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For years now, the recordings of Cap'n Jazz have been sought after futilely by the small percentage of the indie nation lucky enough to have heard and been touched by the music of this wunderkind collective. The Chicago band, consisting of Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Sam Zurick (all three currently play in Joan of Arc), Davey vonBohlen (now of the Promise Ring) and Victor Villareal, broke up in 1994. Now the kids thirsting for the phenomenon that was Cap'n Jazz can end their quest--Jade Tree Records, home of both Joan of Arc and the Promise Ring, just released the double CD Analphabetapolothology, which contains every track Cap'n Jazz recorded during its all-too-short existence.
The liner notes, credited to "Ex-Cap'n Jazz" but presumably penned by lyricist Tim Kinsella (who oversaw the reissue), end with "Thank you. You're welcome. I'm sorry. It's okay." This anthology serves as tribute, gift, apology and closure all at once, attempting to resolve the past for the sake of the future.
Cap'n Jazz fans speak of the band reverentially, not just out of respect for the dead, but because of the awesome emotional intensity involved. To hear this disc is to be a voyeur into the innocence, confusion and passion that dwell in the hearts of young men (at 20 years old, Tim was the oldest in the band at the time of its demise; his younger brother Mike was 17).
The first CD in the set contains the "burritos, inspiration point, fork balloon sports, cards in the spokes, automatic biographies, kites, kung fu, trophies, banana peels we've slipped on and egg shells we've tippy toed over" LP, Cap'n Jazz's most polished and sincere accomplishment, brimming with meticulous math-rock that grows from whispered frenzies to feverish explosions of atom-splitting virility. This is the Cap'n Jazz incarnation that is worshipped for its tenderness, power and detail.
"In the Clear," which also appears in an earlier version on the second disc, is the embodiment of the simplistic aspirations and angst the band defined--the lyrics mutter, "I'm hoping once I'm a big kid and I look down to the ground, it'll seem further away." "The Sands've Turn'd Purple" asserts the perils and unknowns of the generation slightly after X--"We risk the feeling of risk. We don't believe in failure."
The tracks not from "burritos, etc." can be considered the path taken to the final monumental document of five teenage boys growing up in the Windy City. They include a pulsing, humorously intensified cover of a-ha's "Take On Me"; the last two songs the band ever wrote, recorded live at the band's last show ever; several demos never meant to see the light of day (including the brazenly literary "Tokyo"--it should be noted that Tim Kinsella recently earned his degree in English Literature); and many seven-inch and compilation tracks that foreshadow the genius which was to come. Also present is a Kinsella family (even Mom) punk cover of "Winter Wonderland" that illustrates the innocent naivete the band exuded. Perhaps most vital of all to a true understanding of Cap'n Jazz's beauty is the cover of the 90210 theme--no other band could pull it off as straight-facedly and sincerely as the Cap'n. These early tracks are the sound of young boys exploring their minds, testing their limits, discovering and rediscovering their own imaginations.
Revolver recently had the rare opportunity to do a postmortem Cap'n Jazz interview; rare because the members feel the subject is better left alone. This interview is with Tim Kinsella, who generously endured the 20-questions game while being sick in bed with the flu. A previous attempt was made to interview Davey vonBohlen about Cap'n Jazz when the Promise Ring played Hollywood Alley several months ago, but he had nothing to say about the recording, except to express regret and contempt for the entire Cap'n Jazz experience. What follows may well be the last Cap'n Jazz interview, the final nail in the coffin of a once precious and utterly genuine entity:
Revolver: Would you be in Joan of Arc now if Cap'n Jazz had never happened?
Tim Kinsella: Probably not, because I don't know why I'm in a band. I'm just in the habit of it.
R: If you had it to do all over again, would you do things the same way?
TK: Yeah, I liked that music a lot. And it's all I . . . it's what we knew how to do.
R: Why did you break up when you did?
TK: We didn't all get along for about the last three years of being a band, out of the four years. Me, Sam and Mike obviously still get along, and I still get along with Davey, it was just . . . none of us could get along with this kid Victor after a while. It just got to be too much.
R: Do you know why Davey's so negative about the whole Cap'n Jazz thing now?
TK: I don't know why. It was probably a big hassle for him a lot of the time. Especially because he was only in the band like a year or something. He lived in a different city and would have to drive an hour and a half for practice, and he just didn't get along with Victor at all. I don't know. I think it's kind of stupid how resentful he is towards the whole thing. It had its ups and downs, but I don't know why he's so bitter about it.
R: When I interviewed you last, we talked about Joan of Arc's theoretical intents, the whole compartmentalization and documentation concepts. Did you have a focus like that with Cap'n Jazz--were there certain concepts you were trying to materialize?
