Name: Timmy Kinsella
Occupation: Musician, author, film director
Recent release: Timmy Kinsella and Jenny Pulse's Gimme Altamont EP, harbinger of a full length LP slated for release in 2023, is out now.
Recommendations: Not counting music Because I can’t cut that list down below 100:
The work of art that I’ve had the most long-standing powerful connection to is the painting Circassian Cavalry Awaiting their Commanding Officer at the Door of a Byzantine Monument; Memory of the Orient by Alberto Pasini, 1880. Honestly I can never remember its name. It’s been in the same nook at The Art Institute of Chicago for maybe 20 years now and it’s taken on the power of a grounding shrine in my home city to me. I’ve been circling back to it for years to confirm that my own subjectivity remains intact, whatever has happened in the intervening time between viewings. It stunned me immediately and its power has only continued to accrue.
As a counterpoint, the last profound aesthetic experience to really powerfully move me, which I know I mentioned earlier and I know maybe it’s silly, but I’m just being honest: the omakase meal at Oma San Francisco Station.
If you enjoyed this interview with Timmy Kinsella and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram, and twitter. He also has a shared homepage with Jenny Pulse.
[Read our Jenny Pulse interview]
[Read our Joshua Abrams interview]
[Read our Theo Katsaounis interview]
[Read our Ben Vida interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started talking a big game when I was two, but I didn’t really start my first serious band until I was 13. That would’ve been 1987. We practiced pretty much every day even though most of our songs were all slight variations of the same two chords: Open E, F.
We were into D.R.I., M.O.D., S.O.D., Nuclear Assault, Crumbsuckers, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front. The idea of crossover—which I can’t believe I feel compelled to define, but in 2022 I guess I do: punks and metalheads uniting—was a very, very serious international issue which we felt an urgency to address on whatever local scale we could. Some days it’s too embarrassing to even admit what that band was called, but let’s just say it was my band after “The Twisted Butt-Fuckers” and before “Cap’n Jazz.”
I was drawn to screaming I guess. Whatever circumstances and psychological / emotional predispositions aligned and I felt compelled to scream. Doing so in the proper context allowed it to be encouraged instead of forbidden.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Yeh I definitely feel and visualize music spatially, which is surprising because architecture is probably the art form that I know the least about and have the least instinctive curiosity about. But when I’m listening, I definitely see the music as a space that I move through. and When I’m writing I am fully aware of carving a path to lead the listener through a space. For me, it’s definitely not just about creating the space, but guiding the listener through it.
As a listener and as a music-maker, the spaces are usually visualized as one of two extremes: Giant gray concrete slabs like Stonehenge, assembled in brutalist variations —or— Flowing flowery tentacles like coral that may be plants or may be animals but either way they’re underwater and what draws me to them is the difference between how each singular tentacle flows a smidge differently than the others, while all subject to the same tides and root.
Having said that, the intentional shiftings that I can manage to do when writing—whatever degree that may be at the moment that I refuse to submit to intuition—every one of those intentional shifts is a politically motivated decision. Meaning, these decisions to subvert what I assume to be the listener’s expectations at any moment are guided by whatever aesthetic gestures I trust to convey my ideological biases. Does it work? Who knows. Likely in aggregate it may have some effect.
I’ve never been attached much to how things turn out. I find it interesting how things turn out and it never fails to surprise me. But I am never motivated to make something for the sake of how I hope it may turn out. I am really only interested in how things are made and the joy of every minuscule decision. This is not an intentional policy platform that I proceed from, simply a self-aware observation that I’ve picked up on.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
On a day-to-day level it’s just been me-versus-myself—versus—me-encouraging-myself for a long time now. This may be even most true in collaborations, especially with Jenny Because we are such a totally interlocking unit. She knows what I’m likely to do even before I am, so I really gotta dig deep to surprise myself and her, or I really gotta own the gesture I feel compelled to make. Ideally both.
I surprise myself a lot and I suppose that’s the goal. Sometimes this surprise may be a turn of phrase that I didn’t see coming and this turn of phrase cracks open some new potential nuance that I didn’t know that I knew. Sometimes it’s one or the other of my pinkies surprising me with a guitar flourish I didn’t know it could do and the timing of this flourish lands in a way that gives the whole thing a new bump. Oftentimes it’s a technical workaround on a production level—routing or something mundane—that I didn’t know I knew how to do.
However it manifests it would seem that the ultimate ambition must be surprising myself in little ways each day that then culminate in the bigger surprise of what gets culled down into a collection of music. It still surprises me all the time what a giant difference seemingly little decisions make, like the voicing of a chord or a different delay pattern.
In terms of external forces I’ve had no choice but to respond to, I had a major advantage in that I received a lot of very bad reviews when I was young and that forced me to have a thick skin and to really question myself about what motivated me to make music at all.
I also had the advantage of being commonly associated with two terms that I’ve always felt zero connection to even when making my first albums, the ones that these tribes claim as their own: Emo and Math Rock. I am very receptive to an unusually wide variety of musical styles. But when I hear bands that are commonly described as emo or math rock it really makes me nauseous. I can’t think of anything more stupid and awful than highlighting the two most basic elements of all music: What music doesn’t convey emotion of some kind? What music isn’t built on rhythmic patternings of some kind?
By superficially highlighting these common building blocks, the dorks accidentally invert their tools’ potential impact. It’s so embarrassing to witness. The expressions of both emotional intensity and technical mastery become parodies of themselves. It really makes me so suspicious of my own music that people ever associate anything I’ve made with this stuff.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Honestly, it’s embarrassing, but whatever. I suppose I identify first and foremost as a lover of marijuana. All the mundane responsibilities common to adult life don’t allow me to smoke as regularly as I once did, but I guess I am becoming comfortable admitting that I am most attuned both as a listener and a maker when I am stoned.
I am also a middle-aged person. So the simple statistical consequence of the longevity of my commitment means that I have acquired a pretty large data set against which I gauge new music, both my own and others. This has a couple detectable effects. One, I am sometimes stunned by how moved I become when I hear new music that excites me. I feel it so deeply and have such reverence for all music that I immediately recognize as exceeding my daring or imagination and expands me as a musician and a person. It’s so powerful to be self-aware during a moment of growth.
Also, being middle-aged, I’m a little less susceptible to the cliches. I really appreciate them when I can recognize one being employed with intentionality and savvy. But they won’t land with me when they’re just tossed off or someone ordinary is just depending on attitude or something.
Also, I am a straight white cis man who fundamentally disagrees with basically everything that straight white cis men generally stand for. I am maddened and horrified by their mission to destroy life on earth and every beautiful particular that gives it depth and meaning. So I am definitely motivated by an awareness of betraying that tribe as frequently and profoundly as possible, while remaining conscious that I don’t veer into corny appropriations.