Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Mike Kinsella just celebrated his 30th birthday at the beginning of this month (March 4th to be exact), gaining for himself one more year of wisdom and experience to work from. Even before it's written, it's unfair, yes, and absolutely impossible to circumvent that sneaking suspicion that the pulp the man behind Owen squeezes out of those years is mostly the gloomy, pessimistic portions of them. And even with no scientific backing, isn't it reasonable to assume that no matter how good your life is, when a year is weighed in terms of triumphs and tragedies (or some sort of middle area between the two) that the negatives in numbers or just the drudgeries that we are navigate through are at least twice as prevailing?
This isn't to suggest that the triumphs can't and don't always color the reminiscence of our times, but there are more of the disappointments that most of us let on. Kinsella makes sure that those negatives are duly noted in the minutes of our lives, or at least his life - one that should be seen as a good one: newly married and doing what he wants with his life in making music, meaningful music.
At a tender age that hasn't even gotten to a point where the gag cards from Spencer Gifts - all the over the hill, old fart references, Dr. Death arriving for a visit - come into play, Kinsella and his brother Tim have had a hand in numerous outfits that need no introduction and which paved the way for some many others that came after - American Football, Cap'n'Jazz and Joan of Arc to name a few. Kinsella's been noisy and is now making music that stirs the insides by tugging and pulling on those heartstrings that must exist.
One thing that's never changed for Kinsella is his wild experimentalism, which, no matter what name he's worked under, the results have been mindful to never paddle in stagnancy. Some remember their birthday parties for the friends and family who showed up bearing gifts, the great cake and the splendid glow from the grove of lit candles poking out of the top of it, waiting for the wish to be made. Kinsella, however, could be perpetrated as a guy who dwells on those who weren't in attendance, those who bore no gifts and the way those candles looked and smelt with the flames transformed into lonely, escaping tails of grey smoke, rising to the ceiling fan where they would be dispersed throughout the room, losing all individual identity forever.
The truth about joyful events is that they're reinforced by those that fall short of being joyful. Even sad events can be reinforced by those events that are more sad. If you're punched in the teeth enough, taking a couple of Charlie horses to the thigh can almost feel like a tickle. Perhaps it's not really appropriate or realistic to say that we spend our time hoping for things that we can complain or mope about in order to just make those other things shinier and more worthwhile. You need the good with the bad and damn if Kinsella doesn't have the market cornered in that regard.
What is it that we find so beautiful in those sad songs - the numbers that Jeff Buckley and Cat Power and Sam Beam sing repetitively? A lot of it is because of all of the reasons listed above. To harness the basic and most natural qualities of a happy moment, we must know what the converse is like and often what makes something happy is that it isn't sad. If you eat cake slopped with an inch of the richest cavity-introducing icing known to man for every meal and knew no other sustenance, the built-in recognition of salt would be wiped from your circuitry and sweet would no longer have any meaningful relationship with you. It would taste like clean air - completely indifferent.
The songs that Kinsella (a relationship with W.P. Kinsella of Shoeless Joe fame could explain the familiar theme of missing an insolvable something) writes are self-conscious in the best possible way. They're about men looking unabashedly inside, digging past all of the layers that could possibly put up a fight and getting directly to the crux of it all, interrogating it until its face is flushed and its chest is panting. This is all accomplished in a delicate manner - it's delivered so gently that the addressee and the addressor should be made out of porcelain or egg shells. It's a tribute to every thinking man with a heart that's been scarred, but also on the receiving end of elation enough times to get it.
*The Daytrotter interview:*
*The last time we spoke on the phone, I believe I remember you talking about getting married in the near future. How was the ceremony? What was the music like at the reception? We're still going to do the married double-date the next time you're in town, right?*
Mike Kinsella: The ceremony was great. We had it in her parents' backyard. Big tent, beautiful lake, good food. Her brother and a friend played "Fade To Black" on acoustic guitars as she came down the aisle (sidewalk...) and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as we walked off together. Then we just played soul music (for her) and classic rock (for me and her dad) on the iPod and watched people dance. As for the double date, totally! Do you guys like Italian?
*Do you exercise?*
MK: Um...not really. There are some days that I don't stand up until my wife gets home and I have to get up to make dinner, so...not really.
*I read a piece - I believe in DIW - where your mother interviewed you and Tim. What questions would you ask your brother that would get the most interesting answers? (You just have to give the questions; answers not needed; suspense is good)
MK: Hmmm...I guess I'd ask him why he makes music. And what he's reading. And what he thinks our exit strategy for Iraq should be.
*Which game show - past or present - would you stand the best chance in?*
MK: Hmmm...I think I'd be pretty good at Double Dare. Even now, at 30, I think I'd kick some ass in the physical challenge.
*What's your most vivid childhood memory?*
MK: I guess I'll never forget when me, Cory Feldman, Jerry O'connell and River Phoenix found that boy's body in the forest by the railroad tracks.
*What made you want to learn to play guitar?*
MK: My brother, Tim, started a band in junior high (can't remember the name of it) and they learned a couple Death Angel and Metallica songs for a variety show and I thought that was cool so I, too, learned the same Death Angel and Metallica songs.
*Do you have any daily routines?*
MK: I try to wake up most days. And succeed most of the time.
*What's on the horizon for you?*
MK: At the moment, the mountains of West Virginia (I'm in the passenger seat on my way to D.C.).
*What's the most thoughtful gift you've ever received?*
MK: A girl came to a show in Japan and gave me an illustration she did that was "inspired by my music" and it was absolutely beautiful -- a boy and his dog being carried around the forest by a giant wooden robot carrying buckets of water.
*How can you prove to your fans that just because your music is super melancholy that you're not a sadsack?*
MK: Ha! I don't know. I guess I can't worry about it too much. Or I can sit down with each one of them and explain that I'm only inspired to make music when I'm feeling melancholy, so the other aspects of my personality ( i.e. happiness, satisfaction, contentment) aren't represented.
*Do you have any heroes?*
MK: Probably, although if no one's jumping out in my mind, maybe not. There are plenty of people that I admire and think do or have done great things (Johnny Marr, Abe Lincoln, the guy who plays Oscar on The Office), but I don't really strive to live like any of them in particular.
*What are you reading and listening to these days?*
MK: I've been listening to a lot of Jackson Browne. Actually, just "Running On Empty" about 10 times a day. Haven't started a new book in a while. (I've been in a bit of a video game bender as of late...), but my wife just got the new Dave Eggers book for me to read on tour and I've heard good things about it.
*What was the funniest thing that happened to you today?*
MK: It's still pretty early today. I guess it was kind of funny when I accidentally whipped my wife in the face with the straps from my bag while she was driving. Although, I suppose that's debatable, cause she wasn't laughing.
*Have you ever had your fortune told?*
MK: No. but my mom went to see a 'medium' once and she knew enough details about my dead dad to give me the chills.