If you saw Joan of Arc last November at the Dickson Theater you might have been baffled by their set list. Essentially, they played their new record Life Like, and one old song, “Let’s Wrestle.” I was baffled and a little perplexed, but not dismayed.
On that Fall tour, newest JOA member Victor Villarreal (Capn’ Jazz, Owls, Ghosts and Vodka) was improvising his guitar parts on a nightly basis to work out his contributions to the songs, and the album was recorded immediately after the tour by Steve Albini. Polyvinyl Records released Life Like on May 10.
Life Like‘s list of instruments is guitar, bass, and drums. A departure for a band who normally recruits dozens of guest musicians, and vocalists. Reminiscent of Sonic Youth, Polvo, or Lungfish, the record is as close to a straight-ahead rock album as JOA have ever written. The album opener “I Saw the Messed Binds of My Generation,” is a subtle, contorted build-up before it turns into oddball pop and segueways into “Love Life,” which is maybe the most accessible and weirdly driving song in the band’s 15-year catalogue. In the middle is the darker, “Like Minded,” strangely dancey “Howdy Pardoner,” slower anthemic “Night Life Style,” and the album closer, “After Life,” a mostly a cappella sing along.
Catch Joan of Arc, Air Waves, and Swimming at The Lightbulb Club in Fayetteville on Saturday, May 21.
I asked JOA singer/guitarist Tim Kinsella some questions and he had enough time to answer.
Roger Barrett: How much of Life Like was written, or re-worked, on your last tour? Want to explain that process?
Tim Kinsella: The songs were all put together as a 3-piece band – Me, Theo and Bobby. We had this idea of this very strange and spare sounding group maybe like that sort of sparseness of Joy Division, but with more sort of complex geometry or architecture or whatever. So we had the tours booked, about six weeks total between the states and Europe and then planned on going straight into the studio after that, which we did about 36 hours after getting back from Europe. What changed is Victor asked to join the group and we all liked the idea, but didn’t have much time before we left for the shows. So we showed him all the songs loosely and he refined his parts as we went along, playing the new record every night. And each day we’d tweak things a little bit until maybe the last week or so of shows there wasn’t really anything left to tweak – or we were burned out.
RB: As someone who has embraced the studio as an instrument, why did you feel the need to simplify things for Life Like?
TK: Oh, it doesn’t feel like a simplification. I mean it doesn’t seem any more or less simple or complex, just different. And you know, our approach just sort of follows our hunches at the time of what would be an interesting way to work for a while.
RB: How has Victor joining JOA changed the songwriting, outlook, etc…?
TK: We haven’t really gotten into writing songs with him in on the process from the beginning of the songs yet. He certainly makes us sound like a rock band in a way we haven’t really sounded before.
RB: Will OWLS songs pop up in new set lists? How loose are your sets on tour?
TK: Sometimes we play a couple of those. Those are the old songs that Victor was a part of writing, so it’s a pretty natural trade – Bobby and Theo have to learn old parts instead of Victor being overwhelmed with having to do so. We know a lot of songs, but they are kind of bundled according to their guitar tunings. So sets change a bit, songs come and go for a few weeks or months at a time, but choosing to play a particular song usually means playing a little bundle of songs in the same or similar tunings, just for the sake of practicality.
RB: What have you been listening to lately?
TK: I like the Mysterious Women’s choir of Bulgaria, The Akira soundtrack, The Swans, Terry Reid
RB:What was the last great movie you watched?
We just spent a couple months writing a score to Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, so I watched that movie dozens of times and loved it more every time.
RB: Any fond or funny or horrible memories from Fayetteville, Arkansas? Feel free to just say no.
TK: Mmm, not really. But the way we travel, a different city every day and really very little free time anywhere kind of limits my experiences of anywhere. And I have a terrible, terrible memory. Every day Bobby is reminding me of something that happened some other time we were in that city. So I really would have very little funny or fond memories of London or New York or Rome either, so it’s nothing personal against Fayetteville. I think that band that we played with last time, that weird no-wavish trio was really great, but I don’t remember their name. (Perpetual Werewolf)
RB: I’ve never heard Air Waves, how are they?
TK: I haven’t heard them yet either, but I have high hopes. Bobby and our agent are both thrilled about them doing the tour with us and I’ve heard great things. I’ll know a lot more about them in a few weeks.