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.
R: Tim, you're the lyricist here--lines like "Explain water to the fish" and "Explaining colors to the blind," are they conceptually important, or is it just profound lyricism from an English major?
TK: Whoa, it's certainly more conceptual than profound. I actually never made the connection between the two things. I thought of them in completely different contexts, how they work within their immediate environment. I never even realized there were two explanation demands. It's all part of the whole. There's so few lyrics on the record--I went over them many, many times, so there's an intention to all of them.
R: I think that even people who don't like your music take something away from it because it's so obviously thought out; they're recognizing something that they dislike or isn't a part of them, do you agree?
TK: Yeah, that's a huge part of our band.
JB: If we perform well and everyone hates us, as long as we've represented Joan of Arc well, we're really happy. It's a good thing; it's fine if people hate it.
TK: That's why we're so badass punk. That's what's so badass punk about it--no pop-punk band is gonna show up and have the whole audience hate them and be shocked by what they do and still go home happy.
Exene Cervenka's Second Coming
As the front woman of '80s punk stalwart X, Exene Cervenka was both an innovator and a prophetic vision of angry women in rock to come. Now, nearly 20 years later, Cervenka (now going by Cervenkova) has a new vehicle to channel her anger through, called Auntie Christ. Joined by X drummer D.J. Bonebrake and OpIvy/Rancid bassist Matt Freeman, Cervenka is playing guitar for the first time and has released an impressive album on Lookout! Records, Life Could Be a Dream.
Life Could Be a Dream shows Cervenka is as pissed, uncompromising and talented as ever. The songs are similar to X's, without John Doe, of course, but this is Cervenka's project. The politics are solely hers, to the point where she had to learn guitar to play the songs because no one else could suitably express her emotions. Perhaps as a response to all the bands talking loud and saying nothing these days, this is a mostly political album, attacking the alternative-industry machine, calling for the kids to wake up and free themselves from social hypocrisy and exposing junkies as puppets in the government's schemes ("'Cause the government wants you high/The government wants you stoned, they want you to die").
The tunes are driving, high-energy punk rock, often suitably grim. It's a quintessentially L.A. album, managing to cram the whole spectrum of politics, love and despair around driving, passionate songs. More than anything, Auntie Christ is a wake-up call needed to counter the prevalent ambiguity and self-absorption of most "punk" bands today. Shut up and listen, your Aunt's talking to you. (Lookout! Records, P.O. Box 11374, Berkeley, CA 94712)
Auntie Christ is scheduled to perform on Thursday, August 14, at Nile Theater in Mesa. Call 649-2766 for showtime.
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Records People Play
One of Revolver's favorite bands, the Peechees, is fixing to pop out its sophomore album, Games People Play, in the days to come. If you caught the late-April Peechees show at Stinkweeds, you got a sneak preview of what to expect (the band just finished recording before coming to Arizona).
Games People Play shows the Peechees have matured. Not that the band has lost any of its barreling, hip-thrusting panache, it's just expanded on it. The usual barrage of Peechees-brand garage punk is there (reference "Lose the Motorcade" and "Restart"), but this time around the band busts out some straight-up pop ditties, too (see the retro-pop "Everybody" and the smirking "Return of the Rock 'n' Roll Nurse"). And sex. The Peechees can exude sex like no one else without an ounce of effort (or, possibly, intention; check out "New Moscow Woman," and you'll understand).
Games People Play is everything a Peechees fan could've asked for (except maybe a Phoenix date on the fall tour). It's pop punk reformulated and dehyphenated, what the kids have been waiting for. (Kill Rock Stars, 120 NE State Avenue, #418, Olympia,