To suggest Nate Kinsella has been a big influence on underground music would be a definite understatement. His work in bands such as Joan of Arc, Make Believe and countless other bands has helped to cement the Kinsella name as a benchmark for quality. Last month he released the wonderful Shaking Hands under his Birthmark moniker and we caught up with the man to talk about the new project, his family and his previous work. Why did you choose the name ‘Birthmark’ for your solo project? To give a vague impression of one of life's little imperfections. Both The Layer and Shaking Hands are rather instrumentally experimental albums. How important was it for you to perform all the music yourself? It's not important to me to play all of the instruments myself but it's the most convenient option, which is the main reason I do it. Sometimes it sounds best to have all of the instruments rhythmically locked together exactly or to have the instruments playing very precise dynamics. In those situations it's ideal to have the band be actually just one person, but you loose some personality in the playing because everything is being played by the same hands. Having people in a room playing together brings a more natural feel and sound to the recording, but it takes a lot of time and money to get people together in a studio. You get a more realistic mix of personalities on the recording when different people are playing but unfortunately that option is not usually available to me. Do you have a favourite instrument to play? It really depends on the circumstances. Lately, depending on the time of day, if I've had coffee, or if I'm trying to relax, I tend to bounce between the piano, guitar and tabla. For someone who has been involved with so many projects – Joan of Arc, Make Believe and Decembers Architects to name a few – would you be able to chose an album that you most enjoyed working on? I see them all as separate but equally prized experiences. Making an album is such a feat that each one seems monumental. Some have been more difficult than others, but that's also what makes them so valuable. What do you get out of working with different groups simultaneously? A change of scenery can really freshen things up. Playing in multiple groups simultaneously makes you ask questions about the musical borders that you're working within for each group. It's interesting to experiment and see why an idea completely doesn't work with one group but totally does with another. Also, you learn a lot about how to play with people by putting yourself in different musical situations. For you, how does the process of creating a solo album compare with making music as a group? They are completely different. With a group, everyone is contributing to a well of musical ideas and the ideas that are used are chosen democratically to benefit the music. It's really a wonderful feeling to communally create something unique that everyone shares equal part in and feels passionate about. Working alone is a different kind of animal. It's obviously a lot more personal, so the benefits and detriments are taken more personally. It has been more difficult than playing in a group for that reason, but it's also rewarding to know that the music that I've made on my own accord is emotionally valuable in some way to people.
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Perhaps because you have frequently collaborated with Mike and Tim, the Kinsella name can conjure up certain expectations in terms of sound or style. Would you say that there is a common thread running through the projects you have been involved in? Not consciously. I make musical decisions that are gratifying to me and sometimes they are gratifying for someone else to hear. I try not to think about what people expect from me by being a Kinsella. I know that those expectations exist and I have an idea of what they are, but if I censor myself for sounding too "Kinsella" then I'm also cheating myself out of the initial enthusiasm of an idea and the catharsis of executing it, which I really enjoy. The music would be self-conscious and contrived and that would be more shameful than being who I actually am. How much of a musical influence did you guys have on one another growing up? We grew up in different cities so we weren't in each other's immediate lives, but whatever Tim and Mike were doing always heavily influenced me. I was into Cap 'n Jazz and bought all of their releases from the record store. Then when Joan of Arc started touring I would go and see them and sometimes Decembers Architects would open up for them, but Tim and Mike and I didn't start collaborating musically until I moved to Chicago and started playing with them in 2003. By then we were all grown up, mostly. What were your main influences for Shaking Hands? Shaking Hands was funded by working awful hours at a really shitty job that I hated for way too long. Disappearing into the album became my escape from reality and I really needed it. That situation influenced the music the most. The songs that appear on ‘Shaking Hands’ were chosen from a list of many – how did you go about the selection process? I chose the songs that I was the most comfortable with showing to people. I haven't thrown the rest away, but I was unable to get them to the point where they sat well with me, whatever that means. I knew that the release was going to be on vinyl so I had that format in mind. I attempted to sequence both sides of the record to have an arc that flowed in a natural way. What did you want to achieve with Shaking Hands? What I wanted to achieve changed daily when I was working on it. I didn't think that the songs would have silence between them and one point I was sure that the entire record was going to be in reverse. I abandoned most of the 'grand' ideas after two years of discovering that I'm really bad at executing 'grand' ideas, then the goal became simply to complete 45-50 minutes of music that I was happy with. What’s on the agenda for Birthmark in 2011? I'm touring Japan in March and making another record this summer. I'll probably tour Europe again and maybe the States.