American Football’s Mike Kinsella On The Introspection & Accessibility Of New Album ‘American Football (LP3)’Written by Mike Hohnen on February 28, 2019
The emo origin story features a rich cast of bands, though few were as formative on the genre itself as American Football. The band released just one record, LP1, back in 1999 before going to ground, but that album was seminal enough to sustain the genre for the entire next decade. In 2016 – 17 years later – American Football returned with LP2.
The silence from American Football looks to be forever broken, now a mere 3 years after their long-awaited follow up, the band is gearing up to release American Football (LP3). We spoke with vocalist Mike Kinsella about this, relatively, rapid turnaround.
Music Feeds: I imagine when you announced the release date of March 22, it felt like it would have been some time away, but now that’s really days away. Is this kind of the calm before the storm that you’re in right now?
Mike Kinsella: No, it’s not very calm. We’re in the process of, I mean, the early process of learning how to actually play any of the new songs. We haven’t – I don’t think we’ve gotten together live or in the same room since we actually finished recording, so we’ve got our work cut out for us actually in the next few weeks.
MF: The album is a mood piece that you sit in. How does it go when you translate that to a live setting?
MK: Since we finished with all the bells and whistles, we haven’t actually been in the same room together. So hopefully that movement, it translates live just as good. There are some things to figure out. Like we are bringing a friend of ours to play vibraphone the whole time and other sort of, our custom instruments. So we’re sort of filling up the sound like more, we have a bunch of cool opening bands lined up, with some females, so they’re going to sort of handle the female vocals.
Music Feeds: The release date is March 22, so three years between records; that seems to be the average turn around. My read on that is that you guys started work on number three as soon as you finished number two?
MK: Maybe, it may have not been anything tangible immediately, but it was definitely sort of coming out of number two, pretty early on we were like, “Well if we do this again, while it was fresh in our memory, what would we do differently or better?”
It was fun to talk about it while it was fresh. We were able to have very concrete examples of what we would do. We immediately agreed to do it, and then agreed to address those, sort of, issues. From there it trickled – just demos, and emailing files back and forth. But, you know, it’s not like we had songs lined up immediately. So we definitely needed to reflect. We had parameters, we had ideas of what we wanted to accomplish pretty early on.
MF: I’d really like to hear you expand on that. For want of a better expression, when you sat down in the war room to discuss LP3, what boxes did you want to tick? I know that sounds so gross and corporate, but going off what you said then, it sounds like you guys kind of had a bit of a monster plan here.
MK: It would sound corporate if the boxes you wanted to click were like, things that are popular first.
There was a weight to the second one knowing that it was a response. It’s just like, what’s the word I’m looking for, just an anticipation for it that we didn’t even know how to deal with in the moment, but we sort of wrote songs that we thought that people might want to hear.
This one coming right out of it, we said, “Well first of all we don’t want a time, we don’t want like, a finite amount of time to record. We just are going to let the songs happen then if we were happy with it, then we would turn the record in.” And everybody seemed cool with that.
We felt we would let the songs breathe a lot more instead of just doing verse/chorus/verse/chorus, you know, get something that’s interesting to us; expand on it, and let that part opened up. I think more often in this record- if something’s going on in a verse, like a guitar part that’s interesting, we would come back to it later in the song, and then maybe write off of that, so that would become the main part, and then the song would move around that. Which is sort of how songs end up being close to six and seven or eight minutes. Instead of three and four, you know?
We wanted to be sort of subtle, and I don’t think there’s anything, or there’s not much on the record that you would hear and be like, “Holy cow, that’s so technically impressive”, guitar-wise or something. But, if you kind of break it down it gets to be interesting to us. Look at it through time signatures, or [how] the inter-play between the two guitars might be greater than the sum of each individual part.
MF: When we were listening to the previous two albums from American Football, it felt like we were prying over your shoulder while you wrote these deep thoughts in your diary. With LP3, it seems as if you’re addressing the whole room now. What interested you, thematically, for this album, when you started writing it, what themes did you find that you were drawn to?
MK: I really enjoy hearing you say that. A big part of the process, I wasn’t…I mean, writing-wise, I’m just going to write from a different place than I would have obviously twenty years ago or even five years ago or whenever I started the last album. I want this to be more, sort of relatable, and less…less typically introspective and more so generally introspective.
That was actually cool that you picked up on that. So writing-wise, I would come in maybe with what I thought was sort of dumb lyrics, and Jason would [say] – it was mostly him and I, just for all the vocals – “That’s cool, I like that melody.” Or, “I don’t like that melody. What if you wrote something along these lines.” And he wouldn’t give me the lines, he would just give me general direction to open that up more; make it more accessible.
I think what came out is sort of almost more like, instead of showing each other your diary, it’s sort of like, maybe like a very specific, sort of collection of these things that actually happened. It’s more stuff like poetry. I think it’s more like poems, or we’re being a little more vague. They’re still up to say something, but it’s not quite as specific.
MF: I think it’s really amazing the people you’ve collaborated with. Hayley Williams from Paramore, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, and Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell. Now, other than the fact that all three of these artists have two Ls in their last name, that is about the only parallel I can find between them. What was the rationale behind selecting them?
MK: Do they? They all have two Ls?
MF: Yeah, William’s, Goswell, and Powell. That really pleased the OCD element of my brain, thank you.
MK: I would often have falsetto lines, or in a couple of songs they were sort of call and response, and I was singing falsetto. And we were just like, man that would be so cool if we could get you know, the one with Rachel, we were like, “it would be so much cooler if it was a girls voice.” None of us knew Rachel at all, and we were surprised that she agreed to do it. Then we sent her just files of what we were doing and what the lyrics were, and she tracked it by herself and nailed it. And then, sort of similarly, with Hayley, that chorus ended up being sort of like a conversation.
Obviously it was immediate, they’re like, “Well that should be a different voice, and then it should be a girls voice.” And then we were thinking, who could play that part theatrically. And we thought of Hayley just because she’s got an incredible voice. She almost had to talk her way through this, and then once she agreed to do it, we literally were just like well, if she is going to bother coming in, we should give her a whole solo verse just because you can’t waste her voice.
We just were blown away by how cool [Elizabeth’s] voice is. It’s like a really, just kind of this rawness to it that I’m attracted to. And then once she agreed to do it I sort of rewrote the words to be in French, and then she came back and told me the correct way to say this in French, because I don’t speak French.
I’ll speak for myself, it really crosses everything off my list of like, you know Paramore is a guilty pleasure. Land of Talk is sort of like a current, still ‘go-to’, it chills me every time. And then Slowdrive was like, growing up, you know, one of the most influential bands on me. I think I was probably eighth grade, I can’t remember what the album is, but, I knew all the songs.
MF: My read on this whole kind of discussion about this record really is that the universe did kind of conspire for this to be as amazing as possible.
MK: Yeah, or we just planned ahead better than the other ones.
MF: Yeah true, but, yeah, mine would sound better editorially.
MK: [Laughs] True. Yours will make a better headline.
American Footballs new album, ‘American Football LP 3’ is out Friday, 22nd March. Pre-order it here.