For over a decade, Mike Kinsella has been ailing hearts and bruised souls with his lush melodies and songs about, to put it simply, failed social interactions. Well, he's put that all behind him now. Publishing under the name Owen, Mike has reached the end of the proverbial tunnel and successfully came out on the other side (read: there still is hope for you after all). On his latest release, New Leaves, Mike explores the beauties and trivial realities of commitment and moving on. We figure it was worthwhile to call him up. Matthew Bentel spoke with Mike to find out the origins of his transformation, the convenience of recording at home, and if he'll ever play "Never Meant" again.
New Leaves, your fifth studio record, ostensibly comes off as another small progression in your musical career, but it departs drastically from the Mike Kinsella of old in several ways. Consider the music: gone are the slow building, largely repetitive passages. All the songs assimilate a more standard structure, though the instrumentation and musical layering have gotten much more vast and in-depth. Whatâs to credit for that nearly instantaneous change?
Is it really instantaneous? Maybe my attention span is less now. Or maybe I have more stuff going on so instead of just having things like ends fade out for four minutes maybe Iâve just gotten to be like, "thatâs enough." I guess, also, Iâve always tried to with each record, especially lyrically, to get more and more precise, and maybe musically itâs just followed.
I think Iâm sort of too close to all of it to really notice the small changes. A lot of my stuff is just cut and paste with Protools. You could cut off the song at three and half minutes or four and half minutes. With slow fades its supposed to give that feeling of eternity, or infinity. I try to make all the songs work together and during the editing and mixing process it just didnât fit to have these long fades. I guess itâs not really conscious, it just sort of happens.
Iâve read that, in response to someoneâs presumption that you must be monumentally depressed, you only write when youâre in a more depressed mood. Lyrically, New Leaves is the most confident material to date. All of a sudden Mike Kinsella is no longer the miserable, restless soul wandering, but a mature, content, determined and directed man.
Yeah, sure. I know why people have said that in the past. And I guess thatâs the answer I gave. It would be like if you only knew someone- lets say you went to a therapist and you got to know someone because you saw them after their appointment and you only knew them from that therapy office, youâd have a different perspective on that person.
So I guess these records are sort of my therapy. Iâm inspired to right when Iâm sitting by myself or the emotion sort of gets me, Iâm in that moment. 99.9% of the time Iâm thinking about fantasy football or making dinner for my family. Its not like these emotions are these real moments that consume me in some way. They just come together at some point and get documented in some way. Where as before I would lament over inconsequential things, I donât have the time or the energy to do that. Thereâs a little baby that is helpless, she takes a lot of energy. And my wife, who emotionally takes energy. I have a lot of other things that take up energy. I got other shit going on, I canât worry about little social interactions so much.
Could you consider New Leaves a concept album, or at least an album that constantly revisits this idea of maturity; growing up, coming to terms, letting go, finding satisfaction?
Yeah. I guessâ¦yeah, Iâd say definitely. Thatâs like one change. Like the lyrical content that is moreâ¦yeah, itâs a lot less sort ofâ¦ yeah. Yeah, itâs more confident or comfortable. Its just a different type ofâ¦I guess my perspective changed. Watching people interact or interacting myself, I had a different perspective. Iâm like a married dad, so I guess thatâs my perspective in most situations. That comes across in the songs, I guess. When Iâm on tour, instead of going out and meeting girls, Iâm thinking, "I hope it sounds pretty good and I can get paid and go home," or get a beer with a friend and go back to the hotel. I have different priorities.
Society likes to propel this image that men get "tied down," that they are sacrificing some amount of freedom. You take these ideas tongue-in-cheek, and sing about how youâre happy to "embrace routine" and be a "one woman man." Is this what all those old songs were alluding to, or are you just hopelessly in love?
Well, those lines in the context of those songsâ¦the first song, that sort of comes full circle. How that song goes, heâs remembering all those nights but its like all those jealous moments, he really does embrace his new life, his routine. The other one, that sort of, that ones got a little bit of bite. Iâm content with it; I think thereâs still some of that jazz about the institution of marriage. Itâs still supposed to be little funny.
