Going Solo: Local legend Tim Kinsella appears at South Union Arts

Tim Kinsella is a polarizing figure in the niche world of experimental indie rock. He’s met with people who either assign him historical significance, calling him the forefather of emo (a label he routinely mocks) and proto-indie for his work with the legendary Cap’n Jazz, or people who dismiss him as intentionally obtuse with nothing to say under all those layers of weird. This Thursday, Kinsella will bring his legend to bear in a solo show at South Union Arts, where he’ll be performing a spectacular oddfest with guitarist Todd Mattei.

For what it’s worth, Kinsella denies both assertions about his reputation. In response to the purposely unintelligible accusation: “I’m certainly not generally trying to be purposefully difficult. I am just trying to express whatever it is I am trying to express at that moment. Sometimes that may not have much in common with someone’s general experience as a passive consumer of clichéd entertainment, so their patience may be tried.” Listeners, you have been called out: Kinsella’s projects require active participation, so ready yourselves for battle. It is not an antagonistic battle by any means, but one of love according to Kinsella: “It all comes from a place of love within me, [especially] when it seems I’m being confrontational.” The process of music-making to Kinsella is simply him creating something that he feels like expressing and fans forming their own equally valid interpretation of what are “objectively subjective phenomena.” And this attitude may be the source of his cult following more than any supposed legendary significance. It lets the listeners get what they want to get out of his music, while giving Kinsella agency for whatever transformations that may cause. He muses, “Maybe I am just willing myself invisible to such a degree that it actually works for the people that respond to it, and they are actually filling their own needs without knowing so?” Maybe, but Kinsella can’t absolve himself of all responsibility; there must be something about his music that prompts people to declare their undying love for him. In the end, Kinsella’s secret is to create something intensely personal and it creates a tight bond between him and his fans.

Kinsella has exhausted a laundry list of band names in his time, so it makes sense for simplicity’s sake that he basically goes by his own name for his solo work: Tim Kinsella. He never goes out of his way to book shows to perform by himself: “I would not be so presumptuous as to assume anyone would want me to [play solo shows].” This lack of pressure he puts on himself gives him room to experiment without fear of failing. The work he’ll be presenting at South Union Arts doesn’t have any recognizable instruments; it’s pure, unadulterated weirdness. It will involve a field recording he has from traveling in Japan and Europe, looped and processed and transferred to big unlabelled piles of tapes–done purposely so he won’t know what he’s getting into when he performs. He’ll throw into the mix some tape loops, a microphone, and a bunch of effects boxes. He and Mattei will improvise the whole show. If all that tape-manipulation jargon scares you, never fear. Kinsella insists, “It’s actually surprisingly musical compared to how dry this explanation of the set-up may be.” Kinsella is coming out of an experience with his latest musical project Make Believe, which was followed a strict and intense regimen. He made a set of rules for the band, such as playing forty hours a week and stressing the need to be on tour, in order to keep everyone devoted and on the same page. But the rules also banned the use of effects pedals and other manipulation techniques; it’s a technique similar to that of formal poetry, where the limitations of the medium will force a new kind of creativity. He says, “When Make Believe started, we were in need of a recharge, some strategies to snap us out of our habits that were current at the time. So nothing helps that like restrictions do. [They] forced us to focus on the actual athleticism of the music.” Now Kinsella has the opportunity to let loose by himself–you’ll get the rare chance to catch the full brunt of his unfiltered energies.

South Union Arts, 1352 S. Union St. April 12. Thursday, 8pm. All Ages.