TK: Yeah, like when you asked if I could go back and do it again, I really wish things were still like that, 'cause it was so innocent, y'know. It made it so much more honest. I was 20 years old when the band broke up, and I was the oldest one. We were just really young and not thinking about what we were doing. You know when you're young and you're into your own thing and just obsessed with it but not really understanding it. It was like that; we had a lot of the same stupid little quirks.
R: Was Cap'n Jazz a more honest band than Joan of Arc is?
TK: Not more honest, as much as we didn't have to try to be honest like we do now. Now that we're all a whopping 23 or something. It was easier not to be cynical then, easier to care about things. So now, we have to keep ourselves in check. Does that make sense?
R: Totally. Was the reissue your idea, or did Jade Tree approach you about it?
TK: We'd gotten a few offers over the last couple of years. But I guess we finally decided to do it because we were sick of people writing to the address on the records asking how they can get old seven-inches and stuff. It just got annoying. Whenever we play out of town, there's inevitably one kid that'll come up and ask where they can get some Cap'n Jazz records. Most of it's been out of print for a long time, so we just decided to end all that.
R: Do you listen to the album?
TK: I haven't listened to it, no. I listened to two or three songs I was curious to hear. But I haven't listened to the whole thing; probably no one [in the band] has.
R: Did you name it?
TK: Yeah, I named it wrong, though. It was supposed to be Anthroalphabetapoloanthology, but I thought of the name and then drove to Madison [Wisconsin] where Jason [Gnewikow, of the Promise Ring and graphic design firm The Collection Agency] lived, and I just typed it in. We were doing the layout and I was like, yeah, I guess that's the name, but I got home after the whole thing was laid out, and weeks later I realized I named it wrong. It was already printed.
R: How does "apology" figure into the album title?
TK: I guess it's apologizing for the reissue 'cause a lot of people kind of resent us for putting it out.
TK: A lot of people were involved with it at the time, so a lot of people kind of see it like it's not as pure of a thing now if it's available. So I guess I have to apologize to all of our old friends who didn't wanna see it come out.
R: But you don't regret it.
TK: I don't care, I just don't want to have to worry about it anymore, y'know. Now people can get it if they want to, and I don't have to tell people that I don't know how they can get it 'cause now I know how they can.
Heaven Sent: Halo Benders . . . such a comically appropriate name for a project that pairs Dub Narcotic Sound System's Calvin Johnson's devilish baritone voice with Built to Spill's Doug Martsch's angelic tenor. Along with the Halo Benders' other components--Ralf Youtz (The Feelings), Wayne Flower (Violent Green) and Steve Fisk (Pigeonhed, producer extraordinaire)--this NW supergroup has busted out its third and most arresting record, The Rebel's Not In.
While 1996's Don't Tell Me Now was full of great pop songs (as must be expected from such a collaboration), they weren't easily distinguishable from one another--the common elements were too common for any one track to be truly extraordinary. The Rebel's Not In's tracks are schizophrenically diverse while not stepping out of the bounds of Halo Bender-ness. Johnson agreed in a recent telephone conversation, saying, "I think of Don't Tell Me Now as a less successful album in terms of it being an album that you put on and listen to all the way through. It didn't strike me as quite as compelling as I hoped it would be. Individually, the songs seem really good, but it doesn't seem to fit together cohesively. I probably agree that the songs are more interrelated on the other record."
The Rebel's Not In makes good on the promise the band always had. The components never before fused quite as brilliantly as here.
"It was more focused," Johnson says. "The first record was completely thrown together, pretty much improv in a way. The second record we did work on a lot, but I think we were learning how to work together. So on this record, I think we benefited from both experiences, and were able to put the two together in a way that worked."
TRNI is a pop collage incorporating punky teeny-bop ("Do That Thing"), faux Brit-pop ("Virginia Reel Around the Fountain"), spaghetti-western schlock ("Lonesome Sundown") and philosophy of the heart ("Love Travels Faster"). Leave your rebellion at the door, and surrender your halo for modification; the Halo Benders are in charge now. (K Records, P.O. Box 7154, Olympia, WA 98507)
Vern Rumsey Is Not a Dead Man: Contrary to rumors circulating on the Internet, Unwound bassist Vern Rumsey was not killed in a car wreck recently. Actually, Rumsey and his fellow sonic deconstructivists will be in the Valley soon, touring in support of Unwound's stellar sixth album, Challenge for a Civilized Society. Joining them at the Tempe Bowl on Saturday, February 21, will be one of Revolver's favorite groups of punk kids, the Peechees. Go tell Rumsey you're happy he's not six feet under; he'll appreciate it.
Contact Brendan Kelley at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org