Well I think you find, being there, if thatâs what it takesâ¦you know you might be biting your tongue if it makes the marriage a happy marriage. Itâs a means to the end. Its not that Iâm being restricted in anyway, its not quite the ball and chain, its just a mutual, whatâs the word Iâm looking forâ¦
How is it revisiting one of the older Owen songs with "Too Scared To Move?"
It doesnât quite go that far back, but there was definitely a version to be on At Home With Owen. Its still years old, but its kind ofâ¦I like the song; I think itâs worthwhile that it exists. But with everything, like seriously, by the time its sort of mixed, mastered, released, usually all the songs, Iâve been sitting on them a couple years. Its not that I donât feel the feelings anymore, but its not the most current things or topics consuming me.
Its like a vicious circle, I go on tour and people want to hear these songs and I go, "oh these old songs," and its not that Iâm not feeling these songs but its not on the forefront of my mind and it gets tiring to play them.
"Curtain Call" is extremely critical; it balances the fragile line of metaphor and reality. Should one interpret it as a declaration or prophecy of the future of your Owen avatar?
No, not really. Itâs just a song written in one moment. No, I donâtâ¦Iâm not trying to make some grand statement or make some grand curtain call. Thatâs why I sort of, I feel like the topics are sort of heavy. "Iâd be remised if I didnât piss myself," I mean, just being paid for being a professional entertainer is weird. Every night Iâm not necessarily feeling what I was feeling when I wrote those songs so I donât want to play them. The shows are a lot easier when people are into the songs then the shows when people are all talking, theyâd all rather be doing something else. Then why am I here? I donât need to be doing this. I could easily be at home. Those nights take their toll and songs come out of it I guess.
Especially at a place like Beat Kitchen, [if you are talking] just go in another room. If you came cause your friend dragged you here, and you donât want to be here, thereâs a room for the show and a room to talk. I guess at Chicago shows Iâm in a good mood because I have friends and family there. I guess itâs those type of shows, where I probably open, where I get surely. The people who paid because they wanted to see me, why do you have to talk? People will make jokes right in front of me. My feelings arenât hurt if they donât like what I do but there might be someone there who does like it and you may be ruining the experience for them. Nine times out of ten I just go with it because itâs my job. I mean, itâs my job and itâs wonderful so I canât complain too much.
"Never Meant"â¦never again?
You know, maybe when Iâm likeâ¦I donât want to say never. I donât intend to play it, but then I got really drunk in England once and started playing it and didnât know the tuning and maybe got a third of the way through it. It was terrible. I wont play it on tour unless someone wants to pay a shit ton of money. But of all the things, those songs, I canât really relate to.
After nearly a decade, you still record, at least partially, at your momâs house. Does that offer you some comfort during the recording process or just habit?
Well its just logistically I can have drums set up there and I got enough gear to be productive. And I guess instead of paying for time in a studio, because itâs just me, if Iâm just writing a part itâs more like band practice. Iâll write something and just loop it and play along until I find something I like. And if I can record some stuff without a dog barking or something it will make the album. If not, Iâll take it to a real studio to record. Itâs just a place I can go and not pay money to practice or lean parts. And thereâs usually really nice food there.
Iâm sure youâve built it up over the years.
No, not really. Iâve got some nice monitors and two or three okay priced microphones, and they can record vocals pretty well. After spending one night there, I try to clean it up, and there were cables all over and Kleenex all over, it felt more like a home, more like a room with gear then a studio.
You played drums for the influential Capân Jazz, which is often largely recognized as one of Timâs bands. Have you ever felt overshadowed by him?
No, I donât think so. At the time, it was our band and it made sense. I think I appreciate that it was his. I mean, a large factor why people ever cared about the band was his unique voice and unique lyrics and unique delivery - I donât know if Iâd call it singing - but since then weâve been in to different things. I remember when I started writing or singing I was writing them very straightforward, maybe in reaction to him because I knew I couldnât write lyrics as dense as him. But I donât feel overshadowed or anything.
Fantasy Football? Really? So youâre a Bears fan, right?
I like two teamsâ¦Iâm a Bears fan but I just think Iâve gotten burned by them a lot.
So whoâs the other team?
Uhâ¦Minnesota, actually. I like their defense.