree Records). Yeah, individually, the members are musicians. They have guitars, bass, drums, etc. But as a unit, Joan of Arc is a sculptor of sonic objets d'art, and cannot be defined by the aesthetic parameters of most pop music.
Joan of Arc is five artists (Mike Kinsella, Tim Kinsella, Jeremy Boyle, Sam Zurick and Eric Bocek) engrossed in defining themselves collectively through their music. The Kinsellas and Zurick were once in a band named Cap'n Jazz, which set a standard for sensitive yet spasmodic math-emo, a sonic explosion both happening and waiting to happen. Joan of Arc is the (somewhat twisted) logical successor to Cap'n Jazz.
Joan of Arc's album announces on the sleeve, "No, you are not mistaken, this is indeed a concept album," although the declaration isn't really needed. A Portable Model of is a self-indulgent montage of antipop songs and interweaving transitory tracks, which consist of anything from tribal drum beats to radio stations being flipped through to a woman shrieking "Explain water to the fish." The songs are both delicate and intricately constructed, contrasting with the unpredictable chaos of the interludes. Twice on the album (on the first track, "I Love a Woman [who loves me]," and the last, "[I love a woman] Who Loves Me"), Tim Kinsella sings "Too smart to be a pop star, not smart enough not to be," wondering aloud where that leaves him and his fellow Joans of Arc.
Revolver wondered the same thing.
On the Joans' recent trip to the Valley for a packed show at Stinkweeds Record Exchange in Tempe, I sat down with them and tried to deconstruct the concept and motivation behind A Portable Model of. This is the result.
Revolver: So tell me the concept behind A Portable Model of. Does it go beyond "this is three months in the life of Joan of Arc"?
Tim Kinsella: It's a work-in-progress concept, y'know, it's like . . .
Mike Kinsella: Yeah, that was that part, but it has to do with everything leading up to that point, too.
TK: If I said that the concept is the three months it took to make the album, that's partially
true in the immediate sense, but, then, it's living in 20th-century America as five individuals or eight individuals or whatever we are. Jeremy, tell him what I'm trying to say.
Jeremy Boyle: Yeah, it's definitely something beyond the time it took to make it; it's . . .
TK: Well, it's like a two-part thing. We made it and that's a part of it and then it's done and it's out there, and so it's like a done thing, but it's still a work in progress 'cause it's not completely finished until someone hears it--it's partially defined by that, like if it's in the background at a party, that becomes part of it, or if someone's falling asleep in their room listening to it quietly so they don't wake anybody up.
R: What about the order of the songs on the album, how important is that to your concept of the record?
TK: I would say it's vital.
R: And why does it progress the way it does?
TK: There were some parts that were kind of ideas of sequences before actual songs, like "Romulans! Romulans!"--that was in my head before we ever played it--where it would be on the album and how it would fit there.
MK: There's a lot of segments on the album that were made to suit a specific spot. We knew what had to be somewhere before it was a concrete idea or anything. So we had to figure out what was needed to fill that spot and go from there.
JB: It's pretty obvious on the album that there's some songs that are very straightforward, like as far as structure goes, that are identifiable as a song. We knew what those songs were, and we recorded them as they were. They differ in what we expected them to be and what the final product is, but then we wrote songs to fill the spaces in between those.
R: Is there a reason for having most of the lyrics on the first half of the album?
TK: Yeah, I would say the songs are pretty evened out as to how they're structured, though. The lyrics kind of disappear as the album progresses, and that was intentional, but the amount of lyrics in the song doesn't make them more structured or complete than the others.
R: What's more important, the method or the sentiment? (Joan of Arc's second seven-inch was titled "Method & Sentiment.")
TK: They're one and the same with everything. People don't understand that, y'know, that's why a lot of bands are boring and they think they're so vastly interesting, 'cause they'll have these totally sincere, desperate sentiments they want to get out, but the method has been done over and over and it has no power. The method channels the sentiment; it's like what you say and what tone of voice you use.